Detox a Friendship

Is your friendship mutually supportive and healthy, or is it a battlefield? Friendships don't always run true to course - sometimes, something goes very wrong and a friendship turns sour, for reasons that are often outside your control. In this situation, detoxing the friendship is ultimately a call that's up to you but if you do want to give it your best shot, detoxing a friendship gone bad can result in either gaining a healthier, stronger friendship, or you can be freed from having to spend any more time with someone who has been dragging you down.


Time for reflection

  1. Take a moment to reflect over your friendship. If the friendship feels toxic where once it felt fantastic, try to pinpoint what doesn't feel right about it anymore. Some indicators of emotional "toxicity" in a friendship include:
    • Feeling down or even depressed when your friend is about.[1]
    • No longer getting excited to see your friend, seeing them has become something you feel obliged to endure.
    • You feel that your friend always talks about themselves, even when it's clear you need a shoulder to cry on.[2]
    • Your friend's set of values and their ambitions seem to have changed a great deal from yours, to the extent where you don't see eye to eye on most things anymore.
    • Have you discovered that your friend gave you bad advice on purpose?[1] It can be just as bad if your friend is always agreeing with you without caring about the consequences because he or she cannot be bothered to set you straight.
    • It seems that your friend only "needs" you when he or she has bad news to share.[3]
    • It feels as if your friend is using you as a means to make herself or himself feel better by belittling you.[2]
    • Your friend has taken to criticizing you all the time or being Avoid Passing Judgement about your choices and decisions without cause.
    • Rumors started by your friend (confirmed by others) have reached your ears.
    • Your friend has taken to dropping you in a mess at the last moment, hindering your progress, or has become really unreliable and won't follow through on promises made to you, time and again.[1]
    • You feel manipulated, demeaned, poisoned, or downplayed by your friend.[2]
    • Consider what other behaviors or attitudes have lead you to feeling sour about your friendship together.
  2. Taking all of your feelings into account, decide how you feel about attempting to salvage the friendship. It is important to reach a decision as to whether or not you're comfortable trying to detox the friendship, or whether a better bet would be let it go. Even if you do give detoxing a chance, the end result might be that you still need to let go, so be prepared for this possibility in all events. When considering the worth of trying to detox your friendship, the following things are worth keeping in mind:
    • The duration of your friendship together and all the good times you've shared.
    • Whether you have to continue seeing your friend in a work or social context.
    • The openness of your friend to discussing feelings, behavior and to accepting that he or she isn't right all the time. Some people remain adamant that they are right, no matter what you say, that they can prove to be impossible when it comes to opening your heart or reasoning with them.
    • Other issues going on in your friend's life that may have affected his or her outlook on life.

Taking a chance on a friendship detox

If, after reflection, you've decided it's not worth going ahead with your friendship, skip this section and go to the next one "Cutting ties with your friend". Otherwise, follow this section to try to detox your friendship.

  1. Raise the problems in your friendship with your friend. Once you have decided that it is worth investing your time and effort in detoxing your friendship, it's time to bring attention to your friend's behavior to see whether it's possible to resolve the challenges. This isn't going to be easy but avoiding it will not help you either; nothing will change if you don't tackle it. Be sensitive and gentle in the way that you approach this conversation – you will be treading a fine line between on the one hand, your friend feeling that he or she is being criticized, blamed, or that you're just being unfair and on the other hand, your friend being relieved that the grievance is out in the open, ready for proper discussion. Some ways to approach this could include saying:
    • "I feel that we haven't been very close lately and that our friendship is suffering as a result. I was hoping you might have the time to talk about ways we could take stock and boost our friendship again."
    • "I've missed the closeness we used to experience as friends. I don't know if you're feeling this too, but I'd really like to talk about the ways we might be able to restore that closeness we used to have."
    • "I felt upset when I overheard you telling Mr X that I wasn't much of a friend to you and it made me wonder where we're headed. Have you got a moment to talk about this?"
  2. Listen. Be ready to listen attentively and kindly to what your friend says. There may be some things you don't like hearing but you must remain open-minded and ready to acknowledge your own mistakes as well. It's quite possible that you're unaware of how you might be contributing to their behavior.
  3. Agree to disagree. If there is something that neither of you can see eye-to-eye on, just agree to disagree about it but not to let that get in the way of what ought to be a fine friendship. Or, try a little humor. One tactic that can work really well with friends who have a sense of inferiority is to disarm their toxic rebukes with humor that sort of agrees with their statement. For example:
    • Friend: "Oh where on Earth did you get that dress from? It makes you look frumpy!" You: "Oh yeah, I felt like frumping it tonight, can't have my husband thinking I'm flirting while he's away!"
  4. Validate the friendship. Avoid blaming and accusing; instead, keep validating the friendship in everything that you say, explaining how much you value your friend and your friendship together, so that it's clear that this isn't about throwing away what really matters.
  5. Keep the discussion short and to the point. Don't labor it. And always end the conversation positively, whether it's promising to do something for your friend, or arranging to do something together, or simply telling them what a wonderful person you think they are.
    • If your friend throws a "tantrum", or argues fiercely with you, politely let them know you're taking your leave and you'll continue this discussion later. There is no need for an argument over your feelings.
  6. Think of and then suggest some great ways forward for your friendship. If your friend has responded favorably to your concerns and is at least willing to give things another go, it can be helpful to have some ideas of things that might help to get your friendship back on track. Some ideas to consider include:
    • A ban on gossiping about one another. This goes without saying but if it has been a problem, it's best to have a laugh about it and get it out into the open as a taboo activity.
    • A willingness and commitment to spending more time together, just the two of you, sharing a common interest that you both enjoy.
    • Having a secret signal to let one another when the advice and support is crossing the line into being bossy, criticizing, or pushy. At the first sign of this signal, either one of you will know it's time to call a halt to whatever behavior is causing the problem.
    • Reaching an agreement that it's OK to deal with upsets as they occur rather than leaving misunderstandings to fester.
    • Sharing a mutual appreciation space. It could be a photo board, an online privately shared site, a weekly chat. Whatever you decide, make room for celebrating one another and each other's achievements. Friends are supporters, not detractors, and both of you should feel safe in communicating your wins and losses in life.
  7. Review your friendship. After having your heart-to-heart, consider how your friendship stands now.
    • Does it feel like the two of you have reached a good understanding, as if you've been through the wars but now you are stronger for it?
    • Do you feel that your friend is ready to be there for you, to enable you to be the best you can be, and you're willing to reciprocate one hundred percent?

Cutting ties with your friend

This section is suitable when you've reached a decision that it isn't worth trying to detox your friendship, or where you've tried to do so but your friend is refusing to face the facts and has, indeed, made things worse by suggesting you are blaming them or reproaching them and they flat outright refuse to see their own wrongdoing.

  1. Reread through the indicators of a toxic personality as outlined in the first section above. Did you find yourself agreeing to many of the signals? Did the list enlighten your sense of loss about your friendship? If so, and if you feel that it isn't worth trying anymore, it's time to cut the ties.
  2. Detach yourself. It's time to accept that you've outgrown this friendship, in the same way that you outgrow other aspects of your life. If you hear that voice some people enjoy trotting out that "you've just got to keep trying", then ignore it. By now, it's clear you've already tried more than enough and your friend crosses the line of forbearance when he or she continues to manipulate, demean, or gossip about you. It is just as important to know when to let someone go as it is to know when to keep trying, and at this point, detaching yourself is healthy and a stage of maturation in your life.
  3. Delete their details from your life. Remove your friend from Facebook, your cell phone, your address book, etc. Dr Ray Pahl, a friendship expert, explains that too many friends in your life can be stressful and unfulfilling anyway,[4] so it's important to leave your guilt aside too.

Coping with an ex-friend

While cutting the ties and moving on is a healthy choice in a toxic friendship, what do you do if you're still in the same social or work circles as your former friend? The answer is to be kind, cordial, and professional in your continued relations with them, all while maintaining your distance.

  1. Become Sweet and Friendly and kind when you can't avoid coming into contact with a former friend. If you have parted ways with a toxic friend but you are still in his or her daily circles for work or social reasons, there's no need to do the cold stonewalling act. Keep communicating in a friendly, caring way that still maintains your distance. Say "hello" when you see your former friend - it doesn't have to be more than this - but at least keep greetings civil and ongoing. Acknowledging your former friend's worth as a human being still matters. This can be a delicate balance as you do not want to convey the idea that you are still friends.
  2. Don't ever be caught saying a bad word about your former friend. If anyone tries to draw you on, this simply say "Yes, we were friends once but it didn't work out. She's still a good person, we're just not suited as friends now."
  3. Be polite. Whenever your paths cross, if all else fails you, at least smile. If your friend doesn't reciprocate, don't worry - just keep doing this and other people will notice who is the person with the chip on their shoulder.
  4. Keep conversations short and sweet. If you are in a situation where you still need to talk to one another, stick to simple things and excuse yourself as soon as it is polite to do so. If you need to talk through things to do with work and find yourself disagreeing, Get What You Want and Have a Civil Argument, professional, and stick to the facts.
  5. Put your efforts into the remaining friendships. Your real friends are a source of support and re-energizing. Rely on them for improving your outlook on friendship!


  • If they say something mean, tell them that you don't like it and forgive them. Remember that it's unlikely that they care less if you hold a grudge, unless it serves their purpose of keeping you in a controllable position. Don't suffer unnecessary damage – refuse to let it get to you.
  • Always try to see things from both your point of view and your friend's point of view.
  • Always be honest with your friend.
  • Turn an accusation into a question that takes the focus off of you. "Is this what's going to happen every time I...."
  • Try to think of your toxic friend positively. Try to think of them as people who make mistakes.
  • For women, Susan Shapiro Barash says that there are 10 types of friendships possible. Read through these to try to identify any of the more negative types in your friendships, to see where some of your challenges might lie, or to identify the healthier friendships and to be grateful for the lovely balance in your life:[5]
    • The Leader (she always rules and expects her viewpoints to dominate)
    • The Doormat (she will always expect to be walked over, will say yes to anything)
    • The Sacrificer (she'll do anything for you at her own expense)
    • The Misery Lover (she sees the worst in everything, without fail)
    • The User (she only likes you for what you can give her)
    • Intimate Frenemies (she's pretending she likes you through that smile, but she's about to sabotage you in every way she can)
    • The Trophy Friend (she likes you because in some way you provide or confirm the status and power that she's hungry for)
    • The Mirroring Friend (she and you get along because your lives and experiences are similar and shared)
    • The Sharer (she is open, gives of herself and is free with her emotions)
    • The Authentic Friend (she gives, receives, loves you for who you are, and she is the real-deal best friend always).
  • How toxic are you as a friend? Shapiro recommends that we also look at our own behaviors here!

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Sources and Citations

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Josephine Collins, Detox for Life: Detox your mind, body, relationships, and home, p. 86, (2003), ISBN 1-84172-486-6
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Paige Williams, The Friendship Detox: How to Say Goodbye and Good Riddance,
  3. Christine Whelan, Detox From Toxic Friends,
  4. Rebecca Front, Detox those frienemies,
  5. List adapted from Christine Whelan, Detox From Toxic Friends,