How to Cut Ties with Toxic Friends As a Teenager
Friends can become “toxic” for a number of reasons. They might try to control you, disregard your boundaries, or manipulate you. They might also be parasites who always take but never give back, draining you emotionally. Cutting ties to these sorts can be freeing but hard, especially if you still have to see them at school. If you have such a person in your life, you can say something directly, distance yourself, or “ghost” him entirely.
Talk to your friend in a public place.While it's tempting to phase the person out of you life without telling her why, addressing your issues with your friend is a more mature and productive way to approach the situation. It will help you learn to be assertive and set boundaries — important skills to learn as you become an adult. This is probably the most upfront — but also hardest — method. For one thing, you’ll have to be pretty honest. You may also have to do it in-person. Start by setting a time to talk.
- Ask your friend to talk. You might decide to do it at school, at a cafe or restaurant, or at a park. Since you’re dealing with a toxic personality, though, it’s best to choose a public place. You might say, for example, “Hi, Sam, I think we should talk. Can you come by during lunch in the cafeteria?”
- Plan out what you want to say in advance. Have your reasons for cutting ties ready and in-mind before you meet the friend, e.g. “Look, Juan, I feel like we’ve been growing apart for a while now. I don’t think we should hang out,” or, “Lynn, I think you’ve changed since we first met. I’m not comfortable around you anymore because you use drugs and always talk about getting high.”
- Try using “I” statements, e.g. “I think...” and “I feel...” This will make your explanations less accusatory, and more about you than about the other person.
Consider writing a letter.You might also consider putting your feelings and wishes down in a letter, if the thought of a face-to-face encounter is too much. In this case, explain that you don’t think you should hang out anymore and the reasons why. This letter can be your entire explanation or it can be a sort of “dress rehearsal” for a later talk.
- Don’t feel the need to give a huge explanation, but be clear and direct. It’s enough to state your feelings, e.g. “Jason, I don’t think we should hang out anymore. We seem to fight more often than we get along, and I feel sad and anxious when we fight.”
- Send the letter to your toxic friend, deliver it in person, or bring it to a talk. In either case, make sure that the letter expresses your desires clearly, in a way that isn’t open to debate.
Set boundaries, respectfully.A toxic person might go to great lengths to stay in your life or refuse to accept your decision, leading to fighting and arguing. Expect to have to define your limits. Be firm but resist the urge to get angry or overly personal.
- Be firm. This isn’t a negotiation and you have the right to decide who to be friends with. Say something like, “Look, Tyreese, I can’t hang around with you anymore, because I feel overwhelmed when you talk about the problems you deal with.” Be willing to repeat your position.
- To reduce the chance of hurt feelings, frame your decision in terms of you rather than your friend, e.g. “I just need a bit of space and the chance to hang out with other people.” Be specific about how much space you need, e.g. “I think we should limit our time together to once per month and limit calling to once per week.”
- Try to be respectful and avoid arguments. Don’t use your breakup as an excuse to air grievances against your friend for all the things that he has ever done to you. Don’t cut your friend off in a way that will be humiliating, either, like publicly on social media.
Ask for help if things escalate.The danger of saying something openly to a toxic friend is that the conversation can lead to anger, resentment, or, in the worst case, a violent outburst. Remember to talk in a safe, public place. And don’t hesitate to get help if things go wrong.
- Walk away if your friend becomes belligerent and argumentative. Just remove yourself from the situation.
- Consider talking to a parent, teacher, guidance counselor, or other trusted adult if the toxic friend is unwilling to let go — or threatens, harasses, or bullies you.
Decreasing Contact to Reinforce Boundaries
Answer your telephone less often.One way to maintain your boundaries or “break” from a toxic friend is to put some space between the two of you. f you have already told your friend that you only want to hang out once per month, begin to put those rules into place by decreasing the amount of contact you have with her. Call and take calls less often, for instance, and don’t interact as much on social media. It is better to first let your friend know about your need for space; however, you don’t have to tell your friend directly that you’re ending things — but it might take longer for her to get the message.
- Screen your phone calls. Don’t pick up when your toxic friend rings, or have your family say that you’re not available to talk, e.g. “Jenny isn’t available to talk, I’m afraid. Can I take a message?”
- Or you can answer the phone to briefly explain again that you need space and only want to talk once per month. For example, “Hey, remember when we talked about me being overwhelmed and needing space? I still need that. I will keep in contact once per month and will call next week, but I will not be answering your calls until then.”
Be unavailable to go out.You don’t necessarily have to stop hanging out all at once with your toxic friend, but gradually decrease the amount of time that you spend together. Be less available. Be too busy to come out. With luck, your friend will either get the message or give up and lose interest in you.
- You might say that you’re busy and can’t come out, e.g. “I’m sorry, Cherie, but I’m going to be busy that night” or “I really can’t come to your party, Chase. I’ve got something to do this weekend.”
- Don’t be tempted to feed your friend a lie, as you could get caught in it. Just be noncommittal and direct. You can also try a simple, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t make it.”
Don’t respond as much to messages.Your toxic friend may have a hold on you in different ways, too. Cut back on other forms of contact, whether it is via text message, email, Facebook, or other social media. This doesn’t mean to block him — it’s not a complete cut off. It just means to be less responsive.
- For example, don’t feel the need to reply immediately to texts or emails. Your friend may give it a rest upon realizing that you’re not being responsive.
- You might also need to reduce your time on social media if you’re trying to avoid an open break. Spend less time on sites like Facebook if your friend can see your activity.
Excuse yourself from conversations.Extend your distance to face-to-face interaction. Be more aloof when interacting in person with your toxic friend, but without being impolite or rude. If your friend approaches you at school alone or in a group, for instance, be civil but quickly excuse yourself from the conversation.
- Don’t make it seem personal, e.g. “Hi Rheana, how are things? Can you excuse me? I’ve got to run!” or, “I’m sorry Ken, I can’t stay to talk right now.”
Try to stay on good terms.Ideally, you can lessen your contact and have the relationship move from one of friends to one of distant acquaintances. To do this, however, you’ve got to stay respectful and not deliberately hurt the other person.
- Avoiding hurt feelings is partly about taking the high road; however, it’s also to your advantage and can help you dodge drama and a messy split.
- Be prepared to assertively answer questions from your friend. If you did not explain your need for space first, your friend may become confused about your sudden distance. Be prepared to truthfully answer her questions about spending less time with her.
- Speak kindly of your friend to other people. In other words, don’t trash her in front of other people. If you can’t say anything nice, try something like “Yes, we don’t talk as much as we used to. I hope she’s doing well.”
- Avoid gossiping about your friend, too, and don’t force any mutual friends that you might have to choose sides after you’ve split.
“Ghosting” Your Friend
Avoid your friend in social situations.“Ghosting” takes avoidance to a higher level and cuts your friend out of your life suddenly and completely. It is quick and immediate. But, it’s also cruel behavior that many people consider abusive and can lead to anger and resentment. Consider it a last resort after having tried a more direct tactic or if your friend is abusive or threatening. Before taking the plunge, also be sure that you are ready to deal with the potential blowback.
- To ghost your toxic friend, you’ll need to stop interacting socially. This not only means avoiding the friend but also, perhaps, ignoring him completely in an accidental encounter — in other words, the silent treatment. Keep in mind that this can be hard to do, especially at school.
- Ghosting hurts and leaves no opportunity for explanations or closure — you may regret your actions in the future.
- However, don’t hesitate to cut a friend out of your life immediately if he is controlling and abusive toward you. You have no reason to maintain contact with such a person.
- Signs of an abusive friendship include someone who insults and puts you down in front of others, a person who wants to dominate you or make you feel ashamed, or uses emotional manipulation tactics like the "silent treatment" or social isolation to get you to behave in a way he wants.
Block your friend’s phone number.Ghosting requires you to cut off every possible kind of contact with your toxic friend, not just personal interaction. This means phones, texts, and social media. You’re not just hard to reach — you’re completely unreachable. To do this, set up your phone to block your friend’s number, calls, and messages.
- Blocking a phone number will depend on what kind of phone you have. There are different methods for Android phones, iPhones, Blackberries, and for different service providers.
- Check your phone provider’s website to see how you can block numbers. Or, try calling the service provider’s customer help telephone number.
Unplug from social media and electronic contact.Disengage entirely with your toxic friend by cutting her out of your online presence, too. Don’t leave her any opening to have a continued presence in your life or to bully, manipulate, or guilt you. In other words, purge her from all of your electronic contacts.
- You can start by defriending and possibly blocking your toxic friend on Facebook and by unfollowing her on Instagram and Twitter.
- You may also need to block your former friend’s email addresses to stop that form of communication. In a worse scenario, you may also need to close and replace your own email accounts.
Video: how to cut ties/get over someone
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