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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Letting Go of an Unhealthy Friendship

There's no such thing as "a perfect friendship."  Most friendships have their ups and downs, and most people make allowances for friends who might be difficult at a certain point because they're going through a difficult time.  

But if you have a friend who is generally difficult and who causes you a lot of stress most of the time, you might want to re-evaluate your friendship in light of the emotional or physical toll it might be having on you.

Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships

The following vignette is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

Sally and Nina:
Sally and Nina were friends in college.  Even though she really liked Nina and she thought Nina was a fun and interesting, Sally found Nina difficult at times when they were in college because she felt that Nina tended to be selfish.

There were times when they made plans that Nina would break if a young man that she liked asked her out.  There were also times when Nina would forget to pay Sally back when she borrowed money from Sally.  

At the time, Sally didn't know how to talk to Nina about these incidents, so she didn't say anything about it.  But, afterwards, she felt badly about herself for not speaking up.  She also realized that she felt highly ambivalent about the friendship and she wondered why she remained friends with Nina.

After they graduated from college, Nina moved back to California and Sally moved to NYC.  They kept in touch for a while, but then they gradually lost touch with one another.

Then, several years later, Nina emailed Sally to let her know that she was moving to NYC for a new job, and she wanted to reconnect with Sally.

When Sally got Nina's email, she cringed.  She considered what she wanted to do and she decided that she would meet Nina for a drink and see whether Nina had changed in the intervening years.

A couple of hours before Sally and Nina were supposed to get together, Nina texted Sally to let her know that she had to cancel because she wanted to get together with a friend of a friend who could be helpful to her.  Nina explained that she thought this person could be someone who could help her to advance in her career and, since this person was available, she wanted to meet with her as soon as possible.  Nina made her apologies, she hoped they could get together another time, and told Sally that she hoped Sally would understand.

Sally didn't have a lot of spare time, and she set aside the time to see Nina.  When she got Nina's email, Sally realized that Nina had not changed, and she decided that she didn't want to reconnect with her.  

Put Things in Perspective and Get Clear on What's Bothering You About Your Friendship
Try to get clear on what's bothering you about this friendship.

Think about particular instances when you felt uncomfortable, hurt or annoyed and weigh this against what your overall feeling about the friendship.

This isn't a matter of keeping a strict account of what you've done for your friend and what your friend has done for you.  It's more a matter of putting things in perspective.

Consider Whether You and Your Friend Can Work Out the Friendship
There are times when sitting down and having a talk about what's bothering you can be helpful in resolving whatever the problem might be between you and your friend.

You might find that, even though it was obvious to you, your friend might not have realized that anything was bothering you.  If it seems like you and your friend can work things out, you can give the friendship another chance.

Is the problem related to something temporary that is going on in your friend's life or is it a more ingrained problem that is part of his or her personality, which is usually more difficult, although not impossible, to change.  

For instance, in the vignette above, Nina had a tendency to be self centered and unable to consider how her friend might feel.  Some people lack emotional intelligence or never developed good interpersonal skills to be able to maintain friendships.

Consider Whether This is Someone You Would Choose as a Friend Now
People change.  You might have changed.

There are times when you might have a long term friendship that no longer feels right for you, and you're aware that if you had met this person now, you wouldn't be inclined to form a friendship with him or her.

Letting Go of an Unhealthy Friendship:  Consider  Whether  You Can Work Things Out and If This is Someone You Would Choose as a Friend Now
If you feel that the friendship is causing you a lot of emotional pain and you wouldn't be friends with this person if you were to meet him or her now, think about what this means for you:

  • Why are you continuing to be friends?
  • Are you avoiding ending the friendship because it would be uncomfortable?
  • Do you feel it would be mean of you to end the friendship?
  • Are you stuck because you don't know how to end the friendship?

Think About Whether You Can Have a Different Kind of Friendship With This Person?
There are different kinds of friendships.  There are close friends that you trust and you confide in, and there are some friendships that are not as close, but you might have a common interest that brings you together.

If you have a friendship that was once close, but it's a matter of not wanting to be as close to this person (and there are no major issues between you), consider whether you want to keep this person in your life as a casual friend rather than letting go of the friendship altogether.

Letting Go of Toxic Friendships
There are times when it's clear that a friendship is just too toxic for you and it would be unhealthy for you to keep this person in your life.

This can be difficult and sad. Sometimes, it's more difficult than going through a breakup in a romantic relationship.

There can be so many different toxic friendships and unhealthy situations, so it's hard to generalize in one blog article.

Depending upon the situation, try to be as tactful as possible in explaining that you wish this person well, but the friendship isn't working for you.

Try not to get into an argument, which won't be beneficial you or the other person.

It might not feel comfortable at the time to assert yourself and take care of yourself in this way, but remaining in a toxic friendship that is detrimental to your overall emotional well-being just to avoid the discomfort of ending the friendship isn't the answer.

Once you've let go of an unhealthy friendship, you might be sad, but you'll probably realize, in the long run, how much less stressful your life is and that you have more emotional and physical energy for other healthier relationships.

Also see my articles:  

Coping With a Close Friend's Betrayal
Do You Feel Overwhelmed by a Friend's Problems?

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:

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