How to Manage a Toxic Friendship

Being a university student will bring you a fair share of friendships. Sometimes the relationship you have with a particular friend isn’t necessarily positive, happy nor fulfilling. In this case, you may be engaging in a toxic friendship.

I define a toxic friendship as a relationship between two or more people, where one or more people in the group either knowingly or unknowingly make the other person or people feel negative emotions such as sadness, anger and/or guilt.

And the fact is, as university students, we can be more prone to mental health issues. Although toxic friendships aren’t positive experiences for everyone, they can be especially damaging to those who are overcoming mental illness. Thus, as university students, we should understand how to manage toxic friendships, as they can have a negative effect on our university careers.

I have had experience with toxic friends during my four and a half years as a post-secondary student, and have quite a few tips to share. What I’ve learned through my experiences and gained wisdom is that the best way to manage a toxic friendship is to enhance communication and support everyone in the friend group. I described a more detailed step-by-step process on how to manage the toxic friendship below.


1. Understand where the toxicity stems from.

Think about it: the person who is being toxic towards you is still your friend, and you may not know nor understand their circumstances. This person could be going through a difficult time, spending time with the wrong people, or engaging in something else that is causing their toxicity. Conversely, this may simply be innate within their personality. Either way, it’s important to understand what the cause is, as this will help you support your friend accordingly.

For example, your friend may come from a culture where it is normal to point out mistakes and flaws, and not show emotions such as love. By knowing this, you can kindly point out to them why and how they are hurting you, and you can explain to them a more appropriate way of communicating with their friends, including yourself.

Have you ever heard the idiom misery loves company? It’s true meaning is that people who are unhappy find comfort when other people are unhappy too. Thus, a friend’s toxicity can also be the cause of their unhappiness, and knowing this will allow you to move forward in helping way.


2.  Provide your friend with time, care, understanding and kindness.

If your friend is going through a difficult period, they may simply need time to heal. However, it is beneficial for you to provide them care, understanding and kindness during this time, as this will help subconsciously educate them on how to be a good, non-toxic friend. This will also provide them with a reason to improve themselves as your friend; by improving themselves, they can continue their friendship with you (you are the amazing friend they want to keep).


3. If you see no improvement, talk to them.

Self-improvement is a very lengthy process, but if your friend is exhibiting no improvements, or if their attitude continues to worsen, speaking with them is a good option. This chat does not need to be an awkward or serious conversation, but instead casual, warm and kind-hearted. Let your friend know what is bothering you in a non-judgemental way, and provide them with specific examples of things they have said or done that has negatively affected you.

For example, let’s imagine that your friend Caitlin has recently made a hurtful joke towards you. The joke was suppose to make you laugh, but instead hurt your feelings. You can let them know and understand this by saying something along the lines of:

“I understand that you were being silly and poking fun at me yesterday with this joke, but I didn’t find it funny because it hurt my feelings.”

Finish off the discussion by deciding on possible solutions and thanking them for being considerate. As an additional note, refrain from using the word “why” as this connotes blame.


4. Continue to provide them with your ultimate support and friendship.

It is impossible to change your friends, but it is possible for them to change themselves if they want to. However, change takes time. I recommend being patient with them during this process, and providing them with continuous support and your friendship. This will provide them with all the more reason and inspiration to change.


5. If you continue to see no improvements, take a break from the friendship.

If the toxic friendship continues, especially if it is having a negative effect on your mental health, it is time to take a break from the friendship. Let your friend know that you need space from the relationship and explain why. Your friend may respond negatively. If this happens, stand your ground, don’t get angry, and simply walk away.

Toxic friends have the tendency to be manipulative, selfish and uncaring, which is why they may react negatively. If you do receive a negative response when you ask for space away from them, this most likely confirms that your toxic friend still requires time to learn how to be a better friend.

You always have the option to resume the friendship at a later date; if your toxic friend truly values you as a friend, they should have no issue with taking a break.

During the break, feel free to observe or connect with your friend to see how they’re doing. I recommend simply observing from a distance, as some friends may assume that the relationship has gone back to normal after they have connected and started communicating with you again.


7. Know that sometimes you simply need to let go of toxic people and move on with your life.

If you friend shows no signs of wanting to improve, or is hesitant to any of the truth you speak to them regarding their toxicity, know that it is 100% okay to end a friendship and move on with your life. This is especially important if the friendship is causing you to become depressed or even more depressed than you were before.

Moreover, by continuing the toxic friendship, you are communicating with your friend that it is okay for them not to respect you. This is not okay, as all great friendships have mutual respect, and your friend may continue to be toxic towards another person, if not you.

The fact that you are managing a toxic friendship also portrays self-care, and I am a big advocate for self-care. Self-care helps you live a positive and fulfilling life, where you able to spread your positivity to the rest of the world. This, and only this (self-care), is good enough reason for you to stand up for yourself and let your toxic friend know that their toxicity is not welcome in your life.



Wishing all readers the best of luck with their friendships! xx


Disclaimer: I am neither a Psychologist nor a psychology major. I am, however, a girl who has had her fair share of toxic friendships. By following the above the steps, I have improved my friendships ten-fold and am happy to say that I no longer befriend toxic people who refuse to change. Although this may seem harsh, I have struggled with my mental health before, and I understand the negative effects of toxic friends, and that I am simply much happier without them. I truly believe that you will be happier too. xx