Not all relationships are created equal. There are innumerable reasons to love a person, but there are also many reasons to distance yourself from someone. We often focus a great deal of our energy and attention on examining and avoiding toxic romantic relationships, but for some reason give little thought to protecting ourselves from toxic friendships. Unhealthy, negative friendships can be just as damaging, or even abusive, as toxic relationships. Sometimes it is even more difficult to recognize the toxicity in our friendships than in our love lives. But it is imperative that we learn to recognize the signs of toxic friendships, which cause stress, deplete our happiness, and decimate our self-esteem.
Even once we recognize a problematic friendship, we may experience a lot of difficulty trusting ourselves enough to sever the ties. There are many reasons for our hesitance to let go of others despite our gut feeling that we would be better off without them. Sometimes we cling to our relationships based solely on how long we’ve known them. How could we just abandon them after all these years of friendship? We know each other so well, and we’ve been through so much together. We may grow complacent because we’ve become comfortable with them. Is eliminating them really worth the trouble? That’s just how she is, so everything is fine. Fear also plays a major role in clinging to toxic relationships. We fear loss and the sense of being alone. We fear tension and hostility that might cloud the sky when we make the break. We fear the regret we may face once that person is gone. We also fear flaws in our own judgment. What if we’re making a mistake?
Good friends are reliable, supportive, and honest, will push you and challenge you to grow, teach you from their experiences, and also just have fun and share positive experiences with you. When you invest your time and energy into people who do not reciprocate, or who seem only to contribute in toxic, unhealthy ways, you need to put up boundaries to protect yourself from emotional, mental, and even physical harm. Sometimes people will disappoint you. When that disappointing behavior becomes habitual, it is time to reevaluate the relationship and the toll it takes on you. It is time to cut your losses and let go of the friendship.
We tend to be axiomatic when it comes to evaluating our friendships–we would never be friends with abusive people, so our friends couldn’t possibly abuse us. This sort of thinking is centered on self-blame. If someone we allow in our inner circle hurts us, it’s our fault because we let it happen, this is what we get for being a poor judge of character. Or it can feel as if we are “giving up,” like we are “failing” to maintain the relationship. We cannot control anyone but ourselves, so blaming ourselves and feeling guilty for a negative relationship caused by our friends’ hurtful, abusive, or generally negative behavior is unproductive. Guilt fails to solve the problem and destroys our self-esteem.
These inwardly-focused feelings may be very real, but they are based on unrealistic nonsense. When an interpersonal relationship is not working, breaking it off in the name of your happiness and love of self is the healthy and mature thing to do. Ending a relationship is never easy, but most things that make us better aren’t.
Who You Should Say Goodbye To
Whether they have a history of flaking on you, always seem to be negative and drain your positive energy, or outright betray you, negative relationships characterized by these sorts of behaviors are harmful to your well-being, and you must respect and value yourself enough to say goodbye and let go of the friendship to improve the quality of your life.
Let go of friends who are dishonest. Trust is priceless. It is truly the most meaningful gift humans can bestow upon one another. Getting close with another person means opening up and trusting them with your secrets. It means allowing yourself to be vulnerable for the sake of a close bond. When we form such bonds we give that person our precious trust, and we take a frightening leap of faith in believing they will do the same for us. If your friend doesn’t respect this bond enough to be honest with you, they do not deserve your trust or your friendship.
Let go of friends who flake on you. Things come up and we all have to cancel our plans sometimes. If your friend bails on your for a valid reason, cut them some slack and reschedule. But if you’re spending more time waiting around for this person to finally show up for you than you are actually spending time together, you may want to reconsider the role this person plays in your life. We are all busy, so we have to make time for our priorities, including our friends. Being constantly put last by a “friend” is disappointing and hurtful. Say goodbye to those who do not respect your time or value you enough to stick to plans, and remember that their unreliability and disappointing behavior does not reflect in any way on you or your value.
Let go of downers. These friends put you down and dampen your mood. Showing support and compassion when a friend is in need is a necessity of good friendships. But it is also important to balance the lows with uplifting experiences, too. Chronic negativity is draining and often contagious. If your friend is constantly unhappy and expects your support through their drama without providing much positivity to your life in return, it’s time to consider letting go of the friendship. If someone is truly becoming a negative influence in your life, it is okay to consider your well-being above all else.
Let go if you’re the only one working to maintain the friendship. If you feel like you’re the only one putting forth love, effort and time, you must reflect on whether or not the friendship is worth it. A true friend who cares about you and loves you will not take you for granted or allow you to invest unequal effort. Stand up for yourself and cut out of your life the people who do not reciprocate the time, energy, and love which you have invested in them. You deserve to have friends who make you feel appreciated and loved, so don’t waste your time on anything less. Being taken for granted by friends hurts, and nobody in the world deserves to hold that kind of power over you.
How to Say Goodbye: Forgive and Forget
Sometimes taking care of yourself and being strong and mature means evaluating your relationships and making a break. The disappointment you face when someone to whom you’ve opened up acts in bad faith is a wound. It affects you on a deeper level than if it were to be inflicted by another person you don’t necessarily depend upon or share such a deep bond with. So, it is especially important to be able to distance yourself from someone when that person is very close. In spite of whatever bond you may have outside of the negative aspects of the relationship, the pain they cause you will be greater because you are close. And while it is incredibly difficult to let go of close relationships, it is an imperative step on your path towards health and happiness.
If you reach the point at which you feel you can no longer hold onto a friendship because it is dragging you down, know that however difficult it may be to get through, you are doing the right thing by cutting ties. And most importantly, it is okay to focus on your needs and your well-being above all else, if only in the name of self-preservation.
Sometimes establishing boundaries with bad friends means communicating your feelings and the problem, assertively telling them to stop, and not letting them continue their negative behavior. But sometimes, this is not enough, and you need to be strong and self-loving enough to completely walk away from the relationship. Ending a friendship is a painful and difficult process, but if it means defending your worth and improving your self-esteem, it is a necessary one. Clearing your life of relationships that bring you down will eventually reduce the stress and pain they cause you, granting you the freedom to grow and love yourself to the fullest.