Anyone who has been in a toxic friendship knows that they can range from hurtful and disrespectful to downright abusive. Whether you’re nipping it in the bud or ending things after a long period, here’s how to do it effectively.
Maybe it was an impulsive decision, or more of a slow build. Maybe you started to loathe them. Maybe you still love and care for them. No matter the reason, getting rid of a toxic friendship is important for your mental health. But it can also be incredibly painful; probably just as much as ending a romantic relationship. But when someone you trust constantly tears you down, or makes you feel less worthy of respect and love, then that person has got to go. And quick. But it’s easier said than done, right? “One fine morning you decide to end things for good and remove your toxic friend from your life but when the moment of truth arrives, you end up bailing because there are still some good memories that you are latching on to. Letting go can be hard, but it’s necessary for your growth,” says Dr Seema Hingorani, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist with almost two decades of experience in psychotherapy.
Related Story: Signs of a Toxic Relationship
How can you tell if a friendship is toxic?
According to Dr Hingorani, toxicity in a close friendship can be sneaky but if you trust your gut instinct, it’s easy to watch out for the hidden signs. Here are some of them:
• They can be over-possessive at times and are constantly hovering over you. They smother you with emotions and go on a jealousy overdrive if you try to make new friends.
• They constantly compare themselves to you. They start acting mad or hurt if you achieve something that they couldn’t.
• They don’t have boundaries and treat you like an emotional dumpster. But it’s not mutual, when it comes to hearing about your problems, they are never available.
• They get defensive if you criticise them, but will criticise you even when you’re at your lowest. They are never completely happy with the way you are. They will put you down and try to harm your confidence.
• They will share your secrets with others even if you tell them not to. Your consent is thus violated and you never feel safe with them.
• They may borrow money from you and not return it back. And when you confront them, they will gaslight you and play the “but you’re my best friend” card.
How to end things for good?
So you’ve figured out that your friendship is more of a liability than an asset and it’s affecting your mental health in a negative way. Now what? Should you just quickly text them or confront them in person? “They will either try to guilt trip you into giving them a second chance or completely shut you off and start saying hurtful things. You need to understand that both of these behaviours are toxic,” says Dr Hingorani. Breaking things off is necessary but sometimes we end friendships in a way that might feel gratifying at the moment but can have a negative impact in the future. For instance, insulting them and screaming at them might feel satisfying right now, but you might regret that later.
No matter how much this person hurt you in the past, you should end relationships with compassion. “Meet them in person and have a civilised conversation with them. Let them know why you’re leaving and hear their side of the story. Then you wish them well and move on with your life, wishing them no harm,” she adds.
But there’s still a lot of work to do after this particular break-up meeting. Try to:
• Reduce messaging them and slowly eliminate any contact.
• If they text anything that seems emotionally manipulative, don’t fall for it. If they hurl out insults at you, do not retaliate.
• Don’t feel guilty if you haven’t done anything wrong. You don’t have to forgive them, but don’t hold any grudges either.
• If you ever run into them in the future, don’t hide or run away. Instead, greet them briefly and go on with your day.
But, how can someone rebuild trust and make new friends again?
Once you’ve successfully made it to the other side, there comes a time when you can feel empty and lonely. But you have to find your balance again. It can be easier for people who already have other friends to rely on but what if someone doesn’t? How can they learn to trust people and start new friendships? “Before searching for a compatible friend, take some time to self-reflect and understand what kind of a friend you are. Understanding yourself is the first step in moving forward because you need to learn to trust your own instincts before anything else. Once you’re ready, ask yourself: What am I looking for in a friendship? Is it just basic companionship or do I want someone that I can share my secrets with?” says Dr Hingorani.
Attend social events where you might find like-minded people and let future friendships grow organically. Give the other person enough time to open up and do the same yourself. Don’t jump into things too quickly. And no matter what, never trash talk your ex-friend with your new one. You don’t want to base a new relationship on something negative. Focus on manifesting positivity instead.
Related Story: How to be More Mindful in Friendships
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