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Yes, Even Long-Term Friendships Can Hurt Your Mental Health: Here’s How To End Them

We’ve all been there: A friendship becomes more harmful than helpful, and the drama begins to outweigh any positive aspects of the relationship. No matter how detrimental the friendship was, it’s never easy to say goodbye — there’s no “right way” to tell a person you’re not interested in spending time with them anymore.

But as someone who’s been in one or two friendship breakups in the past, believe me, you’ll be grateful you took a step to end a toxic relationship. I look back at my two most significant friendship breakups — ones where I felt completely alone in the moment — happy with how things turned out, and with a genuinely neutral mindset toward my ex-friends. Obviously, it took lots of reflecting and growth to get to that point, and initially, I was lost at how to go about ending a friendship. Should I talk to them? Should I just ignore them? Were all of those years of friendship a waste? I had no clue.

If you’re like I was, certain a friendship is beyond repair but unsure how to break it off, don’t worry — I’m here to help. Paired with guidance from licensed therapists Samantha Grimes and Angela Phillips, PhD, I got the lowdown on how to best end a long-term friendship that simply isn’t good for you anymore. 

Evaluate the friendship’s impacts on your mental health.

Before jumping into a full-on friendship breakup, the first step is to reflect on the friendship, both the highs and lows, in order to determine the best course of action. In many cases, it might feel obvious the friendship is beyond repair — but in longer-term friendships, or more nuanced cases, you may find it helpful and healing to sit down and make an informed decision about whether this friendship should end.

You certainly shouldn’t underestimate this person’s impact on your mental health, but equally, you should be aware of the weight of the choice to end a friendship. “Making the decision to cut ties with a friend can certainly be life-changing and difficult, so understanding why you want to take this route and how to approach it can offer a lot of opportunity for personal growth,” Phillips says. This could mean talking about the issue with a trusted family member, journaling, or bringing it up in therapy.

Decide on the best plan to communicate your boundaries.

As much as it’s easiest to just let a friendship fizzle out, in many cases, it may be more beneficial to initiate a conversation with this person. Why? Because this will give you both closure for the future, and save some awkwardness if you do see each other again. Plus, it allows you both to grow — hopefully, they can take steps toward bettering themselves for future relationships, while you can learn helpful skills in communication and setting boundaries.

“Get clear on why you want to end the friendship and if that is the case, consider how it will serve you and your friend by discussing it, or not,” Phillips says. For example, is there repetitive, toxic behavior that warrants a sudden end to the friendship — like manipulating or threatening your safety? In this case, the friendship may be best dealt with by leaving it alone altogether. However, if there was a one-off betrayal, like an instance of backtalk, or a more underlying issue, like a lack of effort, a conversation could be mutually beneficial. 

Ultimately, Phillips recommends you focus on what you can control — and that means choosing to end the friendship in a way that will help you learn and move on. “It’s common that many of us avoid a direct breakup due to how awkward and uncomfortable that conversation can be, but ghosting a friend typically doesn’t do anyone any favors,” she says. Grimes agrees, noting that in situations that are safe and non-abusive, you shouldn’t ghost someone you care about. In extremely close friendships or those that have stood the test of time, communication may be the best way to end the relationship without feeling like you’ve moved on too fast or have things left unsaid.

Be honest and respectful in sharing your concerns. 

If you choose to end the friendship with a conversation, there are various factors you should consider in deciphering how you’ll express your thoughts. Especially if you’re not assertive and feel uncomfortable having such difficult conversations, you may find it helpful to sit down and plan it out beforehand.

Although it may be hard, honesty is the best policy. “Being direct allows you to clear up any mixed messages and doesn’t bring any confusion to what is actually happening,” Grimes advises. At the same time, express yourself in a kind manner. “Use ‘I’ statements to avoid blaming or shaming the person,” she continues. For example, “I feel hurt” opens up less room for argument than “You hurt me.”

After outlining how their actions have made you feel, propose your pre-decided next steps, often by means of a euphemism — for example, you may say you’ll be taking space from the friendship, or you think it’s best to keep one another at an arms’ distance. Either way, even though they’ve hurt you, respect always trumps spitefulness and anger. The conversation might not be easy, so be proud of yourself for staying strong and doing the right thing.

Stick to your boundaries, and surround yourself with people who better serve your mental health.

Believe me — I get how upsetting it is to let go of a friendship, even if you’re the one pulling the trigger. Remember that it’s okay to not be okay, and the hardest choice is often the right one. “Sit with your feelings and acknowledge the difficulty of letting this relationship go, if that is the direction it takes,” Phillips advises. “Even positive change is difficult and doesn’t mean you will forget this person, or that they did not have a profound impact on your life.”

Grimes agrees that the following weeks after you’ve ended the friendship may be tough, as with the end of any relationship. “Be prepared to grieve the friendship too; it can be just as hard as a romantic breakup and you might need to engage in some self-compassion and self-care,” she says. The important thing, though, is to not go back on your boundary, or at least until you’ve had enough time and space to breathe. 

As much as this person may have hurt you, they’re only human — so remain neutral and civil in any future interactions you may have. (Yes, this means not bashing them on social media or to mutual friends.) Trust me, it’ll feel much better, in the long run, to know you’ve taken the high road. 

It’s your job to decipher between all of these factors — but arguably the most important aspect to consider is your own happiness, not just in the moment, but in the long run. This means not running away from confrontation due to fear, but also ensuring your mental health will actually benefit from conversing with the person. You don’t owe anyone any explanations — especially someone who negatively impacted your mental health — so your choice should purely be based on your own well-being.

Abby is a National Writer for Her Campus and the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at Waterloo. As part of the Wellness team, she covers topics related to mental health and relationships, but also frequently writes about digital trends, career advice, current events, and more. In her articles, she loves solving online debates, connecting with experts, and reflecting on her own experiences. She is also passionate about spreading the word about important cultural issues such as climate change and women’s rights; these are topics she frequently discusses in her articles. Abby began producing digital content at BuzzFeed, where she now has over 300 posts and 60 million overall views. Since then, she has also written for various online publications such as Thought Catalog, Collective World, and Unpacked. In addition to writing, Abby is also a UX and content designer; she most frequently spends her days building innovative, creative digital experiences. She has other professional experiences ranging from marketing to graphic design. When she’s not writing, Abby can be found reading the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book, watching The Office, or eating pizza. She’s also been a dancer since she was four years old, and has most recently become obsessed with taking spin classes.