The Frenemy Dilemma

How to end a toxic friendship.
Published April 18, 2017

It’s never easy, ending a friendship, but sometimes, no matter how long you have been pals for,  it’s absolutely necessary. Lisa Shouldice, an individual, couple, and family registered psychotherapist in Toronto, sheds some light on how to know when you’re in a friendship that’s become toxic, and what to do when you need to end it.

How do you know when a friendship has become toxic?

“A toxic relationship involves dysfunctional dynamics in which we scream at and/or manipulate each other to get our needs met,” Shouldice explains. “Toxic friendships tend to make us feel like we have no power. This can lead to us feeling angry or helpless. We feel like we are not making our own decisions.”

In a relationship like this, Shouldice says, you may also find that you behave in a way that doesn’t resonate with your value system. For example, you might find yourself yelling at and criticizing this friend, when that’s not something you would normally do.

When a friendship has become toxic, Shouldice says, the person is also probably on your mind a lot.

So what do you do? Is it possible to fix things, or is it time to call it quits?

 “It is possible to reach for healthy functioning and expression of feelings if both of you own your part in the creation and maintenance of this friendship as it is today, and decide to shift your dynamics together,” Shouldice says. “Even if your friend is aggressive and you feel victimized, your part can simply be staying in the friendship, not expecting and asserting better treatment for yourself. There is a chance that the dynamics you have created with your friend are familiar and reflect the dynamic within your family of origin. So it may take healing the past and shifting into healthier choices to heal this.”

If anything is going to change between you and your friend though, she notes, both of you need to be equally willing to own the issues and change together.

All that being said, in some cases, repairing the relationship is just not an option.

Signs it’s time to end a toxic friendship

  • Your friend blames you for the dynamics between you.
  • You feel as if you can’t say no to your friend.
  • You can’t address your feelings or your friend’s behaviour without being afraid of the repercussions (your friend will get angry, cry, blame you, or manipulate you).
  • Your self-worth is being affected.
  • You feel isolated from other relationships as a result of your friend’s expectations.

How to end a toxic friendship

“You will likely need to end this friendship completely, with no contact, or you will get pulled back in,” Shouldice says.

She recommends getting support, because this probably won’t be easy. Lean on your family and your trusted, nontoxic friends.

“Grieve and heal [from] this difficult relationship, reflecting on what got you into it and kept you there.”

Ultimately, Shouldice says, you deserve to express your feelings.

“You deserve to be treated well,” she says. “Friendships should support and nurture us, not upset us and bring us down.”