When should you cut off a toxic friend?

Many of us have experiences with toxic people, but how do we know when to save or slash a friendship?

Kate Benson
8th December 2021
Image from Unsplash @Kelly Sikkema
As a child, we were never taught boundaries. I can't believe it took me until I was 23 to learn about them - they have already changed my life. 

Boundaries were explained to me in Michelle Elman’s book ‘The Joy of Being Selfish’. What it means is putting your needs first, and not expecting other people to meet your needs for you.1 You have to be your top priority. This can include saying no to events you don’t want to go to, not always being instantly available for people via text or call, and MANY other things (please read the book, because I cannot do it justice).

(1) Michelle Elman on Twitter: "I always find it weird that people are surprised that I’m quite smiley and laugh a lot in person. They think boundaries means I’m scary and intimidating but they forget that having good boundaries means I have so much more energy and only let people who make me happy in my life" / Twitter

 How many times have you been in friendships which don’t make you feel good? I hope you can say none, but for me that’s not the case. When you are younger, it gets reinforced that you have to put up with people you are friends with and there’s no option to end the friendship. I remember having arguments in primary school and being forced to accept their apology and go back to normal. I didn’t want to be friends with them - but what choice did I have? If I didn’t forgive them I would be seen as a horrible person. 

Reading Michelle’s book made me realise that you don’t have to do this; you can have a friendship break up. She uses the phrase toxic behaviours rather than toxic people because ‘we are not our behaviours’1. We all have toxic behaviours which we need to work on , including gossiping - something that is normalised but is a sign of poor communication and poor boundaries, and can’t be part of healthy friendships. I have definitely been guilty of this. 

Ending a friendship is not a failure, and it can be hard to realise this.

Something important she highlights is that ending a friendship is not a failure, and it can be hard to realise this. You can still have had amazing times with the person, you can still love them; but people grow and change and sometimes friendships just won’t work anymore. If you have grown and the other person can’t accept this, or if you have friends that don’t respect your boundaries or make you feel bad, it might be time to break up or have a time out. Communication is key in this scenario. You wouldn’t end a romantic relationship without telling your partner. In Michelle Elman’s book she sets out templates of how to text somebody to explain that you need to have a break from the friendship. 

Poorna Bell, an author and journalist, tweeted ‘Easier said than done but we should normalise/encourage making new friends in our 30s and 40s and not holding on so tight to friendships that naturally drift. It takes effort and is similar to dating - but my 40s would be a lonely, resentful time without new friends. My friends mirror my life where it currently is - not where it was 10/20 years ago. I still have my old friends who are very dear to me, but I think as we evolve, the people in our life must evolve too, and when it doesn’t, that’s when I feel stuck and left behind.’ . I think this is relevant and can also apply throughout your life. 

I can’t say I have been particularly good at implementing this so far, but I am learning. It takes time when you have been brought up your whole life thinking that you have to cling onto friends and put up with anything. Implementing these boundaries in your life may make people think you are selfish. We have learnt that being selfish is a bad thing, but it is not. So, have a read of the book and start making those boundaries!! It will change your life for the better. 

  1. Elman, M. The Joy of Being Selfish. London: Welbeck; 2021
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