The Gentle Art of Getting Rid of Your Toxic Friends in 2023

Removing toxic friends from your life doesn't have to be a messy or dramatic process.

Our friendships are incredibly important to us. But sometimes we’re devastated to discover what we’re putting into a friendship is not what’s coming back at us. We may treat our friends with generosity, honesty, and loyalty, and in return get manipulation, lies, and abuse.

Toxic relationships are often considered to be romantic in nature, or among family members, but it doesn’t have to be an intimate relationship or a relative to be toxic. Friendships can be toxic as well, and the results are just as horrendous. Sometimes, even more so.

Perhaps it is a newer friendship, or maybe it’s a long-term one and you’ve slowly awoken to the way you are being treated, and how that makes you feel. But if you realize you are in a toxic situation, it’s called toxic for a reason. It’s harmful to you, and you need to get out of the situation.

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The good news is, getting rid of toxic friends doesn’t have to be a messy or dramatic process.

“The gentle art of getting rid of your toxic friends involves setting boundaries, communicating clearly, and being firm and consistent,” says Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Executive Clinical Director at Gallus Detox

Identifying the situation

Women Friends Awkward

To know if you’re in a toxic friendship, the first step is identifying what a toxic friendship would even entail.

“There is not a hard and fast definition of a toxic friend, but basically it is a friend who tends to either bring out the worst in you (pushes you to do and say things that you don’t end up liking about yourself) or who tends to make you feel bad or sad in various ways whenever you interact (puts you down, undermines you),” says Gail Saltz MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast from iHeartRadio.

A friend with whom you fight much more than get along might also fit this bill.

We’ve all had those friends who we walk on eggshells around, or make choices based on how they will react. Perhaps you choose the other people in your life based on their approval or have seen other relationships suffer because of their interference and influence.

Maybe they’re always putting you down in order to prop themselves up. “When you start dreading interactions, when you are avoiding that friend, or when you feel worse and worse about yourself with interactions with them, it might be time to consider ending the friendship,” says Dr. Saltz.

Be honest about your feelings

Start by reminding yourself that it’s OK to distance yourself from people who aren’t emotionally or mentally healthy for you, or don’t have your best interests at heart.

“Talk to them if you feel comfortable enough, and let them know how their behavior makes you feel and why it isn’t acceptable. For instance, you can say something like, “I don’t appreciate it when you gossip about me behind my back. It makes me feel disrespected and hurt. I need to set a boundary here, so please don’t do it again,” says Carleton.

By doing this you are letting them know they need to respect your boundaries or the relationship will not survive.

Taking a step back

In terms of gently breaking ties with a toxic friend, often it is easier to fade away than to have a confrontation. Dr. Saltz suggests doing this by being less and less available and not engaging in the negative behavior or communications at all.

“Sometimes though, a toxic friend won’t let it go this way, at which point you may just have to say directly, “this friendship is really not healthy for me, it makes me feel badly about myself and it’s hurting me, I wish it could be different, but I don’t believe it can be, I wish you all the best,” says Dr. Saltz. 

And then just walk away

Women Friends Tense

Don’t expect that to be received well, so be prepared to just remove yourself.

“I always do, however, recommend before ending any friendship, that you have tried giving feedback about what is not working and why to try to change the dynamic, to see ways you may be contributing, and to try to make changes first,” advises Dr. Saltz. “If that isn’t working, then ending it may be the right choice.” 

Empower yourself

The gentle art of getting rid of toxic friends is all about empowering yourself and taking back control.

“Distancing yourself from negative people can be hard, but it’s worth it if it means protecting your mental health and well-being,” says Carleton. “So don’t feel guilty for wanting to move on – you have the right to surround yourself with positive people who lift you up instead of dragging you down.”

Aly Walansky
Aly Walansky is a NYC-based freelance writer focusing on food and travel. Read more