Friend or foe: Toxic friendships and how to cut them out

When friendships turn toxic, sometimes it’s just better to walk away from the situation, writes Ciara Courtney

As the unfortunate feud between actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall plays out online and in the media, the conflict highlights how difficult, messy, and far-reaching toxic friendships can be.

When you go looking for sayings about endings on the internet, this what you get back — ‘Moving on doesn’t mean that you’re giving up. It means that you are making a choice to be happy instead of hurt’.

Words like these ring through when it comes to ending a relationship, moving on from a nightmare job and even a friendship. Just like a job or a partner we can outgrow friendships too.

I couldn’t imagine my life without good friends. You know the good ones that don’t judge no matter what, and my particular favourite are the ones you may not have seen for months but still can pick up exactly where you left off. There is always a real connection.

But what about the friends who you dread calling over to see and the ones you put off seeing? Or the ones that after you speak to make you feel physically and mentally drained? They do exist and with our hectic lives it seems we are finding it harder to recognise them. So, what exactly is a toxic friend and what are the tell-tale signs?

Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and founder of, says: “Toxic people tend to be people who hold a high level of self-doubt and even dislike for themselves.

“They feel unfulfilled but tend to look outward and project the responsibility for what is missing from their lives onto other people, basically it is anyone’s responsibility except their own.”

If any of these characteristics are sounding familiar then maybe it’s time to start reassessing your friendships.

A common thread when it comes to toxic friendship is jealousy. We have all experienced jealously from one time to another, we have felt it and we have been on the receiving end of it too.

I used to have a friend that would never pay you a compliment despite the fact I could have lost tonnes of weight or got a new haircut.

It would be the elephant in the room and she would avoid mentioning it all costs.

It is the incapability to be happy for a friend and for the person on the receiving end of it, it can be quite damaging to all involved. In fact it can hurt like hell.

Joanna says that jealousy can “ruin a relationship and often stems from high insecurity and dependence from one person to the other”.

All in all, toxic people are hard work and need lots of reassurance. She says sometimes “it’s a justified feeling” (maybe a friend is leaving you out) but it can be wearing on the person at receiving end and this is where it effects the friendship.

Another aspect to toxicity in a friendship is self-doubt. Joanna says ‘This inner state of self doubt and dissatisfaction makes it impossible for them to be happy for other people and their successes’.

The huge drawback is ‘they experience other people’s success as their failures’.

So it isn’t about you, it’s about them. She adds that toxic people tend to be ‘narcissistic and hurtful often because they just don’t think of the other person’s feelings and can create endless drama’.

How can we recognise that a friendship is not healthy?

  • 1. You talk or think about them a lot.
  • 2. You feel worse after being with them.
  • 3. You dread seeing them come up on caller ID.
  • 4. You start to feel compromised, ie that you are engaging in conversation or activity that is out of character for you.
  • 5. You avoid seeing them, often making up false excuses to do so.
  • 6. You realise that you spend your time talking about them and their life events but little to know time on what’s going on in your life.
  • 7. This friendship may start causing splits or problems in other friendships you have. So, if it doesn’t feel right it isn’t.

So if you are following your gut and decide that the friendship is no longer healthy for you how do you stop it?

Joanna says: “Making a decision like that is not easy and friendships, like all relationships, are about give and take but toxic people take without giving”.

She also says the best way to look at it is what can come as a result of ending a difficult friendship can create space for a healthy friendship instead.

Sometimes just creating some distance can be of huge benefit. It eventually will register with the person something is wrong or sometimes being honest is the best approach. I spoke to a friend before who had hurt me quite significantly, had let me down and I decided I could no longer continue to be her friend. I was honest . It was difficult and I wished her well but I could not continue to be part of that friendship.

The hurt was too much. Biting the bullet was my own personal best approach.

It’s important to know your worth and to follow your gut too.

Remember, if it doesn’t feel right then it isn’t.

Joanna’s advice?

“If you have such a toxic person in your life it will serve you well to end the friendship as it will wear you down otherwise.”

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