If a toxic friendship is bringing you down, killing your confidence or making you feel small, no-one says it has to last forever. With a new season on the cards there’s no better time to reassess and address. MOJEH investigates how and when to cut the cord
As the Walker Brothers once sang breaking up is so very hard to do. Even when it’s for the best, getting out of and over a toxic relationship can take an emotional toll on even the strongest of us. Yet while we’re all well versed on the damaging mental effects of an unhealthy romantic relationship, less is said about toxic friendships. With all the new season talk of switching up our wardrobes and detoxing our lives, should we be thinking about decluttering those friendships which no longer serve us too? “A healthy friendship is one full of authenticity,” UK-based psychotherapist and coach Sarie Taylor tells MOJEH. “This means that both parties are able to show up authentically no matter what, be unapologetically themselves and respect each other’s differences. We don’t need to be the same as each other in order to be in a healthy friendship — we just need to be respectful and open-minded to seeing what is at the core of each of us: love and compassion.”
Friendships only work on a voluntary basis, and true friends aren’t necessarily the people who are always around you. Instead they are the people who will be there to support you no matter what, offering love and understanding when you need it the most. “A good friend will not only understand that you must put yourself first, but they will actively encourage it,” adds Taylor. In today’s society, there can be immense pressure to stay friends with everyone we’ve ever gotten close to, and indeed there are a large number of studies on the mental health benefits of these relationships. Many show that close friendships result in higher levels of self-esteem, sensitivity and happiness, with adults who describe theirs as positive reporting lesser feelings of anxiety. What happens, then, when you start to take different paths? When the ‘playful’ bickering now feels a lot more like ‘this person is constantly putting me down’? Or perhaps you are solely responsible for keeping a one-sided friendship afloat. There are certain kinds of people who can be detrimental to our mental health, and when we recognise these, the question becomes do we keep working on them, or start a Marie Kondo-style cull of those who no longer spark joy? “Any friendship or relationship that keeps you up at night examining and wondering if you feel safe, or affects your mental health, is worth considering if distance is required,” agrees Dr Jeanina Mahrenholz, founder of Dubai’s Blue Lights Wellness and consultant psychologist at Chelsea Pharmacy Medical Clinic in London. “I say distance first, as distance helps bring perspective before jumping to conclusions. Toxic friendships are not friendships. If you feel like there’s always competition, or you can’t speak your mind around them, it could be time to walk away.”
Knowing how to cut a toxic friend out of your life and actually doing it are two very different things, yet for the sake of your mental health, there are times it becomes a necessity. We may choose our friendships, but the impact of them can be so detrimental to our state of mind and wellbeing, especially if they invoke anxiety, insomnia, trigger insecurities or make you question your life events. “I’ve seen clients whose friendships even lead to NATs — negative automatic thoughts — making them ask themselves questions like ‘are they prettier and skinnier than me? Or more successful?’”, adds Dr Mahrenholz. “Nothing is worth affecting your mental health and as we live, learn and grow, choosing yourself is important for emotional balance and peace.” Of course, while every relationship and situation is different, and you’ll need to take your personal circumstances into account first, there doesn’t need to be any other reason behind ending a friendship other than you feel you need to. That said, when detoxing bad energies from your life, there are certain things to take into consideration. “The key is to follow your gut instinct and not allow others to talk you out of doing what feels best for you,” explains Taylor. “It might be an idea to take some time out, and space yourself from the person before cutting them out completely so that you feel grounded in your decision when the time comes. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for support or a listening ear if you feel like your anxious mind gets the better of you when making any changes.”
Just because a relationship is toxic, it doesn’t mean it is easy to end or walk away from: familiarity can bring comfort even when a relationship isn’t healthy for us. “Show yourself compassion when experiencing any feelings associated with ending it,” Taylor advises. Walking away from a friendship may be one thing, but relationships with toxic family members is a whole other ballgame. Not all of us are born into families we adore spending time with — be it a parent, sibling, aunt or uncle, these relationships can be more than complicated, whether it’s an incoming call triggering an anxiety that dates back to childhood or family gatherings that leave you feeling hurt, angry or exhausted. “A big reason that it may feel harder to cut out a toxic family member is because of the pressure that others within the family often put on us, as well as society’s expectations around family life and relationships that we may feel we need to adhere to no matter what,” explains Taylor. In reality, boundaries are just as important between family members as they are between friends — these boundaries help us to protect ourselves regardless of who else is involved and their relationship to you. Prepare for some resistance, however, but keep in mind that if we are around frequently around people we share unhealthy relationships with it will always be detrimental to our lives.
“Expect that other family members may feel that they have a right or duty to get involved and tell you want to do, but that doesn’t mean that you need to go against what is right for you,” says Taylor. “Just because we are connected by blood and family links, it doesn’t give anyone the right to treat us badly. We deserve to be treated well by everyone we are in a relationship with, even when it wasn’t our choice but a unit we were born into.” Stepping back from, or even cutting out, a friend or family member is destined to be accompanied by strong feelings of guilt — women bond passionately and profoundly, after all. But being kind to yourself — and them — is the biggest healer. Avoid slinging mud and finger pointing, simply be clear, considerate and explain your reasoning. Listen to what they say, tell them you wish them well, and mean it. “Guilt comes from our thinking, and is an indication that we are putting too much pressure and expectation on ourselves,” concludes Taylor. “Less pressure and more compassion for yourself is always the answer.”
How to End a Toxic Friendship
If you’ve made the decision that the sun is setting on an unhealthy relationship, Dr Mahrenholz takes us through the steps to end the negativity with minimum heartbreak
• Fade out the connection slowly with fewer phone calls, meet-ups, WhatsApp conversations and one-on-one interactions. This will also allow you space and time to evaluate the connection and its toxicity.
• When your mind is clear and calm, voice your concerns. Invite your friend for a coffee or, if that feels too uncomfortable, make a phone call or write an email.
• Speak from the heart, without being sentimental. Phrase the conversation from your perspective, such as “I feel…”, and give the other person space to respond.
• Find an outlet to manage and deal with any anger, sadness or grief. Try movement to boost mood, meditation to help connect to oneself, or delve into your own hobbies and creative projects for a mind break.
• Once the friendship is beyond repair, evaluate your social media interaction and consider an unfollow. The same goes for your mobile — it might be time to delete that number.
• Practice acceptance through forgiveness. Daily gratitude practice can include writing down what you are thankful for
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- Words by Naomi Chaderton