Toxic relationships, we all have been looking for ways to get rid of them, but just like leeches, it’s harder to get them off unless they are full…
Everyone is toxic to some degree, and not acknowledging that from the beginning would be a fault. But I think we all know that some people just have more destructive power than others and more often than not do we find ourselves in their paths. Those people are what most call ‘toxic”. They are self-destructive messes whose problems spill over onto others, emotional black holes sucking the life out of the people around them.
Because our outlook on life is subjective, it is important for you to decide whether you want to stay in this relationship or not. However, ‘toxic’ people will make you feel guilty for either leaving or trying to leave the relationship. They will guilt trip you, and make you unable to think straight and to identify the situation.
If you have identified a toxic friend or think that you have a toxic friendship on your hands, you should get out of that friendship. Even if you think that you can handle it, ‘handling’ it can only go so far. One way or the other, they will drain your energy.
We will share some of our experiences and advice for going through and letting go of toxic friendships, in hopes of helping you gain clarity on the quality of your friendships, as well as helping you alleviate some of the fear you feel when deciding to stop being friends with someone toxic.
“This person, A, was a childhood friend of mine whom I only got close to later in my teenage years. They were there during my formative years and thus have had a great impact on me. Just last year, I was still going over to their apartment and hung out with their friends. I am not sure myself as to how or why I stuck around for so long, I knew years ago that they were ‘toxic’ and they hurt me and so many others around us. We have a lot of mutual friends, classmates, etc, as we grew up altogether after all, and I am pretty sure everyone knows about their hypocritical tendencies, that they always go back on their words, and that they treat their friends like shit.”
“One of the main reasons why I stuck around for so long was because I thought that I was pretty much one of the last people who may have had a good influence on her. Ever since I thought of moving on from our friendship and focusing on my own life and other friends who deserved more of my attention, I felt guilty for wanting to leave someone, who in my view, needed help. If that person read this, they would probably be trying to twist stories and make it seem like they never asked for help. But anyone who knows knows.”
Recognizing Toxic Friendships
1. Acknowledge your own feelings
We often think about how others would be affected by our decisions and how we could help them instead of hurt them. While we try to keep their inner peace, do we pause and listen to ours? Did you feel hurt, jealous, sad, anxious, or betrayed over something they did or the way they treated you? You may need to take a closer look, but pay attention to your thoughts and body language. Additionally, we may try and justify their actions as an act of being understanding but our feelings could be ignored in the process. You are allowed to say you did not like what they did. Acknowledge and name the emotions you feel, and remember that your feelings are valid.
“I believe that only until recently I actually started to acknowledge all the feelings I had back then. I have always been a bit of a robot and just let things go, but I have noticed that after I acknowledged the fact that they have hurt me, manipulated me consciously or not, that I have started to heal and truly move on. If that “toxic person” gets to have feelings and gets to be hurt, I too, am allowed to feel those emotions and they should matter more than the feelings of someone who made me feel bad.
I cannot remember when exactly it happened but after a while, I realised that I would feel drained of energy and my thoughts would just go round and round because I did not know what to think or even how to think. I kept questioning myself and wondering if there was more I could do to help out someone I considered my friend. I pestered myself for years wondering what kind of person I was or who would I become if I did this or that. I tortured myself and even bothered the people around me, and for what?”
2. Recognise your worth as an individual
Realise that you deserve to be treated better than the way they have treated you. Realise that you do not deserve to be belittled and you can leave what does not nurture you. Realise that you do not owe them anything. They are not entitled to anything in your life. You deserve to be known as an individual and not just as “someone’s friend”.
Everyone has issues and problems they need to work on. We go to our friends to vent and to ask for advice. We try to do our best to reinvent or better ourselves for our loved ones, and ourselves. Toxic individuals are very self-destructive. Whatever the root of their toxicity is, their coping mechanism is to slowly destroy themselves physically and emotionally while dragging down the people around them.
You could find yourself feeling as if you are constantly overshadowed by them, their actions are inconsistent with their words, they feel entitled to know everything about you and would like to think that your interests, hobbies and decisions are indebted to them.
Despite all of it, you should never let them strip away your identity. Do not let their criticism and belittlement make you feel as if you need to change yourself to be liked, or to be enough. You are more than enough as you are, but toxic friends may constantly overshadow you or treat you less than, making you believe you aren’t. Remember that you are definitely worthy of nurturing friendships.
“Here’s another person, C. They think that I can’t go out of my shell without them. Looking back, I was subconsciously restricted from being my own person living my own life because they would constantly mention that I don’t have any friends apart from them. I didn’t like how people associated me with C instead of just seeing me as my own person. Once, when I tried to have a conversation with a mutual friend of ours, he assumed that I was talking to him just to look for C. It seems that I could not really connect with the mutual friend as much as I wanted to. I was just an introvert latching onto the saviour extrovert.
I noticed that although they called me their best friend, some of their actions were not consistent with their words. Why was it that C commented on others’ posts and included others on their story but not me? Why was it that their compliments had an insincere undertone? Why was it that they were not there when I needed them? I let all of these questions slip, only wondering when I realised that I was genuinely unhappy with the friendship.
They criticised my humour and my actions, yet I still stuck around because I saw them as someone I cared for and knew they cared about me as well. I ignored those feelings and let myself be belittled. Eventually, the friendship turned toxic as they started to feel entitled to know the latest, most private updates of my personal life. I no longer trusted them at that point, because they would tell others I did not warrant–and I would feel as though my privacy was disrespected. Eventually, I chose not to tell him anything. The toxic trait lies in getting angry that I no longer trusted them when I decided to do so. I decided that enough was enough, and I had no desire to be friends with him anymore, so I stopped being friends with him.
Of course, ever since I chose to stop being friends with them, I find that I’m alone most of the time. However, being alone is better than being lonely. I am not lonely. I have friends who make me feel good about myself, and they motivate me to improve myself. Who knew, that after the end of our friendship, I started becoming more extroverted and comfortable in my own skin. I felt much more content this way. From being introduced to people I did not feel comfortable with, I introduced myself to people I was genuinely interested in being friends with, forming lesser, but more meaningful connections. Quality over quantity, as they say.”
3. Do they change even after acknowledging their flaws?
If you are lucky, your toxic friend could have recognized their toxic tendencies and be looking to change their toxic behaviours, but most people sadly, even if they recognize their flaws, they feel too comfortable where they are to change their demeanours.
If they are aware that they have issues that need to be changed, and sense that their friends would want to leave them if those issues are not tended to, they will start to love to talk about how much they want to change, how sick they are of being in this situation, they would even apologize or correct small things that you don’t like about them so that they can convince you to stay a little longer. You are not a fool for falling for it, manipulation and toxicity come hand in hand.
It is very important that you take some time to distance yourself from the person you think of as toxic and get a clear head in order to think over things. Talk to a friend who does not know the subject of your troubles and see how they react. Most people can tell what toxicity looks like, and there are things that you might have missed because you are used to giving them a pass.
“On more than one occasion, toxic people around my friends and I have been successful in convincing us that they have changed for the better, that they want to do better, only to slowly come back to the same shitty treatment they are so well adapted to inflict on others. A friend of mine recently had come back into contact with their toxic friend, B. B wore a shiny new mask that fooled everyone and it was particularly effective because they had not seen B for years. Slowly and surely, B started to get back to their old ways… B is known for their self-destructive tendencies, consuming crazy amounts of other toxic substances in order to forget and or deal with their emotions. That self-destructiveness spilled on over to their friends and once again, I had to watch my friends feeling down, duped and disappointed.”
A lot of times, it’s almost impossible to rid yourself of the toxic relationship. The longer time you spend with that person, the harder it is to uproot the relationship. Even then, there is no guarantee that the person will be out of your life for other factors (childhood friend, small city, even family member). If you find yourself in that situation, the best way to deal with it is to focus on yourself and your emotions while letting the relationship fizzle out over time.
Letting go of Toxic Friendships
Ending a toxic friendship is a journey. Whether you stand still with the scariness of change beyond you or look back with longing and regrets, letting go and healing will be part of this journey. Different phases of this journey have different needs. Take what you need, whenever you need it.
Emptiness, sadness, anger, feel all of them at once or none at all. One has to allow themselves to feel the emotions that stop by when trying to let go of someone. Whether you grieve for what you went through or for the friendship, allow yourself to feel and process those emotions. Moving on will come slowly but surely.
It’s okay to feel sad for a long time but to dwell in it is different. Sit with the emotion, feel it and understand it, then get back up—but take your time. No matter how long you take or how little progress you make, forward is forward. Even after some years, you may think back and a somber feeling may come upon you. It’s okay. Grief can be lifelong. But time assists our efforts in letting go.
“To be honest, it did not take me that long to grieve over this friendship with A and B. People come and go, and having thought of leaving that relationship for the longest time, I believe I prepared myself to say goodbye to those relationships. But each time I decided that this was the time to say goodbye, I found myself feeling nostalgic and wondering if this whole bye-bye thing was necessary. I mean, I have been living like this for a while now, if I can just focus more on me, this relationship is not too bad… I was an idiot and that is why it was not until last year that I managed to say goodbye for good.”
“Sometimes I would miss feeling included in social situations when I had C speaking for me but that’s not truly grieving for the friendship. Our minds just constantly want safety and familiarity. Perhaps I grieve, but only for myself, as I let myself break down in tears too many times by staying in that friendship. I grieve, because there is loss and unrequited love. I grieve, for the parts of me I will be leaving behind in order to make space for the new.”
Were the laughs you had together real? Was the care you had for each other real before you realised it was toxic? Just because it ended, does not mean you didn’t have some moments you enjoy. If it was real or unreal to you, acknowledge it. Every person has their good and bad, but sometimes the bad drains you so much that it’s better for you not to stay. Other people may enjoy being friends with them, but our experiences are different and just as valid. You are not obligated to stay just because you think they need you, nor are you obligated to stay because others know you to be close friends. Your inner peace is more important. Maybe it’s hard to let go because you don’t hate them, but acknowledge that you can love someone from a distance.
“They often made their friends and the people around them feel like they were not on their side, if we did not comply or fit into what they deemed as a good friend or a loyal friend, they would get passive-aggressive and even start to ignore some of their other friends. A is infamous for having friends on rotation, if they fought with group A, they would run to group B and after a while come back to group A. We felt used and wondered if we were even seen as friends. We didn’t know how to deal with unrequited emotions. I had fun, I enjoyed my time with them, they were good friends at one point and I cared for them more than I should have. But I shouldn’t be ashamed of my choices, I can’t turn back time. All I can do now is redirect my energy and focus on people that matter to me more.”
“We were having so much fun in the beginning…what happened?” Accept that people change all the time and sometimes you just aren’t compatible anymore. In different phases of our lives, we need different people to surround us. You may think that if anyone were to tell them what their flaws were, it had to be you, but that’s not your responsibility. Accept that you can’t change or fix anyone.
True change only happens if someone decides to do so for themselves, not for the sake of someone else. It is something so hard to accept with the saviour complex kicking in, and it will take time until we truly accept that. Instead of trying harder, try being softer with yourself.
“The strongest emotions I remember feeling in my relationship with A was that I knew that it had to end one day. I wanted it to end one day, I didn’t want to be friends with someone who was so self-destructive. What I had to accept was that A won’t change. A does not want to change and that’s okay, that’s what they want and I can’t change that. The only person worth saving is myself. The work and time I spend on others is work and time wasted. I could be making amends to people I have wronged or neglected in the past, and that’s what I am going to at least, try to do from now on.”
“Compared to A, things were different with me and C. I enjoyed being friends with them in the beginning. We had so much fun being silly together. Eventually, I just felt as though there was no spark anymore to continue the friendship. It was due to harboured negative feelings when boundaries are crossed (or perhaps there were no boundaries, to begin with), which slowly manifested into avoidance for me.
Let me admit that I was not a good communicator back then. They tried to communicate with me and tell me that it makes them sad and anxious when they feel as though I did not want to be friends with them anymore. I thought, perhaps we just changed over the past few months of isolation during MCO, since I had time to heal and self reflect, and that we needed a reintroduction. But honestly, I felt like I had moved on, and being friends with C was not fulfilling anymore. I was struggling through the MCO, and perhaps they were just trying to help, but I felt worse about myself and it made me become passive-aggressive as they started becoming more critical and entitled when we started hanging out again. I feel like I can’t blame them–they struggle with anxiety so it might just be anxiety manifested into toxic behaviours, but I think we aren’t moving along at the same pace of improving ourselves anymore.”
You stop feeling attached to someone when you start having a stronger understanding of yourself—your values, your dreams, ambitions, flaws, and strengths. Focus on discovering these aspects of yourself and eventually, you will gain the will to improve for your own happiness, and not because of anything else. Aim to feel so whole being with yourself that one day, you’ll realise your worth and let go of that person completely.
Besides focusing on yourself, focus on nurturing the relationships that already fulfill you. It’s time to call those people back and ask them how they’re doing, to set a time to hang out and to make them feel a little more appreciated. The people who fulfill you are the ones who make you feel endeared. They deserve your time and energy.
“I left my home country shortly after saying goodbye to A. I would be lying to myself if I said that the distance didn’t help with the separation… To some extent, I am scared of going back home… There’s a big possibility that I will end up running into them. I know that I do not owe them an explanation, not after all the things they did to me, but every time I imagine what would happen if I go back, I feel weak and the guilt and responsibility I feel for them comes back…
I spend a bit more time with friends and family now, I also made great friends who I know have my back and I intend to do better and contact my friends studying or working in other countries. After losing the glue that held us together, my family and I, we’ve taken time to heal by ourselves, something I now regret letting happen. They mean a lot to me and from now on, I am going to redirect my focus on them instead. I haven’t seen them for over a year and the pandemic has only made it clearer what matters to me. Life is too short to waste it on people who take you for granted, and life is too short for you to take your loved ones for granted.”
Slowly but surely, you’ll feel so whole that you turn back and see that you and they were just distant memories. Slowly but surely, you will heal. In the process of healing, you may fall back into what you thought you were over with. When you look back again, be sure to look at how far you have come. A little step forward is still a step forward.
“A taught me a lot about toxicity, probably everything that I know now about toxic people comes from my observations and my experience with her. I myself recognize that I have toxic traits and tendencies, but I can say with confidence that I have been trying to get to why I exercise them in the first place. I believe I have made a lot of progress and that is thanks to the people who see the potential in me. I have neglected a lot of good people who deserved more from me. Instead of taking care of them, I let myself get comfortable and ‘assume’ that those relationships were a safe and sure thing and that they would always have my back. I was wrong and it took me too long to realize. However, it’s never too late to say goodbye and move on.”