How To Break Up With A Friend When Things Get Way Too Toxic, According To Therapists

While it is not a pleasant experience by any means, sometimes, you have to cut the chord on a friendship. It's awkward, yes, but if the friendship is filled with more drama and negative energy than love and support, that means it's time to break things off. Much like saying goodbye to an old romance, learning how to break up with a friend is a delicate process that might not come naturally. But since ghosting, for example, is certainly not the best way to handle these kinds of situations, taking it step-by-step and communicating honestly will simply serve everyone best in the end.

So, where do you even begin when it comes to a friendship breakup? Well, according to Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFTA, a Texas-based therapist who works with teens, couples, and young adults, the first thing you should do is recognize how difficult this decision is, especially if you're cutting things off with a friend who's been in your life for a long time. That doesn't mean you should ignore your own feelings for the sake of not stepping on theirs, but it does mean, Edelstein says, that you should approach the situation with the utmost care.

"If your gut tells you it's time," she tells Elite Daily, "it's often a good idea to begin distancing yourself, so the breakup doesn’t seem out of the blue."

It's also important, Edelstein adds, to recognize and anticipate that you might feel sad or guilty during that initial breakup conversation. "Your former friend will likely be hurt or angry, so it makes sense to feel bad about that," she says. "So give yourself permission to hold a boundary without feeling excessively guilty, which could even make you question your decision."

If you know you need to have this conversation with a friend, here are a few healthy ways to go about it, without hurting anyone's feelings too much in the process.

Decide What You Want To Say Beforehand

The moment arrives: You and your friend both have coffees in hand, you're sitting on a park bench, and suddenly, you blank. You just don't know what to say or how to say it.

To avoid this awkward stage-fright moment, Edelstein says it's important to go into the situation knowing exactly what you want to say. What's more, she says, it might not hurt to actually rehearse it a time or two before you meet with your friend.

"It’s very important to decide what you want to say beforehand so you don’t trip over your words or backtrack," the counselor explaisn.

Since these things can be awkward, remind yourself that it's OK to feel nervous. If you do find yourself feeling really overwhelmed in the moment, take a few deep breaths, and remind yourself everything will be OK, even if it doesn't feel that way right now.

Find Ways To Soften The Blow

Edelstein recommends taking time to really reflect on your reasons for ending the friendship, writing those reasons down, and looking for ways you can soften them once you relay them to your friend. For instance, the therapist explains, if you're breaking up with your friend because you think they're too clingy, tell them you "can't devote the energy they need," Edelstein says.

And just like you would during a romantic breakup, she explains, keep the focus on yourself, since it’s hard to argue against someone else’s feelings.

Avoid Making Any Excuses

Everyone makes excuses from time to time, right? Well, Edelstein says they can sometimes get you into even more trouble, especially if you're trying to create real boundaries in a friendship, or particularly one that's about to crumble.

"An excuse like 'I'm too busy' could be misconstrued as an invitation for a future relationship," the counselor tells Elite Daily. "Be direct, and be careful about making generic excuses."

Be Kind, But Not Sorry

Edelstein says it's important to show compassion by letting your (ex) pal know this is a difficult situation, and that you know it hurts, or that it might feel awkward. However, that doesn't mean you have to be sorry about what you're doing, or let their upset feelings get in the way of you expressing your feelings.

"If the conversation starts to go sideways, hold your boundary and end it," Edelstein explains. "You don’t need to apologize for your decision since you know it's in your best interest."

Stick To Your Own Point Of View

According to Texas-based counselor Heidi McBain, using "I" statements, rather than "you" statements, when you’re breaking up with a friend can be helpful, as it keeps things within your perspective.

Saying things like "I am feeling," for example, or, "I have had the experience that," will ground what you've been seeing in your point of view, McBain tells Elite Daily, and it'll ensure that you're not making any general, unnecessary, and potentially-hurtful statements about the other person's character.

Listen To What They Have To Say, Too

Even if you're initiating the breakup, McBain recommends making sure that you actively listen to what your friend is saying and how they are feeling, without interrupting or getting defensive.

"Some friend breakups are easier than others," McBain tells Elite Daily, "especially if they see it coming, they realize you’ve grown apart and if the feelings are mutual."

Everyone deserves a chance to say what they want to say, and it's important that you both give each other the space and respect to do so.

Be Prepared To Run Into Them After The Breakup

Chances are, you probably have mutual friends with this person, so consider what it might be like to run into them. "If you’ll run into each other regularly," Edelstein says, "I suggest treating others the way you like to be treated, even if it’s not being reciprocated. Any bad behavior will reflect poorly on the other person and not you."

And if your ex-friend's behavior toward you does become excessively mean or rude when you run into each other, Edelstein says you should definitely let them know it's unacceptable, and that you'll need to cut off all communication if it doesn't stop. After all, if you had the respect and care to approach the breakup in a sensitive way, you deserve to be treated the same way in the aftermath of it all.