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HOW TO BREAK UP WITH YOUR FRIENDS

The topic of  “toxic friendships” has recently appeared in television shows (think “frenemy”), blog posts, popular magazines, and on morning talk shows. However, I find most of the commentary and suggestions on the topic to be of little use to those of us who are trying to find a way out of a toxic friendship. There are a lot of fears associated with dumping a friend that are not addressed. No one discusses potential social ramifications or interference with your reputation or career. There is no advice about what to do if you have to see this person regularly after the break. It is rarely mentioned how anxiety provoking it is to set limits with difficult people, how crazy certain people can make you feel, and how angry at times. Breaking up with a friend can be a very lonely, painful, scary, embarrassing, maddening, and sad process. It also doesn’t end right away. The fallout and recovery from breaking up with a friend can have residual effects for years. Intense at first, but eventually you’ll rarely think of it.

I’m a married mom of two and I work as a clinical psychologist. I have had the opportunity to support and guide people through the muck of disengaging from toxic friendships. While my work and training informs my thoughts on the subject of difficult friendships, I am also coming from a personal perspective on this issue.

Eight years ago I broke up with my best friend. It was horrible and awful and it was the healthiest thing I have ever done. The friendship spanned from when I was 14 to about 30. The break was a long time coming and I was close to doing it many times before, though I repeatedly lost my footing due to my poor self-esteem, naiveté, and my unrelenting almost pathological need to be “nice.” While I still enjoy being nice and consider myself a nice person, I am much less nice than I used to be.

The break was ugly. If I could go back and do it differently I would; however I would not change my decision to remove myself completely and forever from that relationship. Since then I have encountered at least two potentially toxic friendships. In both cases I was able to distance myself before getting in too deep. I get a little better at it each time. I am also better at identifying the giant red flags whipping in the wind that suggest someone could become problematic. I now know when to keep my distance and set limits early so that difficult people leave me alone and start trolling for a better victim.

This blog is about getting out of unhealthy friendships and avoiding toxic relationships in the future. My intention is not to give advice but to share my ideas. When in doubt regarding your own situations I encourage you to consult with a qualified and recommended mental health professional in your area:).

Please feel free to share your own stories regarding toxic friendships. However, take pains to change the name and identifying information of your friend as this blog is not meant to be used as a platform for throwing stones at the not so innocent.

12 Comments
  1. Juli Bridges permalink

    This is a fascinating subject and I would really like to have a book on subject that I could hold in my hand! I have never had a formal break up with friend….However, have distanced myself or just stopped communicating if it got too toxic. More soon please or where else can I find this blog?? Juli Bridges. Your fan

    • Thank you for your support! I hope to write a book on this topic one day. My goal is to post at least once a week for the foreseeable future as I have so many topics to cover on this subject. Your enthusiasm is so appreciated! Kate

  2. Donna Springer permalink

    Kate,,
    I’ m sure almost everyone has had some “toxic” relationships Getting out of one is very difficult,
    for both parties. i would like to see the “other party,” and his or her feelings considered as
    well–I think your blog will fill an unfilled niche–Your second cousin-in’law(!!)–Donna–RN, St. Louis,
    MO

    • Hi Donna,

      It is great to hear from you! Thank you for taking the time to look at my blog. I truly appreciate your support and your feedback! There are so many topics I wish to cover on this issue. My goal is to address the “other party” with respect and compassion. I want to help readers understand how they have chosen to play a certain role in their toxic relationship and therefore they have a responsibility to treat the other party with humanity and respect. Hope all is well in MO!

      Kate

  3. Laura permalink

    this is interesting to me and very poignant at this time as my husband as I are currently going through this with some family members. I know the title of this blog deals with ‘friendships’ and I am sure there will be many parallels, but will you be or could you address the affects, emotions, complications, etc. of this subject when you deal with the breakup or fall out with close family members. ugh, it’s ugly, unhealthily, and needs to be done, unfortunately. unless the other party is willing to change! looking forward to reason more.

    • Hello Laura,

      Thank you for checking out the blog:). I am sorry to hear about the family stress you are having. Those types of situations can be extremely stressful. As you stated there are many parallels between negotiating toxic friendships and toxic family members; however in the case of family things can become more complicated as the relationships span generations and these types of situations often involve many other family members, children, finances, friends, community, and very intense emotions. Although many family therapists will advocate for attempting to preserve family relationships as much as possible, even the most ardent family therapist will often agree that if someone in the family is so mentally ill or toxic that reasonable boundaries cannot be maintained then sometimes the best option is distance. I plan to get into how one can attempt to change a relationship before deciding to break it off and also how to break it off when one is sure that this is what has to happen to maintain personal mental health. These upcoming sections could be helpful to your situation, though I want to stress that family situations that require “break up” could be an entirely separate blog due to their complexities. I recently came across a website that might be useful in your situation: http://www.outofthefog.net/index.html

      Best of luck to you with your situation.

      Kate

  4. eks permalink

    Kate,
    I am so pleased you have put your great advice into action. I can attest that this is one of the most difficult things to do as I finally did it at the age of 29 (we were friends since 6th grade!). I have to agree with your statement that is become less and less painful with time and eventually becomes a life experience that gives you confidence and clarity! Thank you for sharing your amazing gift of compassion and understanding along with your professional expertise with the rest of us.

  5. Hi,
    Thank you so much for following my blog! If you send me your Email, I can invite you to pin to our exclusive group Pinterest board. Welcome!
    Janice

    • Hello Janice,

      I am fairly new to all of this even though I started my blog two years ago. I struggle to squeeze in writing time between family and work though you have inspired me to get back to it!

      Thank you for the very kind invitation to your Pinterest board. I will send you my email.

      I appreciate your support!

      Kate

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  6. Claire brown permalink

    I have just ended a 10 year friendship. My former friend was an incessant talker and never let me get a word in. When i managed to say something she would nose-curl at me. I recently suggested changing a day trip we had planned, she sent a taut text saying why does she require someone to suggest different things?? I ended it by text. Simply saying i no longer wish to meet up with her anymore. I felt like a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

    • Claire,

      I’m so happy for you that you feel a weight has been lifted. Although it can be extremely difficult to separate from a friend when the situation has become toxic, it can be a huge relief. Although you may encounter some difficult patches with this break up (or you may not) it will likely be worth it in the end. When we constantly compromise ourselves for others who might be difficult or treat us poorly it can have a huge impact on our self-esteem and mood. I hope you now have time to reconnect with old friends whom you feel good around, make new connections, or simply focus on yourself and your interests as you adjust to your new reality without friendship stress!

      Warmly, Kate

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