Here's Why It's So Hard to Let Go of Your Toxic Friendship

I'm confident I speak the truth when I say we've all been in a toxic friendship.

It's a lot easier to get wrapped up in them while we're in high school because we're surrounded by the same people every day, and we don't necessarily have the strongest sense of self-worth or confidence—not because we're not worthy, more because we haven't experienced enough to really know how to feel about ourselves, or how to know what our expectations should be.

Sometimes, what we're exposed to is all we know, and if toxic people are  constantly in our faces, sometimes it's easy to go along with it and maintain relationships with these people because there's never been anything else to show us better. And, of course, sometimes these relationships might feel so right, even when we know they're so wrong.

As we get older and become exposed to more people and different situations, we slowly become better aware of the difference between one big disagreement and one big red flag; a toxic friendship and a toxic person.

As I've shared before, I was involved in a very toxic friendship all through high school and years beyond. I think maturity (err… lack thereof) was the initial catalyst for the issues and disagreements between my then-best friend Michelle* and me. But as the years went by and we were long past college, I finally began to find myself and attract people who lifted me up and made me feel more confident about myself. I started coming into my own, and Michelle couldn't handle that.

Riverdale: Cheryl and Veronica at dinner

(Riverdale via The CW)

After years of endless breakups and makeups in our friendship, I ended our relationship once and for all. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It wasn't something I second-guessed at all. I knew 100% that she was only bringing me down and no longer served a purpose in my life.

Michelle is an example of a toxic person. Every now and then, I check her public Instagram account to see what she's up to (I blocked her on Facebook), and, sure enough, she's constantly arguing with someone or calling someone out. She'always complaining about something—whether it's her health, her ex-boyfriend, her neighbors… basically, if you leave her a comment that doesn't say, "You're the most beautiful woman in the world," she has a problem with it.

Everything is always someone else's fault. After reading her exchanges over time, it's pretty clear she has deeper issues that call for professional help. Either way, she's a toxic individual all around, and there's absolutely nothing that could have saved our 12-year friendship.

But before gaining the confidence I have now, I didn't realize how awful she was (to be fair, she got progressively worse once we stopped being friends). She was so manipulative and selfish that all I ever saw was how great she was, while thinking I was always doing everything wrong or I wasn't cool or pretty enough. Also, we each had an incredibly unhealthy need for each other, and, without a doubt, both of us would always come crawling back. There's something about being unconditionally wanted and needed that keeps people holding on to these poor relationships.

Once I became happy with myself and began harvesting solid new friendships, I knew I was done with her. But I don't look back with regret, because once I saw all the red flags, I was out. I just didn't realize they existed—I didn't know any better.

cheryl-crying-riverdale-featured-020118

(Riverdale via The CW)

Over the years, there've been other toxic people I've encountered, including past roommates. One of those roommates I felt connected to for several years, but, luckily, distance and maturity (on my end) finally gave me the ability to acknowledge that I'd completely outgrown this person. I was no longer going to put up with their ongoing disrespect, and, quite frankly, I just didn't feel the connection anymore. (I mean, did we ever really have one?) Just like Michelle, this person came running back, asking how I've been doing and hoping to reconnect. Mind you, toxic people never offer up apologies. They think they can just dive right back into things the way they've been able to all along. They're absolutely never wrong.

With certain toxic individuals, you'll pick up on their patterns off the bat, before you get in too deep. In fact, chances are, you won't even have the opportunity to get too close because they've already caused rift after rift, seeing as that's just what they're used to. They have a terrible track record with maintaining friendships, and they'll inherently prevent you from being their one exception.

But then, every once in a blue moon, you'll become friends with a person who isn't necessarily toxic themselves, but the dynamic that the two of you share somehow creates poisonous energy. These are the trickiest, most complex friendships you'll ever have. These can actually be the most beautiful, memorable, special relationships—but also the most problematic.

toxic-friend-prettylittleliars-hanna-mona-102617

(Pretty Little Liars via Freeform)

As I've gotten older (and, hopefully, a bit wiser), I've been able to spot red flags pretty easily. I also have a pretty big group of real friends, which makes me less likely to jump into something with someone just for the heck of it. I'm very lucky. However, all of that doesn't make me immune to toxicity. While I've cut plenty of people off cold turkey and have absolutely zero interest in ever seeing those people again, there are others who fall into a different category.

There are the ones who maybe I need a break from for months, and I'll tell myself that I truly want nothing to do with them again, but then they'll pop up one day at someone's party, and a lengthy conversation will put us right back to the happy place we were before we stopped talking.

Or there will be the ones who are regularly around, but whose highs and lows with you are so intense, it can cause a meltdown. Healthy friendships shouldn't produce extreme feelings on either spectrum. There should be an equilibrium in your dynamic with a person. When you have a disagreement, your whole world shouldn't shut down because of it. Also, you shouldn't be so reliant on the highs this person delivers that you become dependent on them. That said, when you meet someone who you feel is your other (non-romantic) half, you can't just kick them to the curb, even if you know something's off between you.

What I've learned over time is understanding the difference between a toxic person and a toxic situation. Both are harmful, but my hope is that a toxic situation can cleanse itself over time if two people are willing to acknowledge issues and make changes.

Spencer comforting Hanna on Pretty Little Liars

(Pretty Little Liars via Freeform)

If you feel burdened by a friendship you just can't seem to let go of, don't beat yourself up about it. Take a step back and weigh the pros and cons. Are you being fulfilled by this friendship? Do you see the potential for improvement? Is there something you can do to make things better?

If you have a strong connection with someone who contributes positivity to your life, you don't necessarily have to throw it all away. Do what feels right for you. If you want to spend time with them, do it. But if it doesn't feel right on a particular day, then don't for the time being. Be open to putting space between you two without completely shutting the door on your friendship.

That said, if this friendship is only bringing you down, or you feel like your real identity is buried beneath the chaos, don't be afraid to slowly back away. Removing yourself from a friendship doesn't have to be some huge, dramatic ordeal. You can take small steps to put permanent distance between you and another person.

Like romantic relationships, friendships are hard (just in different ways). With someone you're dating, you have the option to break up with them—but in the case of friends, it's a little more complicated. You don't want to be labeled a drama queen, and you don't want to have to make a huge thing about seeing them every time you're invited to the same function.

Just know that with age, a lot of things get better, but experiencing questionable relationships of all kinds doesn't fade. No two friendships are the same, and at the end of the day, just do what feels right for you. But never make decisions based solely on what you read or watch, or based on not wanting to hurt another person. Look out for yourself first.

*name has been changed to protect privacy

 

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