Ending a Toxic Relationship: How to Know When to Let Go
A 20-something woman has many “types” of friends, each with their own purpose. There’s the best friend whom she’s known for years and can go to for anything, good or bad. There’s the advice guru, who is always there to offer straight words of wisdom– whether you want to hear it or not. There’s the social sister, who is always up for a post-work happy hour (that often lasts three…).
The list goes on, but unfortunately, for many of us, we also know that list can include the toxic friend. Dun! Dun! Dun! The toxic friend is someone you were probably super close with at one point, but then something changed and she began to have a negative effect on your life. You’re probably reading this thinking about her right now, and you’re feeling frustrated that you don’t know what to do. Is the friendship worth saving or is it time to remove her from your life? As we become older, friendship’s becoming more about quality than quantity, right? For guidance on handling these difficult relationships, we spoke to Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships. And guess what? It’s not just toxic friends you have to worry about.
Life2PointOh: What makes a friend “toxic”?
Susan: A person is toxic when instead of making you feel safe, you’ll feel uneasy and unsafe around them. Although you want to trust this person, you cannot. She has betrayed you on some level, and that is what destroys trust. If you need the friend, despite what she’s done–perhaps you are in the same social circle and you fear being tossed out if you declare a war–there is this sense of discomfort and then you have to put on a face as if you are real friends.
Life2PointOh: How can a woman recognize when a friend is having a toxic effect on her life?
Susan: If you dread having to see this friend and often make excuses to avoid her–that is a sign. Also, if you no longer agree with her values and she’s chosen to do something reprehensible, then there is a toxic effect on your life.
Life2PointOh: It’s not just limited to friends though because relatives can be toxic too, right?
Susan: Yes, absolutely. Relatives can be toxic, too. And that’s trickier, because ideally, we choose our friends, but we can’t choose our first cousins or sisters-in-law or step-siblings. There is often rivalry in these familial relationships. Some women say they have a jealous sister-in-law or a first cousin who has stolen their boyfriend.
Life2PointOh: What do you do once you realize this person is toxic? How do you remove yourself from this relationship?
Susan: Once you realize that your friend is toxic, you can either have a conversation with her where you explain how you feel, and hope to renegotiate the friendship. But be prepared that this may not work and you might lose the friend altogether. Or, best case scenario, it can improve the friendship, which is a good thing–although you should still keep up your guard and radar. If you truly cannot forgive or tolerate a friend’s behavior and way of thinking, then you can ‘ice’ her and slowly distance yourself. In the age of text messages and emails, she’ll realize fairly quickly what’s going on.
Life2PointOh: So, it is possible for a toxic relationship to be salvaged, but is it worth it?
Susan: Women in my study were definitely in favor of renegotiating the friendship. This takes courage. Part of the reason female friendships are so complicated is that many women do not like confrontation and will avoid a serious conversation. So you can think of a toxic friendship like an unhappy romantic relationship–it’s hard to call it quits, but it doesn’t feel right to keep it going either.
Do you have a toxic person in your life? Would you rather repair the relationship or move on?
Photo Credit: eddiedangerous via Flickr