11 ways to know if you are in a toxic friendship and how to end it

Photo: Getty Images/Gallo Images
Photo: Getty Images/Gallo Images

Friends can add colour and contentment to your life, whether you’ve known them for a short time or all your life. But everyone has, at one stage or another, had a friend who just seems to suck the life out of you with their constant demands, negativity, and manipulation. It’s often said that we can’t choose our family, but we can choose our friends, and sometimes you have to make the hard choice of talking to a friend about your feelings or ending the friendship.

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Friendships don’t turn toxic overnight, Tony Kanengone, a Soweto based social worker in private practice, says. “We all make mistakes. If a friend does something that makes you uncomfortable, talk to them about it. Friendship is about respect and acceptance, and if they respect you, they won’t repeat the behaviour that upsets or angers you. “If they carry on with hurtful or destructive behaviour, the relationship will sour and turn toxic, and you’ll need to take action,” Tony explains.

He says people need to consider the background, experiences, and temperament of their friends as this information can help them deal with a difficult situation appropriately. “We all need to be appreciated by our friends, and we need to do the same. If this doesn’t happen, you should decide if that’s the kind of person you want as a friend. Cutting such friends out of your life is not an easy decision but one that you have to take for your own well­being,” he says.

What are the signs that you are in a toxic friendship?

1.       Your friend constantly acts in a hurtful and inappropriate way. For example, gossiping about you despite you asking them to stop. 

2.       They belittle you when you share your innermost feelings with them.  For example, your friend accuses you of being too emotional when you raise a particular concern with them.

3.       Your friend is quick to apologise without really listening or considering what you’re saying, thus preventing them from having to deal with issues properly.

4.       They always want favours from you but are slow to do the same and make endless excuses as to why they can’t.

5.       They constantly manipulate you to get sympathy. They might say something like: “If you kick me out, I could end up living on the street or go hungry”.

6.       When you’re unable to do something for them, they become aggressive, throw tantrums, or use emotional blackmail. They might say something like: “If you don’t do this, I/my kids/ someone will get hurt!”. 

7.       The friendship centres around them and their needs, with little or no regard for you and what you want. 

8.       You always feel guilty if you can’t do something they want you to do.

9.       They are not prepared to change their inappropriate behaviour. 

10.   When you reflect on your friendship, you see that you are making a lot of the sacrifices. 

11.   They compete with you, trying to outdo you at every turn.

12.   It’s increasingly stressful trying to accommodate them and their demands.

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Can I fix it?

Here’s how you can deal with an unrewarding friendship.

1.       Talk to your friend. If you’re housemates, say something like: “I’d like you to take the lead from me as to how things are done in my home”

2.       Explain how you’re feeling. Say: “I’m not happy about the following . . .” Give clear examples and avoid becoming personal.

3.       Give details. Say: “What I’d like to see happen is the following . . .” Then listen to what they have to say and what they suggest as an alternative.

4.       Be fair.  Your tone should be serious, and you should speak with conviction.

5.       Be firm. If the friend repeats their inappropriate behaviour, give them an ultimatum. Tony suggests saying: “This [the agreement] is what we discussed and agreed upon and now that the agreement is broken, I’m making the following ultimatum . . .”

6.       Don’t become manipulated. Try not to feel guilty about your friend’s reaction. If you do, you’ll just compromise, and they won’t put a stop to their bad behaviour.

7.       Let them take responsibility. Let your friend take responsibility for their own life, problems, or issues. The best way is to stop doing things for them. When they realise you aren’t always there, they’ll have to accept responsibility for their actions.

8.       Let it go. If the friendship cannot be saved, put distance between you and your friend. Don’t visit or hang around each other and ignore their messages, because you might fall back into the friendship and the same toxic situation again.

There are countless reasons as to how you might find yourself in a toxic friendship, and it might also be hard to find a way out. However, if a friendship with someone no longer serves you, it’s okay to end it.