How to Identify and Let Go of Toxic Friends
You've heard the saying, "Show me your friends and I'll tell you who you are." This is very true. A friend who exhibits negative behavior can reflect poorly on you. He or she can also be toxic to your well being.
Using some examples, I’m going to show you how to identify unhealthy behavior. I’ll also explain how to end the friendship so that you’re no longer affected by their misconduct.
Five Signs of a Toxic Friend
Do you have a friend who is clearly not a positive influence in your life? Successful people thrive on the help of knowledgeable friends who grow with and mentor others. You do that for some of your friends. In addition, others help you when you're in need of an opinion or guidance.
Then there's that one type of friend who offers no value to you at all:
- They waste your time.
- You find them throwing their life away.
- You find them boring because they have no useful interests.
- You can't have intelligent conversations because they aren't educated.
- Worst of all, they drag you into their wasted life.
A Lifelong Friend Can Become Toxic
What do you do if your friendship was formed a long time ago, and that person is someone who has been a lifelong friend? If it was a friend from high school, you were young and you didn't have a clear idea of the kind of friends you want in your life—those with whom you can collaborate with on life as you both grow older.
Even though he or she is a lifelong friend and you feel some attachment, they went nowhere with their life and you did. The time comes when you realize that they are interfering with your life, maybe even in a destructive way. You've got to decide if it's worth keeping such a person in your life. Sometimes you may need to move on and be the strong person you are.
What Makes a Friend Toxic to Your Well-Being?
When you find that they are becoming high maintenance as you try to guide them. They don't listen to what you have to say and would rather feed on drama, lie, cheat, and even do hurtful things.
You watch them get deeper and deeper into stressful situations. You observe their lies and you're brought into the middle of them. You may even be placed between the lies of a husband and wife, where one asks you to keep a secret from the other. That's not a good feeling.
As you grow older, you might see your friend do hurtful things to others, even to his or her own spouse and children. Your friend is clearly not a positive influence on your life. You realize that you need a more normal and healthy life. You find yourself with no desire to be with that person—not even for a social visit.
In your own best interests, you need to part ways and move on.
Is Your Friend an Energy Vampire?
By now you’ve recognized that you have a friend who has chronic toxic behavior.
If you have a friend like that, you need to consider how they are affecting you. If their attitude is pulling you down, if they put you in an awkward social position, or if they are wasting your precious time, then you need to take a second look at your relationship with this person.
You need to decide what’s important in your own life. If you decide you’re better off having nothing further to do with this person, then your next step is to figure out how to end the relationship.
Let’s first get a better understanding of what makes a toxic friendship draining so you’ll know for sure you need to get away from them. I call them energy vampires. There are many reasons why people stay with friends. However, you have to ask yourself if these people are truly a friend. If they are bleeding you dry of your energy and emotions then you are the victim of an energy vampire.
You are their friend and you want to help. It's frustrating when you find them destroying every aspect of their life, even after you've been telling them how the nature of their behavior is so destructive.
Pay close attention to how you are being treated by this so-called friend.
- Do they enhance your life? Are they on the same level as you intellectually?
- Is your friend stuck in their ways with zillions of emotional issues? Are they so self-absorbed that they can't even listen to reason?
- Do you feel you are wasting time with them because you don't get anything enlightening out of the friendship?
- Do you find that every time you are together the discussion is always about their problems? Then when you try to help them they disregard everything you say to help?
- Do they seem to be jealous of you and they try to hurt you or lie to your other friends?
- Is everything in their life a drama that they attempt to make you part of, or do they try to suck you into their lies?
- Do they request that you keep a secret about something terrible they do, and you don't want to be any part of that?
Should you stay friends with such a person? Go with your gut feeling.
How To Get Away From a Toxic Person
Leaving a friend is not easy, especially if you have a long history. However, I came to the realization that life is too precious to stay in touch with someone who blames the world for his self-inflicted problems and continues to make his life worse. When you see that there is no hope for a healthy friendship, then it's time to say goodbye. Consider it done after you had communicated your feelings. Then don't look back.
Is Your Friend a Victim of His or Her Own Actions?
Some toxic friends are hurting themselves and they tend to drag you into it. The following story may help you discover what to do about it. You may see some similar traits with a friend of yours—sometimes, there can be unmistakable signs you can recognize early on.
As a teenager, I was aware that one friend of mine from elementary school had some serious issues with his behavior. As a child, I didn’t consider that maybe it would be better to stay away from this person. He fooled people and many never saw his other side. He was good at acting pleasant and sociable. “Acting” is the keyword. He fooled his other friends.
When we got older, I noticed he never had an interest in improving himself. He abused his body with poor nutrition. He abused his future by throwing his money away. He abused his life by hurting people close to him. The way he treated his wife was a disgrace. Despite this, he still knew how to get people to consider him a social butterfly.
Toxic People Create Problems for Their Loved Ones
This man married a very understanding and caring woman. Soon after the wedding, my friend jokingly introduced her as his "first wife". I told him that he is actually making a statement that he will leave her someday and that he should notice the hurt look on her face every time he introduced her that way. He didn't care and continued to say things that were hurtful to her.
His wife recognized that there were other problems. I know, because she came to me with questions about it before their marriage, since she considered me a close friend. She realized that he knew nothing about finances, let alone saving for the future. She was worried about that but married him anyway. I told her that he means well and that she can help him.
During the course of their marriage, she tried to help him put money away for their future and to support a future son or daughter. However, he just kept throwing money away. No one had any idea how he was making it all disappear. Gambling? Buying useless "toys?" Paying for favors (if you catch my drift)?
Whatever it was, he never saved a dime. His wife needed to protect him from himself. She did a good job at that while they were married. She put money away in a special savings account for their future years together, and didn't let him know where it was.
She also protected him in other ways. She watched after his health. He was obese and diabetic, but didn't care; he never did anything to improve his health. On the contrary, he did things to make his health worse.
He loved to eat BBQ every day. I told him that BBQ is a carcinogen and if he kept that up he'll get cancer. Soon enough, he had to have a section of his colon removed after cancer had developed. His wife tried her best to help him. Knowing that he had no feeling in his feet due to diabetes, she often examined his feet to be sure he didn't have any cuts. She helped him in many ways, as he grew less and less caring of his own health.
A Toxic Friend Won't Listen to Your Well-Meaning Advice
Soon after having a gorgeous baby, his wife filed for divorce. This came as no surprise since he treated her as badly as he ever had. With a baby girl to consider, she needed to think about her daughter's future.
In the divorce settlement, she got half the house and paid him for the other half so she could continue to have a secure home for their daughter. I told him that he should take that money from his half of the house, and immediately get right back into real estate. I explained to him that he should buy a house for three reasons:
- "You'll always have a roof over your head for you and your daughter."
- "You know that you always waste your money and don't know how to save it. You need to lock it up in real estate for protection."
- "That money she paid you is enough for a 50% down payment. That's a huge equity right from the start that you'll never lose."
I told him these things. What did he do? You guessed it. He never bought a house. He lost all that money and had to start digging into his daughter's college funds that his ex had set up.
They Might Be a Negative Influence to Their Loved Ones
One day he, his daughter, and I were eating out when, in the middle of the meal, his daughter decided that she wanted to call a friend. He lied to her and said his cell phone was broken.
Later when she went to the bathroom, I told him that he was teaching his daughter to lie. I explained that he should have the courage to tell her the rules of social behavior. He just laughed as if he couldn't understand what I was saying.
When his daughter came back from the bathroom, his cell phone rang and he answered it. She turned to me and said, "You see? I always knew that my daddy was a liar!" His daughter was a chronic liar herself. I tried to explain to my friend that she was learning everything from him, but he just brushed it off, saying, “That’s the kind of person she is.” He never could see that her behavior was learned.
At Some Point, It's Important to Move On
It hurts to watch a friend totally destroy his or her life. One can't just sit idly by and do nothing. That is so emotionally draining. I was always wondering why his parents weren't teaching him anything. Maybe they tried just like his ex and I had tried.
We would have discussions where I tried to teach him something about life. He never could see that he was causing his own problems. One time, I tried to warn him that he could lose a foot someday because he always breaks things from having anger issues and later he steps on the broken pieces with his bare feet.
He ignored what I said and continued to go barefoot despite the fact that his ex had given him slippers to wear. One day, he stepped on something he had broken and got an infection that became gangrene. He ended up being amputated above the knee.
His explanation was that diabetes was a disease that life imposed on him—he couldn't see that he could have saved his own foot.
A couple of times, he asked me to lie for him—once to his daughter and once to his wife. I told him that I refuse to be involved in his lies. There was even a situation where he set me up to look bad in front of someone else. I confronted him about it. He knew it and came up with an excuse, but no apology.
Over the past few years, I had told him about all the things that were troubling me about his attitude. I was clearly explaining how I felt, but he continued with his unacceptable behavior.
I had been distancing myself from him for many years. Our routine social dinners to chat and stay in touch had dwindled since I found no interest in him any longer. However, he wasn’t picking up on the clues. I realized he was not "getting it" so I decided that the best thing was to write a letter. I reminded him of all the issues I had with him over the past decade. I referred to all the things I already had told him face-to-face.
I let him know the reasons for my decision to part ways. I put it in writing so he can review it as much as he wants. I didn't think that he'd understand what I was writing, but I needed to put it in print anyway so he'd have a permanent record of the issues. There was nothing further to do. I communicated my feelings. My job was done. Time to move on.
Do you have a friend like this?
Questions & Answers
When someone lies to you constantly, how do you accept it?
I wouldn’t ever accept it. In my opinion, being untruthful is not an option. It’s a sign that he or she does not respect you and they couldn’t care less about being considerate of others.
I consider this toxic behavior, especially if they are constantly lying. You have to ask yourself, what are they up to? What do they expect to achieve?
Are they trying to manipulate you? Do they have a dark past that they don't want to share. This is okay unless you are in an intimate relationship, in which case people need to be open and honest with their spouse or lover.
There are exceptions however. A compulsive liar is definitely a toxic person, but you have to appreciate when someone simply feels threatened or intimidated. If you're not in a close relationship and you ask personal questions, for example, one has the right to not answer. If they are provoked, they may have no choice but to give a "white lie."
© 2012 Glenn Stok