Why put up with people who only make you feel worse?
Friendships can and often do matter as much as family. We can’t choose which relatives we get lumped with, but we can choose our friends and yet, despite this common saying, people often forget that means we can choose to end friendships that are just no good for us.
Talk about breaking up is common with regards to relationships, but friendships are often spoken about in a static way. Some people drift away, this is common. Some friendships though are deliberately ended and this is okay. It is not a violation of some loyal code but about prioritising self-care.
Toxic friends can have a serious impact on self-esteem. Their behaviour may range wildly. It can be small things like demanding emotional labour; you might always, always be there for their problems but if you need the smallest thing then you never hear from them or they never simply ask how you’re doing. While we should never expect people to be there for us because they have their own lives, if they’re consistently demanding emotional labour while distracting your needs as a friend then that is unfair. It’s also not something anyone has to tolerate.
“Toxic friends can have a serious impact on self-esteem”
Friendships can also be tricky to navigate when it comes to discussing privilege. If you have to scream at someone that you feel is violating your boundaries or dismissing you pointing out queerphobia then that is toxic. There’s a huge amount of manipulation that can come with this. Bi women may put up with straight guy friends routinely asking invasive sexual questions for their own form of voyeurism and refuse to stop because they’re “just curious and don’t have any guy friends”. This is biphobia and misogyny. Cisgender friends may refuse to use the correct pronouns to their trans friends. This is transhobia and toxic. It shows they will only accept identities on their terms. Guys dismissing what sexism is, or white people being complicit with racism and defending offensive jokes (for example) are being toxic too. Microaggressions aren’t small for their scale of hurt. They’re given that name because of how the behaviour can be so subtle but it can wear people down. No-one has to put up with that.
Toxic friends often prey on people’s self-esteem. People can be made to feel like they won’t ever get over losing their friend, or that they won’t have any other friendships as strong so it’s incredibly difficult to stand up to problematic behaviour. It is manipulation. Sometimes though, people may be so self-involved they genuinely don’t realise what they’re doing. It can be frustrating, but everyone has their own way of processing and some people need to have things explicitly said. If they’ve been told once though and don’t change their behaviour, then that’s on them. It’s not up to people struggling with shitty behaviour to have to keep pointing out how the other person is being a terrible friend. It’s exhausting and it causes yet more demand of emotional labour. It shouldn’t be difficult to respect boundaries.
Friendships are hard work but toxic friends expect everyone else to do the work for them. It’s not enough to have a laugh every now and then. It takes real effort to make sure that the friendship is being nurtured and that there is a foundation of respect on both sides. It really is as simple as apologising for an ignored message but still addressing it on your own time (it’s not about giving yourself up entirely to another person but about strong and fair communication). It can be readjusting your own behaviour so as to stop setting up aroace friends on dates when that’s not what they want. Mostly, it’s just about learning to listen better and follow through.
You’re not obligated to keep the friends you’ve got. It’s better and healthier to sever ties with toxic friends, especially if they’re unwilling to change their hurtful behaviour. Breaking up with friends is sometimes a necessity, so why do we only ever talk about ending sexual or romantic relationships? Friendship break ups can be just as important.