Learning to let go of toxic friends


Photo credit: Ren Rader

Illustration by Ren Rader

We often think of people who are in our lives temporarily as people we simply drifted apart from. There are other kinds of temporary friendships we neglect to talk about, however, and it’s those that are cut short for deliberate reasons — because the relationship was toxic or because you felt you were treated poorly — and not just because life simply took you in different directions.

For years, I allowed for losses of friendship to send me into spirals of doubt, confusion, sadness and loneliness. Whether I was asking myself why someone stopped being my friend or doubting whether cutting someone out of my life was the right decision, losing a friend for whatever reason was never, and will never, be easy.

As I’ve grown older and my relationships have developed, I’ve become much more forgiving with myself when someone who seemed like the most important person in my life a few years ago is no longer in it. It took me many years of allowing toxic friendships to last much longer than they should have in order to learn this, and I continue trying to remind myself of it every day.

By no means am I saying that friendships should necessarily be easy to maintain. Any relationship, especially those that matter the most to us, often need a lot of work and attention for them to last, which isn’t a bad thing. I think it’s important, however, not to lose sight of our own well-being and sense of worth when we feel that a friendship with someone has gone bad.

As much as I’d like to think there are no reasons to stay in relationships that are bad for you, the truth is that we always find those reasons. In times that I’ve assessed some of my own friendships, I’ve found myself holding on to whatever positive memories I have left, even if they’ve become fewer and further between.

Whether it be guilt of the things you might’ve done wrong, fear of being lonely or simply not wanting to lose a friend, we oftentimes find a reason or excuse to stay in situations that are unhealthy. Eliminating toxic friendships from your life isn’t about placing blame or necessarily leaving things on bad terms. It’s about determining what is best for you at that moment and moving on.

Trust me, I wish I knew this at 12 years old when I spent a teary night writing a lengthy, strongly-worded email to someone about what they had done to me. I never sent that email, but hopefully I’ve grown since then, and when I find myself in friendships where I give significantly more than I take, I try my best to say goodbye in whatever way I can (besides writing an email) and letting it go.

It took me a long time to learn that I don’t have to force myself to stay in bad situations. After spending years cultivating a friendship with someone, it is hard to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer good for you because you feel like all that time, energy and the number of good memories you have will all have been for nothing. Remember that it is never a waste, and if you’re in a situation where the bad significantly outweighs the good, it’s always healthier to leave.

Of course, it is much easier said than done to let go of certain people, but I hope this serves at the very least as encouragement to take care of ourselves before allowing someone to treat us poorly. It takes a lot of self-reflection to realize that your relationship with someone isn’t doing you any good, and I think these lessons are only ever learned the hard way, whether you’re an angsty 12-year-old writing an e-mail or you’re in college hanging on to someone by a thread.