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How to Leave A Toxic Friendship (And Move On)

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Walking away from a friendship is one of the most heartbreaking events a person can go through. Friends have a unique place in our lives: they shape who we are, witness all of our ups and downs and create a special kind of bond that can’t be replaced with a significant other or family member. As time continues, historical and personal events are constantly changing our lives, which in turn, changes us and sometimes ending a friendship is the only route to go. I’ve had my fair share of losing friends whether it was me walking away or the other person. It’s not easy and it can take a toll on both parties emotionally, mentally and even physically. I’ve experienced mutual endings and I’ve experienced dramatic ones too. I wanted to share my journey and the things I learned in hopes that it’ll bring about normalizing change, lowering the drama, and begin the healing process.  

Acknowledge the Tension 

It’s normal in every relationship to have trials that are just part of being human. However, if the tension seems to continue or a cycle of forgiveness that leads to anger develops, then maybe it’s time to evaluate the relationship. Discerning when the time is right to bring this difficult topic up is a choice that one has to make, there is no right or wrong time. During this time, it’s important to not overthink their words or actions. Rather, overcommunicate and express your thoughts and concerns. Avoid playing the victim or placing blame.

I was in a three-year relationship that was going well for about six months, but after that, it was a constant cycle of ups and downs. I take full responsibility for those moments due to some underlying personal issues that I hadn’t faced until then. As our relationship continued, we grew further and further apart, but as time would have it we both started changing. This also meant that as we got older and continued to develop our personalities, it was obvious we were growing in opposite directions. The breakup was a mutual ordeal that, nonetheless, was difficult but we were both much happier without each other. 

Ask Yourself: Is This Fixable? 

Life happens and growing up is inevitable and with this comes development in personality. Sometimes people grow apart due to personality differences and that’s okay. After acknowledging the tension in the air, it’s important to evaluate whether or not the tension is fixable. We cannot force people to change and we most certainly can’t expect our long-term friends to stay the same. Personalities clash and friendships grow apart. Sometimes it’s best to move on. 

Growing up, my friends consisted of guys except for one girl friend. She and I were best friends from the third to half of the fifth grade. To this day, I will never understand the full reason for the broken friendship but here’s what I can assume: middle school is a difficult phase of life. Everyone is searching for their own identities as bodies are changing and feelings are developing. I was a quiet kid with a small number of friends and as she and I were both changing, she took that first step of moving on without me. It was difficult for me to understand the cause of the situation and work through the pain of rejection. However, looking back, it was evident that our personalities and values differed, and remaining in that particular friendship would’ve taken a toll on both of us.  

Know Your Values and Standards 

People say that patience and loyalty is an honorable virtue, however, those characteristics should also be paired with wisdom. In any situation, it’s difficult to walk away from a relationship but it’s important to know your worth to avoid being taken advantage of. One way to do this is by setting aside time to evaluate what your values and standards are in any relationship. It’s healthy to have set expectations to avoid a toxic relationship. I would suggest writing a list and reviewing those values now and then and of course, you have every right to change that list. 

I grew up in a conservative community, as in, an Amish and Mennonite conservative world. From the beginning, I was taught the world was only black and white with no exceptions. I grew up with tunnel vision and it wasn’t until my Junior year of high school when I realized that the world was much bigger and complicated. Allowing myself to question those instilled values was a difficult journey and I lost a lot of friends because I chose to question the world around me. Although it was one of the hardest times in my life, I look back and find grains of appreciation knowing that I took a courageous step in the right direction. 

Don’t Make It Dramatic 

After evaluating the situation and coming to the conclusion that ending a friendship is best for both parties, think about how you want to present yourself. Ending a friendship can be stressful, especially since there’s potential for drama to occur, but the drama is a behavioral response and therefore can be controlled. It’s important to practice what you want to say and prepare yourself for the other person’s response. Remember not to lash out or become defensive, rather, validate their feelings and come from a place of compassion. After the breakup, make sure to set boundaries and maybe even ask someone to keep you accountable so you don’t fall back into old habits. 

This was a difficult lesson to learn. I hate to admit that I was the one who usually caused drama and lashed out. On the surface, I was coming from a place of immaturity and insecurity, but underneath it all, it was a place of hurt and terror of not being good enough. Once I have discovered those underlying issues, I was able to prepare myself for those moments of confrontation. By preparing myself, I was able to control my emotional response better and come across as mature rather than lashing out. 

Allow Yourself to Grieve 

Ending a friendship is not an easy endeavor; it can be heartbreaking for both parties. It’s important to take care of yourself during this time and part of that is allowing yourself to feel and grieve. Grief is not just associated with death, but for the loss of anything important to you; validate those feelings. During this time, surround yourself with trusted people and find someone you can confide in. 

Throughout middle and high school, I’ve been left by close friends and I’ve also had to let go of friends. Those were the most painful and isolating moments in my life, but thankfully, I had others looking out for me and offering help when I couldn’t ask for it myself. I was able to confide in friends, trusted adults and therapists to help me work through the insecurities and pain I was encountering and find healing through it all. 

Let Go of the Bitterness 

It doesn’t matter if the friendship breakup was one-sided or mutually decided. Either way, leaving someone is painful and it can surface a lot of hurt, betrayal and disappointment. Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning, when someone is angry, they’re hiding other emotions further down. It’s important to face those emotions and process them with grace and understanding for yourself and especially for the other person involved. Letting go of the bitterness doesn’t necessarily mean forgiving, forgetting or ignoring the pain. Rather, it means acknowledging the pain caused and accepting what happened from a place of understanding. It is not an easy feat, but when it happens, more healing can take place. When we let our bitterness boil deep beneath us, it negatively changes us into a bitter person and that is something no one wants to carry for the rest of their lives. 

This one was difficult for me to work through. I’ve had my fair share of rejection and I let those hurts cut into my skin and leave scars of insecurity. It’s hard not to be bitter and move on; sometimes it’s even difficult forgiving myself for contributing to the breakup. But in the end, I realized, by holding in all the anger and hurt, I was becoming a bitter person who hurt others because I was hurt. I continue to work through those hurts because letting go is not a one-time ordeal and because sometimes the small things like listening to a song can remind one of a friendship lost. It’s important to come to terms with what happened and learn from those mistakes and maybe even cherish the good memories. 

Put Yourself Out There 

At any stage of life, it can be daunting to make new friends. That comes from a place of rejection from past experiences and deep personal hurt. It’s okay to keep your guard up, but it’s important to not hide in a bubble of security. Rather, when ready, go out and find new people. New friends cannot replace old friends but that’s the beauty of it: it’s an opportunity to meet someone entirely new, shaped by different people and experiences and maybe, you’ll find out you’re not the only one walking away from a toxic friendship. 

I have always been a naturally quiet person which made it difficult to put myself out there. It felt like all my insecurities and wounds were exposed to the world as I went shopping alone, ate meals alone, and rarely came out from my room. But sometimes, pushing past that fear can lead you to a place of healing and happiness. During my last year of high school, I didn’t have many friends, and transitioning into college was especially difficult. This was in part due to COVID-19 and because I was too afraid of rejection. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I finally put myself out there. The thing that changed in between my freshman and sophomore year was the fact that my friend group from high school kept getting smaller and smaller and I was tired of being alone. So, instead of wallowing, I forced myself to sign up for different college organizations, meet new people in my hall, reconnect with old friends and it turns out, a lot of other people are in the same place too.

Final Thoughts 

Relationships will always be difficult because people are not linear. No one is perfect as everyone walks a different journey, goes through their traumas and has personalities that were shaped by other people. It takes two people to make any relationship work, but sometimes people aren’t a great match and that’s okay. 

I wanted my first relationship to work. Maybe that’s why it lasted about three years and maybe it’s why it was the worst couple years of our lives and maybe it’s why we had an on-again-off-again relationship. The two things keeping me in the relationship are being alone and failing. Rejection is an insecurity of mine which is okay, but if not careful, can be a toxic trait. I was scared of letting go and finding new people. Fear of failure weighed heavily on me too because I didn’t want to be a bad girlfriend or be the reason things fell apart. Again, I couldn’t let go. But the thing is, once I did, things got better. The first couple of months were dreadful and full of anxiety because it felt like I lost control of my future, but once I went back to college, I was soon living an entirely different life with different people. My ex is now with another person, and seeing them together made me realize that my relationship with him would never work out. And turns out, she’s perfect for him in all the ways I could never be and for that, I’m very happy for the both of them. 

Getting rejected or having to walk away from someone is not easy. Sure, I can give you advice, but none of it will take the pain away. Unfortunately, we all have to grieve and experience an unknown future and that’s terrifying. It is not an easy journey to walk, but in the end, maybe you’ll find something out about yourself and find someone out there who suits you better and vice versa. The world is big, full of people changing people, but I think we all have one thing in common: we’re all searching for belonging, and if the stars align, you’ll find your people

Lia Neuenschwander

Kent State '24

Hello! I'm Lia, a Sophomore at Kent State University. I'm majoring in Criminal Justice with the hopes of working within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Writing allows me to dive deep into the vulnerable parts of my life in hopes that it'll help me and others find healing.
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