By Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW
When I say breaking up is hard to do, I'm not talking about dumping a significant other... I'm talking about disconnecting from a toxic friend. I hear so many tales about toxic friends who don't add anything to my clients' lives, and in in fact, they often are hurtful. We let our friends treat us like emotional punching bags and do things we would never tolerate from a partner. The glaring question is, why? For whatever reason, we feel a sense of stronger loyalty towards friends. This especially goes for friends we have known a long time. When I ask why people keep someone in their life who doesn't add anything, the standard responses are: “I've known them such a long time,” “I've already invested a lot in the friendship,” “no one will understand me in the same way,” “I don't want to make new friends” and "I’m scared what their response will be.” Meanwhile, the toxic friend is showing up wasted to your wedding, spreading rumors behind your back, hitting on your boyfriend and being an emotional succubus who never has time to listen to your problems.
So there's a way to fix the toxic friendship right? Well that depends... You can only control your own thoughts, feelings and actions. If the friendship is that important and you want to have a conversation to try and salvage it, go ahead. However, the toxic friend will likely not listen, or even worse, make it seem like the problems in the relationship are all your fault! Your friend likely needs their own therapy to gain insight into their behavior. However, they are likely to not be self-aware enough to take this step.
So you've decided that your friend is toxic, adds nothing to your life and you want them out of your life. So how do you pull the trigger? Should you hide until they get the picture and go away? This is probably what you'd prefer, but the toxic friend doesn't let go so easily. Instead, try the following:
1. Although it's difficult, tell them in an assertive way that you need some space to figure out your friendship. Sometimes relationships can improve with a little distance.
2. Kindly explain why the relationship isn't working and firmly respond to any follow up texts that you can't hang out and are sticking to your decision to not be friends.
I'm not saying this process is easy and it certainly takes time and a lot of thought. Pruning our friends takes on even more importance as we get older. As people take the next steps and start getting married and having children, our time becomes a precious commodity. There simply isn't time for negative or toxic people anymore. I find at this stage in life, we become more confident and realize we don't need a million friends or outside validation in order to be fulfilled.
Elizabeth Cobb is the founder and lead therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you'd like help learning to be assertive and improving the quality of your friendships contact Cobb Psychotherapy, and see how therapy can help.