Skip to main content

Toxic friendships demand going your separate ways


Our relationships comprise many levels of interaction throughout life. Many times that interaction helps us grow and evolve. Other times we get ourselves into toxic relationships where there are just no redeeming qualities.

What is a toxic relationship?

By definition, a toxic relationship consists of certain behavior on the part of the toxic friend or partner that causes either physical or emotional damage (or both) to the other person. In a healthy relationship each friend or partner contributes to the self-esteem and emotional energy of the other. In a toxic relationship you are victimized or experience a drain in energy.

In a healthy relationship you experience mutual caring, respect and compassion, and an interest in the friend's or partner's welfare and growth. Each has the ability to share control over situations and making decisions. One does not dominate completely over the other.

A safe relationship is one in which you can be yourself without fear of losing the other person's admiration or love. It is one in which you feel comfortable and secure and do not have to "walk on eggs." A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance and control.

According to Thomas L. Cory, Ph.D., in his article Toxic Relationships, even a good relationship may have periods in which behavior on the part of one or both partners could be labeled toxic. As human beings we are not perfect, after all. There are going to be times when an imbalance is experienced in any relationship, but these are things that usually can be worked out and understood.

Dysfunction is the norm in a toxic relationship, according to Dr. Cory. "The toxic partner engages in inappropriate controlling and manipulative behaviors on pretty much a daily basis." Quite often it appears to the outside world that the toxic partner or friend is behaving in an "exemplary manner."

So why does an individual behave toward another in a toxic way?

The main reason is the misguided friend needs to be in control. In a relationship such as a marriage, there are different types of toxic behaviors, such as "Deprecator-Belittler," "Bad Temper," "Guilt-Inducer," "Overreactors/Deflector," "Over-Dependent" and "Independent (or Non-Dependable) Controller," as well as "Possessive (Paranoid) Controller." Then, there is "The User."

"Users" can start out being courteous, pleasant individuals and that lasts as long as they get everything they want from you. A relationship becomes "user toxic" when you realize it is a "one-way street" and you can never do enough to satisfy them, or you absolutely must do everything their way. Such people will hold whatever they've done for you over your head and work hard to induce guilt. Dr. Cory says that staying in a relationship with a "user" is like paying $1,000 for a candy bar. You simply don't receive much for your investment in such a friendship.

I could elaborate on toxic relationships all day and all night, but my focus for this article is on "toxic friendships" and how to save yourself from them. What do you do when you find yourself in a toxic friendship with someone and you just can't take it any more?

These types of friendships include the following behavior patterns:

* Gossping and snide remarks about you and others in your circle
* Fault-finding and criticism -- everything from the way you clean your house to your dental hygiene, to your size, your friends, and how much time you spend doing things
* Your thoughts and opinions don't matter
* Over-demanding -- Nothing you do is good enough
* Subtle jabs and put-downs -- You often don't even know you've been put down until you start feeling bad.
* Unreliability
* Jealousy
* Neediness -- It's all about them -- they don't take any time to talk about you
* Making fun of your ideas, especially in front of others
* Blaming you for all their problems rather than taking responsibility for their own choices
* Complaining about their life and dumping their frustrations on you

These are some of the characteristics of a toxic friendship. Basically, if you feel bad around this friend, it's a toxic relationship and you need to do something about it.

If you're not sure whether it's really a toxic friendship you have with this individual, consider the following feelings that define a toxic relationship:

You feel:

* Unsupported
* Unaccepted
* Unrewarded
* Stifled
* Dissatisfied
* Unequal
* Exasperated
* Depleted
* Drained
* Fearful
* Judged and inadequate
* Guilt
* Tired
* Angry
* Untrusting -- For example, if they are gossiping about others, what will they be saying about you when you aren't around?
* Stressed

If you permit it to happen, a toxic friend can drain your energy mentally, emotionally, even financially -- like a vampire. When you are around them, your mood turns sour and you simply don't feel good. After you've been with a toxic person, you feel the need to go take a shower or bring in some element of positivity.

What's at the core of toxic relationships is low self-esteem. Toxic people carry around a lot of fear. They may be afraid they aren't good enough, or that they might lose control, or they might expose their inner desires and wants. They have often been the victims of toxic relationships themselves.

So when people don't feel good about themselves, they see other people's success as a poor reflection upon themselves and they begin to resent other people getting ahead. Their reaction, more often than not, is to belittle other people's dreams, successes, wins and goals.

Your own sense of self-worth and capability will greatly diminish if you stick around a toxic person too long. It is vital that you take steps to ensure that you stop the damage from people who are poisonous toward you -- whether they intend to be that way or not.

A toxic friendship that almost drove me to the breaking point involved a dysfunctional woman whose physical and emotional needs exceeded what anyone could give her. She started out as a pen pal and begged me to allow her to visit us.

My husband and I, being lightworkers, decided to reach out and help this woman because we could see she was in a desperate life situation and we simply wanted to help. We offered friendship and money and our time to assist her in getting a "new lease on life."

But it soon became apparent that everything we did for her was simply not going to be enough. Her demands on us began to drive a wedge between my husband and myself, and literally it was draining the life energy out of me to be around her.

I'm quite sure that this woman may not even have been aware of how she affected other human beings. She seemed to move from one group of friends to another, ending ties with each one as she used up
their resources both physically and emotionally. She saw the human race as uncaring, unfeeling, impatient and intolerant toward her, and really had no concept of her own manipulative nature.

We realized a lot of this was not her fault, so we continued to help her for years. Finally we had to move away in order to get clear of her. Recently, our paths crossed once again and, like before, I agreed to help her out of a desperate situation she had gotten herself into.

Unfortunately, this time I was not strong enough to endure the toxicity. I realized that I needed to do something to keep myself from falling back into the trap of having my energy completely sucked out of me. Without my late husband's moral support and strength, I found my only recourse was to sever my ties with this toxic friend.

Getting Out of a Toxic Friendship

It is not easy to end a friendship with someone who looks up to you and says they are grateful for all you have done for them. Yet your life will remain unpleasant as long as you are around the toxic individual. You are the only one who can do anything about it.

I found the following helpful tips for ending a toxic friendship at Leadership and Motivation Training's Web site. You can improve the quality of your life by neutralizing the impact of toxic relationships:

1. Make a list of the Positive Aspects of the toxic person in your life. This technique helps you to shift your focus. If all you only focus on is their negative aspects, then they will be like this whenever they are around you.

2. Get perspective by working with a neutral person who has no agenda about you and the relationship with the other person -- maybe a counselor, a coach, a neighbor or a co-worker. The key here is that this isn't about creating for yourself a pity party, and/or looking to dump on the other person. This is about asking the other person to help you focus on what is going on, the part you have played and what you are willing to do to move forward.

3. Take Responsibility. A part of you is allowing the behaviors to happen and continue to happen. Ask yourself  "Why am I allowing this to happen? What could I be learning from this?"

4. Set Boundaries. Let the other person know what they can and cannot do around you.

5. Keep Working On You and improving your mindset and emotional capability. The book Anatomy of Peace is a terrific book to help you view situations like this from a very different and freeing perspective.

6. End the Relationship. If after trying all of the above and nothing changes, then it is time you walked away from the relationship.

Okay, you've decided it's time to end the friendship. There doesn't have to be a big scene or a lot of painful interaction when you end the relationship with a toxic person. But you do need to say something to the individual, for closure's sake. You can do it in a polite way, by saying something as simple as "Our friendship is simply not working any more, and I think it's best that we end it and go our separate ways... no hard feelings."

If you share the same circle of friends, it's important to remain polite and not talk in length to others about ending the friendship. Do not gossip about the person. People will respect you more if you just say something like "It just wasn't working out." You don't have to give the reasons.

You will feel a great relief once this burden is lifted from your life. Choosing to be around only people who uplift you and make your life's journey a pleasant and fulfilling one will bring joy and create opportunities in life you never knew existed. But it has to be your choice and your initiative.

Honor the time you spent with this person as a learning experience and one from which you did the best you could at the time. And then... move on.

For more info: Danger signs of a toxic relationship.
For more info: Toxic Relationships by Thomas L. Cory, Ph.D.
An excellent video on "Ending Friendships" from
< param name="allowFullScreen" value="true">


  • Eleena 5 years ago

    This is a ver in depth and well organized article... Toxic friendships are a difficult thing to put up with, but can be an even more difficult thing to deal with. Thanks for the grat advice!

  • Hartmut 5 years ago

    Although in your splendid article you speak of a 'toxic' woman friend, I would say that most of the toxicity in relationships comes from men towards women. Which ever the case may be, no doubt your article will be a great help to all those who suffer of having their life-force drained away by a real emotional vampire.

  • valerie benson 5 years ago

    As always you've written with wisdom and sensitivity on a difficult subject. I am hoping some day to see you on the Oprah Winfrey show or Dr. Oz"s new program. I never thought that there was anyone in your circle of friends who could be toxic since your level of associations is very enlightened. You probably have everyone wondering" who" the mystery woman is ? Perhaps you might send this person a copy of this article. I think women have more difficulty with toxic situations than men. A man blows it off does not feel the need for an explanation and just lets things be take their course. A man usually does not do anything at all. The situation just disappears from lack of energy. I had a very dear friend who was a graduate of bradley university in Peoria, illinois. She was a very brilliant woman. She married a man who " battered" her and she suffered physical and emotional damage over years in the relationship because she loved the man. She became ill. She became a " toxic" person .

  • valerie benson 5 years ago

    My religious teaching tells me to act in kindness at all times. The american indians forewarn not to judge : "to walk in the moccasin's of another" and Jesus said: "He who is without fault caste the first stone". We can never know the hearts of others and never to presume an agenda. Many times we do not know why another has reached out to us nor why we established a friendship. Alot of times people behave under duress in a totally uncharacteristic way. We have to let time heal all wounds and to always give the other the benefit of the doubt since we may never know the extent of spiritual damage caused by closing our hearts to another. It is best to bless a situaton with love and goodwill. Time will take care of the rest.