Earlier this year, we covered the process of identifying a toxic friendship, highlighting the signs and symptoms that a friendship has got to give. If you’ve ever been in a sticky situation with a friend, and you probably have, then you’re familiar with the process. It goes like this: You recognize the signs, take the steps, and end the friendship.
But.. then what? How does life look like on the other end? What happens next?
There are five distinct questions that are going to cross your mind, ones that are often overlooked in the dialogue on toxic friendships.
#1: Whose fault is it?
You won’t always find a boogieman in the relationship. Actually, more often than not, the friendship could consist of two well-rounded individuals with mutual interests and good intentions, but it still doesn’t work out. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your ex-friend either. Sometimes, expectations don’t sync up. That’s what causes the friendship to grow into a frustrating, stressful relationship, often full of misunderstandings and turmoils. That, in turn, is what makes it toxic. It’s important to understand that there are situations where blame cannot be cast. There are situations where life gets in the way, and where it’s ultimately more beneficial for you and your friend to part ways.
No ill will has to be harbored. You don’t have to hate them. It’s actually healthier for you if you don’t.
#2 Why do I feel so guilty?
You ended things with your friend. Maybe for the first few hours you feel empowered; you feel like you’re taking control of your life and eliminating sources of negativity. The next morning, however, you start to miss them. You start to wonder if you made the right choice, and it eats at you, because you start to go back over all the things that you two went through, all the good moments. You start to think that maybe you overreacted. I’m here to tell you that you didn’t, and here’s why: If you got to a point in a friendship where the word ‘toxic’ popped into your mind, then you are not overreacting. Sometimes, you don’t feel how much something has drained you until it hits you all at once. And sometimes, continuing to push down those feelings and trying to make things work despite feeling exhausted, used and misunderstood is negative for both you and your friend. At the end of the day: It’s important to take your personal health into account, first and foremost.
If you’re not comfortable in a situation, it’s okay for you to get out. There doesn’t have to be a justification or a major reason. You have the right to respectfully set your boundaries without being mean or hurtful.
#3 What do I do about social media?
You’re gonna see their posts. You’re gonna see their photos, their updates, and everything else in between. You’ll probably feel a mixture of contempt and longing, and it’s crucial not to dwell on it. There is going to be some lingering negativity within you that will be awoken by each time you see a mention of them. This negativity can be either towards them, towards yourself or towards the whole situation. It’s normal, it doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you a human navigating unresolved issues. You need to always find a way to convert that negativity into something positive. If you see a post about them traveling, try to focus on being happy for them. If you see a photo, think about how nice they look in it, and keep scrolling. You’re not obligated to unfollow or block them if you don’t want to. If you try to practice this, with time, you’ll get automatically used to the positive response, and it’ll contribute to the healing process.
Remember: Not all toxic friendships have to end badly. They just have to end, at least in their current state.
#4 Is reconciliation possible?
Now, this is a tricky one. This is where the distinction between toxic friend and toxic friendship comes in: If someone is a genuinely negative, abusive or mean person, then the possibility of reconciliation should not even cross your mind. If, on the other hand, the friendship was just a wrong place, wrong time kind of situation, then there may be a chance for the two of you to reconnect later. But, and this is crucial, do not rush this step. Give yourself time. A few months, maybe even a year or two. Be open to the possibility that you may never feel ready to have that person again in your life, and to the possibility that they may not want to go for round two.
Either way, you need to give yourself time to heal from the damage inflicted by the toxic friendship first.
#5 What is the distinction between toxic friend and toxic friendship?
There are toxic people in the world. They’re usually referred to as being emotional vampires; they absorb your energy and leave you with a cloud of negativity every-time you hang out with them. They’re not supportive, they neglect your interests and accomplishments, and they basically make you feel like shit. On the other hand, there are toxic friendships in the world. Sometimes the two parties are mismatched in several ways, and it leads to the presence of unevenness in the relationship. It becomes a burden for both involved to try to keep up with the other, and to try to find a common ground or meet each other halfway. It’s difficult, sometimes, to be able to tell the difference. Especially because people in toxic friendships exhibit toxic behavior when they are around each other.
Truth is, there is no tried and true formula to tell the difference. The only way to figure this distinction out is to look at the friendship that’s weighing down as an isolated incident and analyze it as such.
We are conditioned to only recognize potential of abuse in romantic relationships. We put too much emphasis on romantic relationships and not nearly enough on the platonic ones, even though the latter tends to leave a bigger impact on our lives. I’m writing this to highlight the sides of ending a toxic friendship that I haven’t seen anywhere else before. Instead, I learned them through my own experience and the experiences of others around me. I’m hoping to expand the dialogue on the importance of paying enough attention to navigating platonic relationships. Because, at the end of the day, one good friend can save you from a lifetime of pain.