Making the Break

Toxic friendships can consume emotions and negatively impact life on all levels. Here’s how to identify, break from, and move on after them.

Identifying Factors

If they're a taker, not a giver.

If your friend is constantly in need of your time and energy, but doesn’t reciprocate, it could be a sign that the relationship is toxic. “Recognize when it’s consuming a lot of your time and you don’t feel like it’s enhancing your life or mood,” says Tricia Henderson, LPC-MHSP Assistant Director of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Counseling and Personal Development Center. “If you feel drained, it might be a good time to say this friend needs me more and in a different capacity than friendship,” Henderson says. Consider how you can help them get to a counselor or someone more appropriate to help them.

If they criticize you and make you feel bad.

“Do we want friends who are honest with us? Yes. But we don’t want friends who are bringing us down, who are critical of us, and who do not enhance our self-esteem,” Henderson says. Make sure to advocate for yourself and let your friend know how their actions make you feel. Oftentimes, a communication barrier could be the key to the issue, according to Henderson. “I think a lot of times people don’t realize the way things come across, so keep lines of communication open,” she says. If a friend is ultimately unwilling to hear you and consider how you feel, the friendship is likely toxic.

If their unhappiness rubs off on you.

“We all know where our balance is in life,” says Henderson. “We’re not always pessimistic, we’re not always optimistic, but we’re living in a place where we’re stable and we feel good.” When someone you spend a lot of time around is negative, it’s important to be aware of the impact it can have on you. “We may never be able to change their personality, and we may have to accept them the way they are. But we can choose to engage in it, or we can choose to maintain our balance,” Henderson adds.

If they’re unreliable.

Friendships should be an equal partnership, and this can’t happen if the other person puts themselves before you or leaves you hanging in times of need. “That’s when I would say this is no longer a partnership, but the friendship is only for the other person,” says Henderson. In this case, you might just be dealing with an acquaintance. They’re not going to be the people who are going to show up early to help you set up for a party, but they might be a guest.

How to Make the Break

There are many identifying factors of a toxic friend, and those listed above are just a few of the bunch. Once you’ve recognized that someone is toxic, how should you make the break? Henderson recommends taking electronics out of it, and having an in-person or phone conversation if possible. “Things can be read wrong and that’s where a lot of miscommunication happens,” she says. Be present in the moment and let the conversation take its natural course – don’t view it as a battle.

Another potential course of action is to let the friendship naturally fade away. If you’re a non-confrontational person, this might be your choice. “There are some of us who can move on and feel ok with that and not want the stress of a conversation,” says Henderson. “If you’re a little more introverted and it feels like conflict, a conversation might be something you shy away from.”

Moving Forward

After you’ve split from a toxic friend, it’s important to evaluate your role in the relationship. “Evaluate your role based on that person’s perception. You can ask them or you can take a moment and just think back on if you were the type of friend that you wanted,” advises Henderson. And ultimately, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, she says. “Give yourself a break. We put a lot of time and energy into friendships and that’s hard to let go of.”

Picture of Tricia Henderson, LPC-MHSP

Tricia Henderson, LPC-MHSP

Assistant Director, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Counseling and Personal Development Center

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