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National Unfriend Day 2017: Toxic Friends & What to do About Them

It's National Unfriend Day, and in the spirit of the holiday, we are going to talk about the kinds of people you may need to cut out of your life for good.


What are 'toxic' friends?

'Toxic' is such a strange word. It seems to refer to objects, like radioactive waste, or poison. But when it refers to people, what does that mean? Can people really be poisonous?

Well, if you're talking about the "if I bite them, I will die" definition of poisonous, no. But in the sense that a person's negative energy can poison the air around you and even the energy you are giving back to the other people in your life, absolutely.

Toxic friends literally poison your personality. If you feel exhausted, put down, stressed out, or anything that makes you personally feel worse; emotionally, physically, or mentally, after spending time with them, you might have a toxic friend on your hands.

I think my friend is toxic. What do I do?

Well, congratulations. It sounds cliché, but the first step in getting out of a toxic friendship is to recognize that it's happening in the first place.

Following that, it becomes important that you recognize how you are behaving in the relationship. What trait/traits does your toxic friend continually pick on? How do they work to make you feel insecure? And how do you react to them?

After you've self-evaluated, it's important to have a plan going forward. Psychology Today recommends planning out situations using an "If/Then" model, i.e. "If my friend says something that would cause me to negatively react, then I'll ask 'Why would you say something so hurtful?'"

Using this method to stand up for yourself is not easy, but it's so important. Eventually, if you find that communication becomes impossible when you refuse to let yourself be treated less than, it might be time to think up an exit strategy.

I'm scared to leave my toxic friendship.

Yes, that's natural. After all, you've invested so much time and energy in this person, that taking them out of the equation of your life will completely change your "normal." The thing that's important to remember is that a TRUE friendship is a give-and-take, and a toxic friendship is more a give-give-give-give while the other person takes-takes-takes-takes, and investing more time and energy into your non-toxic friends will not only benefit you, it will give you the confidence to make new friends.

"It's difficult to end a friendship," says Charles Figley, PhD, professor and director of the Psychological Stress Research Program at Florida State University. "Breaking up with anyone, whether it's a spouse, love relationship, or a friend, is not fun. It's even more important in this kind of context. In contrast to a love relationship in which you recognize you aren't compatible, this type of relationship is hurting you."

You don't owe that person an explanation if you make the internal decision that you need space from them. But you are entitled to the company you keep. And taking the toxicity out of your life sets up a clear neural pathway to confidence. Why? Because you're conditioning your brain to believe "I have value."

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