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How to Break Up With a Toxic Friend, According to an Expert

It's hard, but necessary
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Plain and simple: Life is hard sometimes. As the years go on, there are people who come in and out of our lives. For me, after graduating high school, I really started to solidify who my friend group was: I met new friends in college, had old ones at home, and stayed in touch with those that mattered most. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that some relationships are simply not worth taking along with you. It's tough to face, but some friendships are, well, toxic.

The toxic friend is someone who can mentally abuse you, kick you while you're down, and overall not bring out the best in you as a person. Harsh as it may be, at the end of the day, your life would be much more enjoyable if this person wasn't in it. It might feel selfish at first, but really, it's better for both of you to get out of each other's lives.

Still, how do you know if a friendship is really toxic? And if you do have a toxic friend, what's the best way to handle the situation? We got down to the nitty-gritty of toxic friendships with Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, vice president of clinical outreach at Newport Academy, to see exactly what a toxic friend is and how to properly remove them from your life without hurting yourself or others in the process.

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How does someone know if one of their friends is 'toxic'?

Kristin Wilson: "A toxic friendship brings your mood down rather than uplifting you; encourages unhealthy behavior, such as substance use or gossiping about others; and brings chaos and stress into your life rather than energy and positivity. A friend who consistently competes with you rather than celebrating your wins, or who criticizes and manipulates you (either subtly or overtly) is a toxic friend. All friendships go through rough spots, and even good friends hurt our feelings sometimes, but when that's the case more often than not, it may be time to end the friendship. Another sign of a toxic friendship is giving more than you're getting, whether it's favors, time, listening, or gifts — but when you need something, they're nowhere to be found. In addition, toxic friendships can actually create physical symptoms related to stress: headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, etc."

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How common are toxic friends?

Wilson: "Toxic friendships are more common than you might think. When you have a long history with someone, or you bonded closely at one time but have grown in different directions since then, it can be difficult to recognize that the friendship is no longing serving you. If you're unsure, ask another person you trust who knows you both — a family member or a mutual friend — if they can give you an honest assessment of the dynamic."

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How can a toxic friend affect a person?

Wilson: "Toxic friends make us feel worse about ourselves — by criticizing us directly or indirectly, encouraging negative and unhealthy behavior, and/or bringing out parts of us we don't like. Toxic friendships can undermine our self-esteem and ability to trust others, and erode our attempts to form positive habits.

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How do you know if you should break up with a toxic friend?

Wilson: "The easiest way to figure out whether a friend is toxic is by asking yourself, Do I feel better or worse after I spend time with this person? Do I like myself when I'm with them? Do I trust this person to be there for me? If your answer to those questions is no, it's time to break up.

Image via Imaxtree

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