Wellbeing

A Guide To Handling A Friendship That’s Turned Toxic

Having a stellar group of friends makes life infinitely better. By surrounding yourself with likeminded people who build you up and encourage you to be a better person on the daily, you’re setting yourself up for happiness and success.

Unfortunately, we’ve all had our fair share of crappy pals. Once, the opportunity to hang might have made your day but now you’d rather deep-fry your own hands than endure their company.

Some friendships turn toxic, and feeling trapped in one can certainly get you down in the dumps. It’s important to look after yourself and keeping an eye on the types of people you’re hanging out with can be a great first step.

If you think you might be stuck in a toxic friendship, read on.

How do I identify a toxic friendship?

We’ve all got those mates who maybe don’t best fit the job description of friend and that’s OK. It’s fine to have those pals who are great company, a laugh and not much else – just know they’re probably not the ones to call in an emergency.

Having acquaintances that you hang out with and enjoy very much on a surface layer are fine – it’s the one’s who negatively impact your life you need to keep an eye out for.

“Sometimes it’s hard to put our finger on anything specific,” says Fiona Bennett from Relationships Australia. “But, if we are starting to realise we don’t feel as relaxed or at ease as we normally would with a friend then it could be a sign the friendship is turning toxic”.

These uneasy feelings can appear from a number of circumstances – you might be constantly watching what you say in fear of being taken out of context; feel as though you’re being manipulated; or suspect that you’re being purposefully left out of things.

Basically, if you leave after hanging out with this friend feeling worse about yourself, deflated and asking yourself why you even made the effort, you’re probs dealing with a toxic friend.

The important thing to remember is that it’s not your fault – people change, some for the better and others not so much. Which path they choose is totally out of your control, but being able to identify these crappy friends can be a blessing in disguise.

So the friendship’s toxic – what’s the next step?

You’ve identified that you’re in a toxic friendship – where do you go from there? Well, Fiona says there are three main options to consider and ask yourself: can the friendship improve, could you tolerate it staying the same or do you want to end the friendship?

One of the easiest ways to determine which path you want to go down is to make a pros and cons list laying out all of the reasons why you should or shouldn’t remain friends with this person. Above everything else, Fiona says it’s most important to remember that the most important person in the friendship is you, so it’s important to prioritise your own feelings first – trust your gut.

How do I salvage a toxic friendship?

Look, there are plenty of reasons why it might be just easier to try and salvage the friendship. Whether it’s due to family, work, or wider implications, faking a big cheesy smile when forced into social situations with one another while suppressing an internal rage might seem like the easiest option and it very well could be – depending on the circumstances.

“It’s important to set boundaries for yourself so that your contact with the person does not impact you negatively,” says Fiona. “For example, minimise your contact with the person to times when others are also around. This helps to dilute the draining effect of the friendship”.

If you still sometimes enjoy being around the person, and want to try and keep the friendship, you have to identify what it is about the friendship that feels toxic to you. Once you know, have a chat with them about it, and suggest changes that would make you feel more comfortable around them – Fiona says this is the best way to determine which point of action to take.

“If they’re open to discussion, then the friendship has a better chance of surviving: but if the friend gets defensive and makes you feel like it’s only your problem … it could be healthier for you to cut the ties”.

Is it OK to cut ties completely?

Yes. If your friend constantly puts you down, is only there for them when convenient or has turned into a complete tosser – are they really your friend?

Cutting ties or burning bridges is however, easier said than done. It’s normal to feel concerned about ending a friendship, especially in regards to how the other person will react, but it can be done in a respectful way.

Remember, it’s the friend equivalent of a break up. Be mindful, and don’t just ghost them. Fiona suggests by starting to decline suggestions or invites so they get the message that you’ve moved on. Alternatively, just have a chat with them. What’s the worst that could happen – they won’t want to be friends with you anymore?

Sustaining healthy friendships is important, and taking part in toxic friendships ultimately hinders your happiness. Stay aware, and be sure to address any toxic friendships you may encounter.


Bradley is a writer from Newcastle who enjoys Tina Fey comedies, is a cheese advocate and connoisseur of cheap red wine.