I Got Rid of Toxic Friends (and You Should Too)

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Do you have toxic friends?

Just like romantic relationships fizzle, so too can friendships. Yes, I’m giving you seemingly horrible advice: get rid of your friends. No, not all of them, but perhaps one or a few who aren't doing you any good.

The adage “You are who you surround yourself with” couldn’t be truer. What attracts you to others is merely a reflection of what you see in yourself. When I was in my early 20s, I began to realize that a few of the friends I surrounded myself with on a daily basis –- whom I considered my closest of confidants ��- were stripping me of my independence, my confidence, and my conscience. Sure, they had their virtues, but as I grew into myself, I realized that they reflected a younger, more naïve and desperate-to-fit-in less mature me.

They were wonderful, well-meaning people, but our priorities simply weren’t aligned, and I felt trapped in satisfying their version of who they thought I was and who I should be instead of living my truth. They were comfortable with the pushover version of me – the girl who agreed and took part in their unfair judgmental commentary about other people, who enjoyed reveling in gossip, who loved to party and wake up hungover regularly, and who was okay neglecting her responsibilities for the sake of having a good time. Our togetherness reinforced our individual behaviors. We were all stuck, and we all needed to cleanse ourselves of one another - I simply made the first move.

What’s a Friend Cleanse?

A friendship cleanse can take many forms. It can be a simple unfollowing or unfriending of friends on social media whom you either don’t know very well or haven’t spoken to for a long time. The steps beyond social media cleansing may involve spending less time with people you have been forcing interactions with out of the pressure to be nice or responsive. It can also mean completely cutting a very close friend out of your life. At the same time, a friendship cleanse doesn’t have to be drastic. It can simply mean that you spend less time with certain individuals so that you can focus on yourself and become a better version of yourself.

Should You Detox Your Social Life?

When I started shedding dead-weight friends from my life, I didn’t do it consciously. I felt this intense need to distance myself from certain friends, and I naturally did it. Some of them realized the shift in my attitude and availability and weren’t happy about it, but I couldn’t deny my truth. In the end, there were simply some friendships and the habits that came with it I was no longer able or willing to force. My reasons were simple: I was growing up and changing, and a few of my friends couldn’t grow with me.

Here are a few reasons why you may need a friendship cleanse:

  • Your friend encourages behaviors that you are outgrowing. These may include smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual promiscuity, bad eating habits, excess spending, and laziness, among others.
  • Your friend has betrayed you in the past.
  • Your friend talks badly about others behind their backs and is consistently negative about other people’s successes, including yours.
  • You don’t have much in common with your friend anymore and feel like there is little to talk about.
  • You don’t have fun with your friend and feel like you are forcing interaction just to be nice.
  • Your friend constantly talks about him/herself and doesn’t care much about your life.
  • You only enjoy your friend’s company when you feel a certain way. Does your friend only serve a specific emotional purpose and nothing else?

There are far more reasons why you’d want to cleanse yourself of a friendship, but if any one (or more) of the above applies to you and a friend, you may want to consider cutting ties. If a friend exhibits many of the above qualities but you still think he or she is worth keeping in your life, initiate a serious conversation about the changes you are making to your own behaviors and gauge his or her reaction. A true friend will be encouraging of your growth.

The key is to identify how much energy you are willing to invest in renovating a relationship before you let it go. Sometimes the friend you consider to be your soul mate needs to get the boot. And there is nothing wrong with that. You learned from one another and you moved on. So is life!

But often, especially with a friend that you may respect, admire, or may even be scared of, you become vulnerable to his or her trigger facial expressions, comments, tone, or actions. It’s hard enough to realize a friend is toxic under these conditions, but it is even harder to confront him or her about your new self. It takes a lot of confidence and honesty in your assessment about said friend to cleanse him or her from your life.

How to Let Go of a Toxic Friend

There’s no right way to go about this. A social media cleanse is easy and drama free, but getting rid of friends whose lives are intertwined with yours is an entirely new game.

Most friends, especially those not that close to you, fade into oblivion. Others, however, will get confused by your silence or sudden coldness. In my case, I started shedding my toxic friends by changing my own actions -– I went out less, spent more time studying, and socialized with friends who accepted me regardless of my lifestyle choices. Slowly, my toxic friends began to understand I had new habits and didn’t take my change as an assault on them. Some were confused and a bit angry (I'm sure they had a lot of not-so-nice things to say about me behind closed doors), but I chose not to care. Plus, they didn’t consider me as fun anymore and naturally didn’t want to hang out with me as much, either. In my case, a friendship cleanse required no confrontation. But in many cases, it may.

Like breaking up with a romantic partner, a friendship cleanse may get messy, hurtful, and sad. You may miss your friend for months or years to come, but knowing that you did it for the right reasons will help you to heal. Focus on yourself, invest in your growth, and find and keep friends who are encouraging, loving, and respectful of your individuality.

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