How to Spring-Clean Bad Friends From Your Life

We’re on a spring-cleaning kick this week, and while consolidating your wardrobes and clearing out old trinkets from your closet is great, it’s more than just your old junk that needs refreshing. Sometimes you need to take a long, hard look at your life and think: Do I need to refresh my friends too?

It’s a hard fact to face, but sometimes, for the sake of your sanity, or to ultimately save your relationship with the other person, you have to take a step back from some people in your life. Because such things are no easy task, we asked creator and Essence’s lifestyle and relationships editor, Charreah K. Jackson, for her expert advice on how to navigate such uncertain waters.

Types of Toxic Friends

The first question you need to ask yourself is if the homies you’re rolling with are doing more harm than good in your life. “A toxic friend is when you feel drained after spending time with that person and on defense over what they may say or do,” Jackson says. “Everyone does not grow at the same pace, making some friendships expire their closeness, while others can evolve and survive.” Jackson says there are many types of toxic friends, but she gave us the lowdown on the four main types to look out for:

The Territorial Friend

Jackson describes this friend as one who “doesn’t like you spending time with others and often has negative things to say about the other people in your life, especially new people you are spending more time with.” 

The Selfish Friend

Feel like you’re putting more into a friendship than your so-called friend? You may have a selfish one on your hands. “This person takes up most of the conversation when you are together and rarely asks you about yourself. It’s all about them!” Jackson says.

The Taker

“This friend is always asking of you and rarely gives anything back. They may assume now that you make a little more than them, it’s OK to lean on you or use the fact that you’ve known each other for years as a reason you should help them. It’s not. Real friends don’t pressure you or guilt you into helping.” 

The One Who Can’t Let Go of the Past

If a friend continually brings up your past as a reason to take you down a notch, it might be time to clear that person out. “This friend has been a confidante over the years and now brings back up what you’ve shared or looking to remind you of where’ve you been,” Jackson says.

Having “the Talk”:

Breaking it off with your friend can sometimes feel like you’re breaking up with a significant other. And it’s understandable — you share so much with your homies, it can take a bit of an emotional toll once you decide it’s time to limit your interactions. But it’s not all bad, according to Jackson. “The good news is stepping back in a friendship does not have to be as dramatic as a relationship breakup.” 

Don’t give in to any nervousness you might have over talking about your problems. That means: no ghosting. “Ghosting is not cool for anyone. Don’t put that karma out there for yourself,” Jackson says. “But you also don’t have to feel obligated to hang or spend time with a toxic friend. Say no if you don’t want to hang and you don’t need to give a reason. If they have something nasty to reply, let it be known that those type of comments don’t make you want to spend time with them.”

When you’re finally ready to have “the talk” with your friend, make sure you present your issues in a clear, focused, but non-accusatory manner. Start out with positive words, but then go into your concerns over the friendship. Jackson suggests saying something like, “I have so many great memories of our friendship. Over the last few months/years I’ve felt frustrated/used/abused when this has happened.” 

Also, be sure that when you present your issues there is room for reconciliation. Though you’re essentially committing to not spending as much time together, it doesn’t mean you need to close the door entirely on your friendship. “Don’t make [the conversation] about not being friends. Make it about how you may be in different places for this time. You can speak to what you aren’t getting in the friendship,” Jackson says. Also: Avoid using sentences that begin with “you” when you’re hashing out your issues. “It’s not an attack on them but about you reestablishing your boundaries and sharing your needs.” 

Also keep in mind that though you and your friend may not be on good footing now, it doesn’t necessarily mean the issues between the both of you have to do with you. “Toxic friends are often in a insecure season in their life and may not be conscious of how their actions make you feel and that they are costing the relationships,” Jackson says. “You don’t have to convince them, but only share your truth. The friendship may not be saved, but you should be honest in all close relationships and your feedback may help them save some other relationships in their life.”

Lastly, if there’s room for reconciliation, don’t burn bridges. After all, you were friends with this person for a reason. While a short separation can be good for a friendship that is strained, if there is room for reconciliation, see if you can’t make it work. “Scaling back in a friendship does not have to be a formal breakup. It doesn’t need to have cliché breakup lines or need to feel like we will never see each other again. I have toxic friends I phased out and now we can have a friendly conversation. I genuinely wish them well.”

Remember: “Unless they did something you could never get past, you don’t have to slam the door on a friendship. Gently make your exit.”

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