• Mon, Jan 31 2011

The Only Three Things You Can Do About Toxic Friends

Not long ago, I was talking to a friend of mine — let’s call her “M.” — about a mutual toxic friend. Let’s call her “D.”

D. is the kind of person who has an uncanny ability to hone in on your biggest weakness, and attack it with a razor-sharp focus and steady zeal that’s so subtle that you don’t even realize it’s happening until way later.

You know…that kind of person.

Anyway, M. and I agreed that we both stay friends with her because aside from her toxic qualities, she’s actually a really good friend — very loyal, very smart, very caring (when not indulging in toxic behavior), and generally fun to be around.

Well, M. asserted that there was really no point in doing anything about it at our age — I believe the direct quote was “we’re too old for toxic friends.” And you know what? Her point gave me pause.

I believe what she was getting at was twofold. First of all, at some point in life, we should all figure out that everyone has bad qualities — if you’re looking for a friend who is also a perfect human being, you will be mighty lonely.

Second of all, there are really only three ways to deal with friends who have bad qualities that overwhelm you, and one of them is not “bitch about them endlessly to whoever will listen but never confront the problem head on.” Once you’ve abandoned that method of coping with difficult friends, you’re left with the following:

  1. Make a conscious choice that her good qualities outweigh her bad qualities and that you can fairly easily ignore whatever she does that annoys you, so it’s not worth having a conversation about. If you make this decision, you may have to remind yourself of it every time you see her, or you may just be more able to let things roll off your back then other people.
  2. Have a frank conversation with your friend, in which you tell her how her behavior makes you feel, and see how she responds. From this conversation and her subsequent behavior, you will determine whether you can remain friends with her or not.
  3. Decide that her toxic behavior outweighs her good qualities, and cut her out of your life. This can be accomplished in a passive aggressive way, by simply avoiding her and never returning her calls, or in a direct way, in which you explain how you feel and end things. Obviously, the latter is faster and probably less painful in the long run, but no one’s saying it’s easy, so if you go with the former we won’t judge.

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  • Outshined

    Of course it’s entirely possible your friend has no idea she’s doing it. Or if she does, she feels poorly about herself and somehow has to find a way to make herself better than you. Friends, you gotta take the bad with the good.