How to Set Boundaries with a Toxic Friend
Everyone has those friends: the drama queens, the Debbie Downers, the shameless martyrs, etc. Whether you’re hanging onto these friendships due to long history or adoration for their finer qualities, you need to set some serious boundaries. Here, six ways to deal when a toxic friend is dragging you down.
Be Selfish—and Make It Public Knowledge
“No” is going to be your biggest tool in dealing with this friend. If she asks you to get together and you don’t want to, you really don’t have to—you don’t need to give her the old “Sorry, my boss just asked me to revise a presentation” spiel. Just offer a simple “sorry, not free, another time!” and if she pushes, tell her the truth. That you’re staying in to catch up on some reading (and are generally taking more “me time” these days). Trust us: It’s pretty darn freeing.
Don’t Stoop to Her Level
In other words, don’t reward bad behavior. When she starts prattling on about Suzy’s husband and the nanny, don’t bite the gossip bullet and jump in (we know—it can be tempting). Instead, offer a neutral response and pivot to a new subject. Once she realizes you’ll never take part in her bad-mouthing bouts, she’ll probably start looking to do it elsewhere (aka with a receptive audience). Hopefully, your dismissal will also signal that her behavior is not normal. Or nice. Or appreciated.
Establish a Mutual Interest as the Core of Your Relationship
Her incessant whining about how she’ll die alone with her cats makes her a pretty irritating companion for brunch. But maybe she has a master's degree in art history and is a fascinating museum date, or is a total blast to go dancing with on ladies' night. To preserve the friendship, accept the fact that it may simply need to evolve (or rather, devolve) into a different kind of friendship as you grow in different directions (you toward personal growth and positive thinking, and her toward being a bit of a killjoy).
Rehearse Before Confronting Her
If tensions have reached a tipping point, it may be time to address the issue head on. In stressful situations involving those you care about, it’s often difficult to get out all the things you want to say (“but she looked so sad!”)—so practice first on a close friend who’s familiar with the situation. Running through your points ahead of time (she’s always asking too much of you, she’s constantly one-upping you in social situations, etc.) will help you retain your monologue, feel more confident, and ultimately be more sensitive in your delivery.
Take Breaks to Evaluate
No, we don’t mean a few days. More like a few weeks or even a few months. Do you miss her company? Is book club not as fun without her? Or do you feel instead an overwhelming sense of peace and relief? Space is good thing for every relationship, and yours is in need of some breathing room and time for reevaluation. Limiting exposure may be the very secret to keeping her in your life. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And if it doesn’t...
Be Strong Enough to Call It Quits
OK, be honest with yourself, and with her, if the respective gossiping/negativity/demands become unhealthy and unsustainable for you. It may be one of the toughest challenges of your life, but don’t gradually phase her out hoping she’ll get the message—break up with her, cold turkey. The truth probably won’t change her or her toxic ways, but it will set you free.