Toxic Friends: How To Deal With Them, Forgive Them & Let Go

Toxic Friends

In March of last year, I wrote a blog post on how to spot, drop, and move on from fake friends. Two years before that, I wrote a post on why I have no friends (and how this isn’t necessarily a bad thing). These are still, two of the most popular posts I’ve written. A few days ago, I did a q&a on Instagram. There were so many questions regarding toxic friends and how to let go of a toxic friendship, I decided to do a poll asking if my next blog post should be about toxic friendships. The results were ninety-nine percent “YES” and one percent “NO.”

So, here I am.

Readers and clients often ask me how I could be in such an incredible romantic relationship, yet, still be able to write about toxicity and breakups as though I am going through one in real-time, right along with them.

What most people don’t know is that I’ve been going through the toughest breakup of my life for the last four years.

This is not something that I feel comfortable sharing because I’m still navigating my way through it (and I care deeply about the person involved and their privacy). But breakups in business, with friends, and toxic family members hurt just as much as breakups with toxic romantic partners.

Through the years of writing this blog, I’ve gone through two breakups with toxic friends. I could never have imagined these two friends not being in my life. These are people that I could not have been any closer to.

Breakups with toxic friends are confusing, devastating, and extremely lonely. They can also make you feel very guilty and ashamed. After I wrote above that while writing this blog, “I’ve gone through two breakups with toxic friends,” I immediately wanted to delete it. There was a part of me that felt like such a failure.

But I don’t write this blog from any kind of psychological high horse. Nor do I use it as a vehicle to express how perfect I am. I still fail more than I succeed; I still mess up in my relationships. I still feel insecure and scared. And I will always be imperfect. The difference now is that I can have some compassion with myself. I can gently redirect and remind myself that this isn’t about me never having egg on my face.

It has always and will always be about YOU. 

Getting back to toxic friendships…

It’s one thing to go through a breakup with someone you were dating for a few months or stop talking to a family member (I am in *no way* minimizing how painful, impactful, and traumatic these breakups are) but it’s another thing to go through a breakup with *your* confidante; *your* best buddy, *your* pal (I do not emphasize “your” here, with the intention of highlighting ownership of another individual. It is done with the intention of highlighting a one-of-a-kind understanding, support system, and soulmate connection). This is the person who spoke your language and finished your sentences; the one who was there for and with you whenever the world shut you out or let you down.

There’s also this added level of awkwardness because you got close to their family and friends. And what about all of your mutual friends?

For me personally, breakups with toxic friends have been just as, if not more, difficult to navigate than breakups with toxic romantic partners and even family.

Breakups with toxic friends can actually be more painful than breakups with toxic family members and romantic partners.


Your friends are the family that you chose for yourself.

We are raised to believe that no matter what, our family will be there. “Blood is thicker than water.” “Romantic partners will come and go, but at the end of the day, you will always have your family.” Sayings like this are thrown around a lot.

We don’t get a say in choosing our biological family, but we do get a say in choosing a family of our own. A good friendship feels like a product of your survival, the fruit of your emotional labor, and the purpose of your past pain.

And now, it’s over. It doesn’t matter how toxic the friendship became. The actual person that you would go to when feeling the emotions that this breakup has elicited is now gone.

And you’re left feeling weirdly spiteful and competitive (am I alone here?), heartbroken, and “mean” for finally getting to the point that you had to ACT on your line being crossed. Or, you may feel trapped in the swamp of being a victim to their bullsh*t; realizing that you were a personal doormat, cheerleader, and armchair psychologist more than you were EVER in a mutual friendship.

What is a toxic friend?

My definition of a toxic friend is no different than my definition of a toxic person:

“Anyone who gets validation by exploiting your hunger for theirs.”

Here are just a few common traits of toxic friends:

Toxic friends tend to be really great when you’re down and out. When you’re on the up and up and it’s an important time for you in your life, you’ll find yourself consoling them or wondering what you did to upset them (when deep down you know you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong).

They can be very passive-aggressive and most of them are total users. They’ll throw you a few crumbs here and there just to make sure there won’t be a pause in the delivery of the loaves you consistently supply.

They can also be very controlling. If their life isn’t progressing, neither will yours! (They’ll make sure of it).

When you kindly communicate that you are hurt or have an issue with something they’ve done…

Toxic friends will try to make you feel stupid, immature, and bad for wanting to respectfully talk further to gain clarity (so that the friendship can actually continue). They’ll make you feel like you’re incapable of “moving on” and “letting things go” when really, how the hell CAN you move on without talking it out?

If I know that I hurt someone, whether or not I feel like they have a “right” to be hurt, I would care that they are hurt. I would tell them that I’m open to talking, answering their questions, and going over whatever they need, however many times they need, until clarity is reached. This is what you do when you care. You don’t hurt someone, blame your behavior on them (or another source), and then, make them feel bad for not being able to “move on” when really, they’re just having a human reaction to a hurtful and confusing set of circumstances.

Bottom line, your intuition knows when it’s in the presence of toxicity.

You aren’t giving yourself enough credit here. You are incredibly intuitive, powerful, and intelligent. You have value. Do not allow your intelligence to be insulted anymore (by toxic friends AND by your own insecurities and fears).

If you’re dealing with a friend who you do NOT believe is toxic (or you’re on the fence), always communicate how you feel; give them a chance to explain themselves. This may create an opportunity to get even closer by understanding each other more.

But for toxic friends who have consistently proven that they are incapable of acknowledging anything outside of their righteousness and selfishness…

Explaining anything to them is a waste of time.

Please do not use the above as an “end-all-be-all.” Holes can be poked in anything and lists can always be added to. Me expecting that my blog posts are the “holy grail” would be dimming the one thing that I have dedicated my life to amplifying: You listening to, honoring, and acting on YOUR intuition – not being dependent on me and mine, just so I can gain “converts,” “disciples,” and make a fast buck.

I am here to empower others – not to disempower them just so I can empower myself by having people dependent on me. That’s the job of toxic friends, family, lovers, and toxic people in general – not me.

Have some compassion for these types. They will never know what it’s like to get off the hamster wheel of having to always find bandages to put over the cancer of their inferiority complex.

Toxic friends are prisoners to shortcomings that they have no problem being in denial of. And they always end up proving through their actions that they are more interested in protecting their ego than being wrong (and evolving as a result of self-reflection, empathy, and communication).

Always listen to your intuition. Pay close attention to how you consistently feel around certain friends.

In life, there are people who will use the dependency they trigger you to have on them as a way to feel better about themselves

And then, there are people just like you who get hurt by these people. And although you are fallible (as well all are), look at you STILL searching for ways to better yourself, while simultaneously blaming yourself for the behavior of a grown adult!

You don’t have to do that anymore.

There are so many good people in this world who, just like you, can blossom and evolve BECAUSE OF applying the learned lessons amid heartbreak. People who are able to fully value and appreciate others because they value and appreciate everything they’ve done to fight for the unconditional self-love that no one can ever take away.

You are looking for emotional freedom but don’t realize that you are already free.

You are not defined by your relationships. How you define yourself is what attracts the relationships you have. It’s what sets the bar for everything you tolerate. 

I know this friendship made you feel worthless but the way you were treated is not about you. It’s a reflection of how this “friend” feels about themselves.

Do toxic friends all have the same characteristics? What are the signs of a toxic friendship?

Toxic friends do NOT all have the same exact characteristics. The number one sign of a toxic friendship is that the relationship is clearly, one-sided.

Maybe, the toxic friendship you’re trying to let go of did not start off toxic. Sometimes, people are just unhappy. Or, they go through trauma and it brings out the absolute worst in them (ask me how I know; I’ve been that person). And while we can all empathize, if you continue to outsource your empathy to the point that it’s detracting from the quality of your own life, that’s not empathy.

That’s self-inflicted abuse.

I used to have a very close friend who ended up not being good for my mental health. This person brought me down more than they ever uplifted me.

Oftentimes, I’d found out that they told other people very private things I shared with them in confidence.

I am an extremely private person and I value loyalty. Because of this, I am a loyal person and very respectful when it comes to other people’s privacy. When someone is disloyal to me and not respectful of my privacy, it truly is the worst thing that they can do because once I realize what’s happened, I can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

This friend used to criticize me a lot – which did nothing but fill my self-fulfilling prophecy of “I am not enough” and “there must be something wrong with me or else they’d respect me and my boundaries.”

As a result, I was primed to rationalize the nonsensical, defend the indefensible, and excuse the inexcusable.

Toxic friends will allow and encourage you to own their behavior. What they do is always in response to something you did/didn’t do. 

I really cared about this friend though. We had a history and nothing ever seemed “bad enough” to throw all those years down the drain. I loved them and didn’t want to know what life was like without them in it.

Whenever I tried to talk to them about how I felt, they’d admit what they did wrong (if they felt like they were at an actual risk of losing me) and not want to discuss anything any further. Or, they’d get angry and defensive.

Ultimately, I couldn’t continue. My head and heart had hit their limit.

For an entire year after this toxic friendship breakup, I would feel like I was taking a bullet every time a mutual friend brought up their name. I would go back to thinking that I was too harsh. And I’d punish myself for days on end.

For a really long time, I felt spiteful. I was jealous, angry, and bitter. I fantasized about how great of a place I’d be in my own life when this person would be BEGGING for my forgiveness. I thought about all the things I’d say when I saw them again; how I’d really “stick it to them.”

Sadly, this poisonous (but very common) mentality kept me going for a while. But I was running on fumes.

And in the process, I realized two very important things:

How to deal with toxic friends

  1. As long as the relationship that you have with yourself is toxic, you will attract and tolerate toxic friendships.
  2. What got me off of the ruminating; the shifting between wanting revenge and blaming myself, was understanding that both me AND my friend were in pain and suffering. I realized just how unhappy this person had to be with themselves to treat me the way that they did – and how unhappy I had to be with myself to tolerate it and continue giving at the expense of my identity.

Today, I feel a sense of relief, peace, and INDIFFERENCE when I think of my former friend because I have let go.

I stopped wanting to be heard, be right, and “win.”

I stopped with the one-upmanship.

And I realized that the actual “win” is the non-toxic friendship I now have with myself as a result of identifying (and getting away from) the toxic one I had with them.

Negativity, inconsistency, and toxicity are just as contagious as the virus that we are currently, taking every precaution to protect ourselves from.

The best way to deal with toxic friends is to stop. Stop trying to educate, enlighten, parent, and exonerate them into being the friend you deserve. Be the friend to YOURSELF that you truly deserve and the actions of toxic friends will of course, still hurt, but you’ll be able to let them own their own behavior.

Your peace will be restored only when you choose to prioritize it.

Always be compassionate and kind. Communicate ONE TIME how you feel. And if they don’t meet you halfway, it’s okay to forgive them and let go of what no longer is (or maybe, what never was).

How to let go of a toxic friend

Understand that you cannot fix this for them. No amount of giving, caring, or listening will ever be able to fix the relationship that someone has with themselves. Only they can do that.

I ultimately chose to move on from my friendship with this person years ago. I used the pain I felt to launch myself into a life that I am very proud of, and deliberate about keeping clean (non-toxic). With friends whose happiness is my own – and mine theirs.

Friends who understand that I am FAR from perfect and communicate with me if I hurt them or there is a misunderstanding.

Friends who don’t count cards; who genuinely want the best for me and crave mutuality more than a hype beast.

The best way to let go of a toxic friend is to forgive. Forgiveness is adjusted boundaries that are rooted in acceptance. It’s about accepting who someone has revealed themselves to be  – not holding onto the hologram of who they were, just so you don’t have to act on the boundaries that they continue to bust.

You don’t have to keep trying so hard. I spent the first twenty-four years of my life bending over backward to get people to notice me, like me, and include me.

Trust me when I say, you are enough. You don’t need to be anyone other than who you are.

Some people will exit your life and it will hurt but it’s okay. You don’t need to convince them to stay.

As my friend Lorelle just reminded a reader in the comments:

“Fill your life with things that make you happy. Go to places that you like. ONLY spend time with people who make you feel good. Don’t ever ignore your gut if it tells you something is off and never apologize for how you feel about people or situations. 

We learn to tolerate and accept WAY TOO MUCH dysfunction. Especially if we grew up in unhealthy dynamics.

Listen to your gut and follow your intuition. TRUST yourself. It’s hard to do when you grow up unable to trust others, but you can trust yourself.

Do something nice for yourself every day. Something little, like buying yourself flowers, or a latte on the way to work. Or wearing an outfit you love, exercising or watching your favorite shows cuddled up. The more self-love you show yourself, the more comfy you will be in your own skin, and you will not settle for things that make you feel bad about yourself – especially from other people. Don’t accept crappy behavior from others. Rudeness, letting you down, not being there for you, only wanting you for favors and never putting any real effort in.

When you start to get strong at this, you will amaze yourself with who falls out of your life, and the new kinds of people you will attract. But you truly deserve the best and you can have all of it! You just have to believe it.”

If you feel alone or are having a hard time moving on from a toxic friendship, please comment below. Not only will it help others, who are too shy to comment, feel less alone but you may make a lifelong friend

Written by: Natasha Adamo

If you’re looking for further and more specific help; if you’re tired of waiting to be chosen and ready to choose yourself, personalized coaching with Natasha Adamo is the answer. Book your one-on-one session today.

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Author of Win Your Breakup, Natasha Adamo

About Natasha Adamo

Natasha Adamo is a globally recognized self-help author, relationship guru, and motivational speaker. With over 2.5 million devoted blog readers and clients in thirty-one countries, she is a beacon of inspiration to many. Her debut bestseller, "Win Your Breakup", offers a unique perspective on personal growth after breakups. Natasha's mission is to empower individuals to develop healthier relationships and actualize their inherent potential.

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