Friendships to Break
BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
Have you ever been in a friendship where you:
- felt unsupported, stifled, or drained?
- felt your needs were overlooked?
- were made to feel bad about yourself?
If so, it’s quite possible that friendship was “toxic.”
I once became fast friends with a brilliant woman. We had lots in common and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company both inside and outside of work…until I slowly began to realize that no matter what I gave of my time, attention, and empathy, it was never enough. I couldn’t ignore that, while I was feeling stifled, boxed-in, and increasingly judged, I didn’t know what to do about.
We women often have a hard time ending friendships that are or that become toxic. We feel trapped and in some way “guilty,” because, well, we’re friends…we should accept one another for who we are. Or should we? Florence Isaacs, author of Toxic Friends/True Friends offers this food for thought: “You want the right amount of reciprocity of affection and assistance in a friendship…so if you’ve got a friend who is always in need, always in trouble, always wants to talk about her problems, then there isn’t any reciprocity if there isn’t any room for you in the friendship. It doesn’t have to be 50-50 every minute, but overall, there should be some kind of balance in which you feel you are getting your needs met, and so is she.”
Toxicity takes many forms in friendship. When women describe the “types” of friendships that feel off-balance, they often use the shorthand of labels: She’s a user, a critic, a drama queen, a flake, a gossip, an energy vampire, maybe even a “witch.” Whatever the term, remember that if the friendship isn’t satisfying, if your needs aren’t being met, and the balance is all off, you might consider a breakup.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
As women, feeling connected in meaningful relationships is central to our sense of self and our contentment. We find it difficult to initiate a breakup because we:
- are loyal and feel we owe that much to our friend
- think we can change them or that they will somehow manage to do so
- think any friend is better than no friend at all
- don’t want to hurt our friend’s feelings
Any number of these reasons may be holding us back from ending a relationship that no longer works. There is one more reason we hang on and endure: we don’t know how to call it quits.
How to Break Up
Recognize when it’s toxic – check in with your feelings, with the balance of give and take, and look closely at the prevailing dynamic.
Take responsibility – a toxic relationship is hurtful to you and that’s not good; consider if your tendency to please or to avoid conflict is getting in the way here.
Refresh your boundaries – start saying “No” when her actions and expectations drain you, and begin to let her know when she crosses a line.
Run it by someone you trust – it can be helpful to get another perspective from someone who has no vested interest in which way things go.
Tell her your truth or allow things to fade away – consider whether telling her why things aren’t working anymore can be helpful to both of you. Doing so with kindness and respect will make you feel better about ending things. Otherwise, you might gradually disappear by declining invites and not initiating interaction.
End the friendship – resist the temptation to back pedal; remind yourself of the “why’s” behind the breakup.