It’s a term which is widely used, but what actually is a toxic friendship?
Essentially, toxic friendships are friendships which feel one-sided, unfulfilling and draining.
Ever had that one friend who always calls when there is a problem in their personal life but when everything’s right as rain you can go a year without hearing from them? Toxic.
Ever meet up with your friend and feel drained at the end, as if you’ve taken on all their burdens but not been able to share any of yours – or at least when you tried they zoned out and changed the subject? Toxic.
Sure, sometimes brutal honesty can be important in friendships, but does it feel like their honesty is coming less from a place of genuine care and more from a need to criticise you in order to validate themselves? Again, toxic.
So, what’s the best thing to do in this situation?
For many people, going to uni in is a chance for them to express themselves and perhaps even create a new identity, neither of which are wrong to do. However, this – along with the excitement of being in a new environment – can lead to neglecting friendships back home, or simply forgetting that forging new, rewarding friendships takes time and effort. This can lead to the feeling that certain friendships – either new ones or friendships from college or school – are not perhaps as genuine or as healthy as hoped.
Just like in any relationship, it’s easy to wonder whether maybe it’s you who’s causing the situation when things first start to go wrong, so try and take a step back to assess your relationship before making any rash decisions.
Equally, just because your friendship is toxic or even if it’s simply that your friend is toxic towards you, this doesn’t mean that all of their relationships with other people are also like this. In such a situation, by not taking charge and deciding that a change needs to be made, not only are you allowing yourself to continue being hurt but you’re also passing up an opportunity to make them realise that they’re behaving in a way they may not have even realised they were doing.
However, if after a while it does seem that things are getting toxic despite your best intentions to sort things out – and particularly if you try to talk things through and your friend seems disinterested, defensive or simply oblivious – it may be for the best to think about whether this is a friendship you really need in your life.
Ending a friendship is never easy, especially if this is a long-term friendship, and again this isn’t the only solution to discovering you’re in a toxic friendship. However, if this is a relationship which is leaving you with more negatives than positives, really consider whether it’s one you want to keep dragging around with you.
Understandably this can be difficult at uni, particularly if it’s a friendship between you and a housemate or close coursemate, but at the end of the day, your happiness and also theirs is more important than trying to force a toxic friendship to work. Most people know what being a good friend entails and if your friend isn’t willing to treat you right or respect your friendship, it’s most likely not a relationship worth holding on to.
As uncomfortable as it may feel at first, the best way to bring an end to a friendship which has become toxic is to create space and gradually bring an end to communicating with your friend on a regular basis. It’s not easy to do, but if you don’t and the friendship keeps limping on in the same way, you’ll realise that it’s something which will have to happen eventually and that the sooner it does the better – there’s no point in prolonging the inevitable.
If you feel you can, try and explain to them why you feel the friendship is no longer working, but – especially if done in person – this can get messy and sometimes, especially if your friend is the kind of person who won’t acknowledge where they’ve gone wrong, it’s just not worth the pain and effort.
Finally, even if you do decide that for now the friendship isn’t working out in the way you want, and ending the friendship seems like the best option, that’s not to say that things will never work between the two of you ever again. People change constantly and it could be that a few weeks, months or even years down the line the time comes when you reconnect with your friend – and if this happens it’s up to you to decide what to do.