6 steps to ending a toxic friendship

They say breaking up is hard to do. Ending a relationship with a significant other is hard enough; but if you've ever tried to end a friendship you know how seemingly impossible it feels. With so much history between the two of you, it often feels easier to stay in a bad friendship -- putting up with drama, competition and unhealthy situations -- because you're afraid of how your friend might react or that she may share your secrets. But ending a friendship that isn't working can be done.

Loraine Smith-Hines, author of Toxic Friends: A Practical Guide to Recognizing and Dealing with an Unhealthy Friendship (Foxglove, 2010), offers six tips for breaking free from an unhealthy friendship and putting yourself first once and for all.

1. Accept reality
The first step to ending an unhealthy friendship is to acknowledge the truth about your toxic friend and stop justifying and rationalizing her behaviours. "Realize that you can't change your toxic friend or her behaviour, but that you can change your own behaviour," says Smith-Hines.

The ways that you react and respond to your friend's behaviour is very important. If you've made excuses for her ill treatment in the past, it's time to stop. Friendship is a choice, and you do not have to continue spending time with someone who isn't good for you, advises Smith-Hines.

2. Be clear with your intentions
While it might sound daunting, you need to be honest and straightforward when telling your friend that you no longer want to spend time with her. Tell her straight out that you intend to end your friendship, no matter how hard it may seem. Whether or not she believes you is irrelevant.

"It may take several attempts to end a toxic friendship, but if your goal is to remove the negativity from your life, keep trying until you're successful," says Smith-Hines. It is important to use "I" statements and to let your friend know that your decision has been made. Since there is likely a lot of history between you and your friend, you owe it to her to let her know that you are going to be taking a step

3. Identify your role in the relationship
"Take a look in the mirror and acknowledge your own unhealthy behaviours," says Smith-Hines. "Your friend may be toxic, but it takes two to tango." She suggests identifying your role in the demise of the relationship.

"Sometimes it's difficult to see our own faults because we can't get past the hurt, pain or anger we may be feeling," she adds. Acknowledging your faults and your role in the negative aspects of the relationship will make it easier to identify and correct these patterns so they don't seep into other relationships.

4. Choose a way to end it
Based on your individual circumstances, decide how you want to end the friendship. Smith-Hines suggests one of two different ways: either quitting cold turkey or weaning and letting the relationship fade away.

"Weaning worked for me," says Smith-Hines, whose toxic relationship with a former friend led her to write her book. "I methodically decreased my communication and methods of communicating with her, spending time with her and doing things for her."

Expect that ending your friendship will be painful. You might even miss your former friend at times, but it's important to stick to your word. If you teeter-totter with ending the friendship, your friend won't take you seriously.

5. Forgive
Forgive your toxic friend, either to her face or in your heart. You need to have forgiveness to finally let go, says Smith-Hines. "You must find it in your heart to forgive her for whatever you feel she has done to you. Forgiving her is the key to your own personal healing," she explains. Forgiving your former friend doesn't mean forgetting what happened, but it will keep you from dwelling on your hurt or her drama any longer.

6. Give yourself time to grieve
Allow yourself time to grieve after the loss of a friendship, advises Smith-Hines. Feeling sad or upset is completely natural. The length of time it takes a person to grieve is very personal. Smith-Hines suggests familiarizing yourself with the steps of the grieving process. "By the time I had decided to completely end my toxic friendship, I had already experienced several steps," she says.

In order to lead a healthy, full life, you need to remove toxic people from it. Be aware of red flags in your friendships. "If something doesn't feel right, it's more than likely not right. Pay attention to your intuition," says Smith-Hines. If you decide to end a friendship, don't put it off. The longer you hold on, the more you are to blame for accepting treatment that brings you down.

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