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Don’t Cut Off All Your Toxic Friends Yet

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December 22, 2023
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Aaron Gilbert
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You may never find “non-toxic” friends because humans are complex beings. Even people who love you dearly can upset or disappoint you. Just like an unexpected rain during a barbecue party, it has nothing to do with you personally. Despite this, popular social media influencers seem to think that you should cut off any toxic friends or family members even if it leads to your social isolation.

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This advice is wrong on two levels. First, social isolation may cause stress, increase anxiety, and negatively affect your physical health. Another reason is the advice is based on a wrong definition of “toxic” in the context of relationships.  

What are toxic friends?

Defining the term toxic is not easy because there are many types of toxic people. Generally, the signs that a person may be toxic are when they make you feel inadequate, insecure, anxious, and stressed whenever you are around them. This is because real toxic people are not just unpleasant but also manipulative, self-absorbed, selfish, and unable to empathize.

Note that a friend who occasionally forgets to call you or sometimes makes you feel insecure about yourself is not necessarily toxic.

Can you continue your friendship with a toxic person?

Toxic people cannot empathize and may not take it kindly when you point out their negative behavior. Any energy you expend to try and save the relationship will be wasted because the toxic person will always portray themselves as the victim.  You have no choice but to cut off unbearable people if you want to protect your mental health.

The initial step to ending such a friendship involves resisting the urge to forgive the toxic person even when they say they are willing to change. They may be trying to manipulate you. 

You need to stand your ground and cut all contact with the person,

What if the toxic friend is a relative or a coworker?

Completely cutting off a family member or coworker is only sometimes possible. If it is impossible to cut them off, you can lessen the impact of their toxic behavior by limiting the amount of time you interact with the individual. Another technique is finding a support system comprising friends or family to listen and validate your concerns. 

You can also find a new purpose in life that keeps you physically and mentally healthy. This could include finding a new hobby or even traveling.

When not to cut off friends

Relationships take time to mature and  there may be a lot of bumps before you reach a friendship sweet spot. Every time you disagree is a slight bump in that journey of growth, not an obstacle that is impossible to conquer. 

For some, the friendship sweet spot is when they can tolerate each other’s faults while setting boundaries, and celebrating their strengths. 

So, before you cut off a “toxic” friend, find out whether they are actually toxic or your friendship is still growing. Having peace of mind is great but should not come at the expense of forming enduring and beneficial friendships or relationships.

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Aaron Gilbert, LICSW