Why Fall Is the Perfect Time to Weed Out Toxic Friends — and How to Do It

Stepping back from a problematic platonic relationship is self-care.

Why Weeding Out Toxic Friendships Is a Self-Care Must This Fall

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As summer days brimming with sunny warmth progressively get cooler and darker this time of year, you may also feel changes brewing in your social life. That desire to get cozier and lazier often goes hand-in-hand with having less energy to pour into our relationships, including our platonic ones. But this can actually be a blessing in disguise, prompting us to become more intentional about the friendships we want to prioritize.

“What often happens seasonally is our emotions mirror what's happening in nature, in the world,” says Christie Kederian, Ph.D., LMFT, a nationally-renowned psychiatrist who specializes in the psychology of relationships. “Fall is about letting go and shedding, so that you can bud and build new things. [The season] can really help you focus on what matters most and where you want to put your energy.” 

The transition to a new season often reminds us that, just like nature, friendships have seasons, and it could be time to move on from a platonic bond that’s more toxic than fulfilling, says Kederian. 

Here, how to identify unhealthy friendships and expert-approved tips for splitting up.

How to Spot a Toxic Friendship

Whether self-work and therapy has made you more conscious of toxic vibes with a longtime BFF or a recent incident has proven eye-opening, it can be tough to acknowledge that it’s time to end a friendship. While we accept that breakups happen on the regular in romantic relationships, ending a platonic bond is far less normalized and discussed.

Kederian points out that when you've had a friend for a very long time, you assume that they're going to be in your life forever. “But the reality is that we all grow and evolve and who you were in high school is very different [than who you are today],” she explains, adding that how and why you connect with someone may change over time as well.

Still, it can be challenging to throw in the towel. Here, several ways to determine if there’s a case for ending a friendship. 

Focus on patterns.

It’s possible that — especially if you’re struggling with seasonal depression — you might be a bit crankier and more sensitive in general in the fall and winter, and it’s easy to chalk up complicated feelings about a friendship to a temporarily gloomy outlook. But if you’re noticing unhealthy patterns (more on those in a moment) that have been occurring over time, you might be recognizing a toxic bond for what it is. 

“I would really pay attention to that if you've seen unhealthy behavior in the past, but now, it's becoming more obvious,” says Kederian.

Lauren Cook, psychologist

Our friendships should bring joy to our lives, and if you find you leave interactions with a friend feeling awful, exhausted, or drained, that’s a cue that this might not be a healthy relationship.

— Lauren Cook, psychologist

Lauren Cook, MMFT, a San Diego-based psychologist, sums it up by noting, “Our friendships should bring joy to our lives, and if you find you leave interactions with a friend feeling awful, exhausted, or drained, that’s a cue that this might not be a healthy relationship.” 

Consider whether you’ve felt unsafe being yourself in the relationship.

Several toxic dynamics could be inhibiting your ability to feel like you can show up and be accepted for who you are in a platonic relationship. 

“Say there’s a friend that's consistently putting you down,” explains Kederian. “Something happened at work. And they're like, ‘Oh, that's not a big deal.’ They're minimizing your accomplishments or they're minimizing your problems. Maybe you confide in them about something you're going through. And then, they say, ‘Oh, I went through something worse.’” 

By comparison, a good friend is going to listen to you, support you, and affirm you, points out Kederian. 

Or perhaps the friendship feels like it’s on a superficial basis. In this case, you might feel like neither of you really know who the other is, and you’re pressured into being a certain type of person in order for the relationship to exist.

Gauge whether jealousy is hindering your bond.

Healthy friendships involve both people celebrating one another’s accomplishments, but in a toxic dynamic, you might feel like you can’t acknowledge the ups as well as the downs due to jealousy. “Jealousy is really about one person not living their full potential and seeing other people living theirs,” notes Kederian. 

And you don’t want friends for whom jealousy gets in the way of them wishing what’s best for you. 

Think about reciprocity. 

If a friendship feels like a one-way street in which one person’s needs are being met, it’s likely an unhealthy one, says Kederian. “Your friend is consistently asking you to help them or support them, but they're never there for you,” she explains. It may cause you to wonder: “Are they really interested in having a good friendship with you or are they more interested in what you can provide for them?”

Look at problematic power dynamics.

In a healthy friendship, there’s a mutual sharing of weaknesses and strengths. But in some bonds, one person over-identifies as a helper and thrives on “fixing” the other person’s problems. 

“What that creates is a power dynamic in the relationship where they feel more powerful than you, because they know what's better or they always help you out when you're in trouble, but they're not sharing their weaknesses or how they need help,” notes Kederian. “You really want to pay attention to any feeling of superiority or if someone's just always there when you're at your lowest point but not when you're doing well.”  

How to Break Up with a Toxic Friend

Ending a friendship — especially a decades-old one — can feel truly daunting and maybe even impossible, but there are ways to make it an easier pill to swallow. Here’s what the experts we spoke with recommend.

Get centered.

It’s normal to have some ambivalence about ending a relationship, but that doesn’t mean you’re making the wrong choice, says Stephanie Macadaan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Bay Area, California. What it may mean is that it’s time to take action to feel more centered. 

The first step: Feeling confident in your decision, says Macadaan. To do this, she recommends getting support to solidify your decision to end the relationship if necessary. “Communicate your decision to shared friends, so that they are aware of your boundaries moving forward,” she advises.

Determine whether you need to have a conversation.

If you’re the kind of friends who talk all the time, it makes sense to spell out that you’re stepping back, says Kederian.  

“Sometimes it really has nothing to do with who they are as a person — they might be the same person, but you've changed, so you can say, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ in some form,” she suggests. 

But if you weren’t necessarily connecting on a regular basis anyway, you might just create more distance and lean on being busy to pull away. 

You’ll also do well to think about whether or not your friend is the type who can really hear what you have to say anyway. “If the friendship is toxic, having a conversation about ending it could actually backfire and be more hurtful,” points out Macadaan. “If your friend historically gets defensive quickly, has been unable to hear you or gets angry and reactive, the conversation will likely not be helpful for either of you. In that case it makes sense to create more space.” 

Jessica Alderson, relationship expert

Ending a toxic friendship is similar to a romantic breakup in a lot of ways. At first, you'll likely experience feelings of loss and sadness... But in time, you will feel lighter and liberated.

— Jessica Alderson, relationship expert

Recognize the big picture benefits.

It can be easy to dismiss a friend breakup as just too tough to even attempt, but Jessica Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at So Syncd, encourages you to think about what it can do for you in the long-run. 

“You will be happier,” she notes. “Ending a toxic friendship is similar to a romantic breakup in a lot of ways. At first, you'll likely experience feelings of loss and sadness. If they were a close friend, you may reminisce about the good times you shared together and you might feel like there’s a hole in your life. But in time, you will feel lighter and liberated. You’ll be able to spend more time pursuing your passions and seeing people who bring happiness to your life. Essentially, you’ll save energy for things that really matter to you.” 

Accept and work through your feelings.

Even once you’ve determined that a friendship was toxic, it’s normal to feel grief, says Alderson. “It’s OK to be sad about losing a friend,” she says. “Support from other friends, family members, or a partner can help at a time like this.” 

And if you don’t feel like you got closure from a breakup conversation, then you might write them a letter for your own benefit, advises Alderson. “Write everything you’d want to say to them, but don’t actually send it,” she says. “Instead, either shred it or burn it. This in itself can help you feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.” 

Prioritize your sense of self.

As you move forward, getting to know yourself even better, perhaps through therapy, can help you nurture bonds with friends who fill you up and weed out the ones that tear you down. 

“Knowing yourself and being in touch with your wants and needs as well as how to advocate for them is important in maintaining healthy relationships,” says Macadaan. “If you have a strong sense of self, your self-care comes before fear of conflict or not wanting to hurt another. This helps you more quickly identify — and end — friendships that are toxic.” 

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