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How to Deal With a Toxic Friend

How to Deal With a Toxic Friend

What to do about an IRL Regina George.

How do I deal with the aftermath of ending a toxic friendship? I am no longer on good terms with this person and they caused me a lot of pain and harmed my mental health. I've tried my best to move on but they're still talking about me behind my back and it still hurts. 

Toxic friendships are one of the world's worst rites of passage. It's not a question of whether you'll experience a toxic friendship, but when. Take comfort in the fact that you're getting it over with now. That's not to say it won't happen again, but hopefully you won't be quite so caught off guard next time and you'll have the knowledge to realize you're better off without this person in your life. It's kind of like breaking up with a dude who's not good enough for you. That doesn't mean it won't hurt, but once you have some distance, you'll see things a little bit clearer.

We're speaking from experience here. Casey was a not-so-innocent bystander in her first toxic friendship in middle school. It’s a tale as old as time, really. One girl decided another girl couldn’t sit at the lunch table. The latter girl sobbed. The former girl laughed. Everyone else felt terrible about themselves, but no one said anything. Because as much as you don't want to ruin someone’s day, you mostly don’t want to be kicked off the lunch table (in front of everyone!). Unfortunately, it got way worse from there. Seventh grade—when all of this happened—is usually when things hit Peak Mean Girl, but things don't get a whole lot better in the years after.

That’s totally not what you want to hear right now, but it’s true. The upside is that once you’ve survived it—and you will survive this!—you understand friendship in a different kind of way. (For the record, Casey stayed friends with the toxic friend into high school. And the friend stayed toxic. And Casey’s life was so much better, although—real talk—not necessarily easier, when they eventually went their separate ways.) Friend breakups are messy, especially when you have a lot of friend-group overlap. Sometimes when you lose one friend, you lose a few others too. It, for lack of a better word, sucks.

Liza had a painful separation with a toxic friend a bit later, during her early years of college. One of her former pals used social media to spread rumors to discredit Liza’s—and a few of our other mutual friends’—accomplishments. After a serious internal struggle and plenty of talks with other (real!) friends, she resisted the urge to call this toxic girl out on her fakeness. Taking the high road is one of the hardest things to do, but you won’t regret it.

It took a while, but eventually everyone caught onto this girl’s game. By simply removing yourself from the situation—whether it’s physically, like Liza (she went to college far, far away)—or just taking a break from social media, you’ll instantly feel better.

Not to sound like your mom, but the reason this kind of thing happens is because of a) jealousy or b) insecurity or c) general unhappiness and/or boredom. In other words, there’s nothing you can do to reverse things. The friendship didn’t get toxic because of anything you did, and there’s no way to change it. As hard as it is, it’s best to focus on the actually great friends you do have (and if you’re thinking to yourself, “But I don’t have any anymore!” it’s time to make some different ones). Put your energy into something awesome, whether it’s a passion, a sport, or even getting to know someone new; don’t give one person the power to ruin everything else you have going for you. And, for the record, you have a lot going for you.

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