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How to Identify and Inoculate a Toxic Friendship

Ten signs your friend is toxic, and six ways to fix it.

Realizing a friend is toxic is tricky because initially toxic folks are nice. Yet, slowly and methodically, the toxic person often convinces the other person in the friendship that they are the problem.

The danger of a toxic person is that they have a way of making their friend feel inferior, invisible, anxious, and that they are a bad person, thus, eroding a person's sense-of-self and compromising their mental health. Yet, severing the relationship creates massive drama, so neutralizing the toxicity is often the best idea.

Typically, the non-toxic person possesses deeper capacities such as remorse, conscientiousness, accountability, empathy, and self-awareness. These qualities are valiant, yet they make a person vulnerable to a toxic friend because the toxic friend takes advantage of the person’s tendency to look at themselves first.

However, the non-toxic individual should not change their good nature or the tendency to be self-reflective and accountable. These are admirable qualities. By implementing six techniques, they can neutralize the toxicity without having to change who they are or sever the friendship. First, however, it's necessary to decipher whether a friend meets “toxic” criteria.

A friend may be toxic if they:

  1. Make comments that are confusing and that sting. These comments swim in a person’s head, causing self-doubt and anxiety.
  2. He or she ignores their friend’s feelings and promotes their own.
  3. If the non-toxic friend asserts themselves in the friendship, the toxic friend frames them as dramatic or over-sensitive.
  4. Occasionally the toxic friend is nice in order to deter their friend from suspecting they are toxic. The toxic friend is especially nice when other people are watching.
  5. Toxic characters project like crazy. Chances are they have already accused their friend or others of being toxic.
  6. Frequently they play the victim, asserting they have a more difficult plight than anyone else.
  7. They triangulate—meaning if there is a mutual friend, they begin to align that friend with themselves and exclude the non-toxic friend.
  8. Rarely do they comment on their friend’s successes or achievements, but they readily highlight their own.
  9. Often they ignore or exclude their friend when they are with mutual friends.
  10. They indirectly sabotage their friend by drawing them into drama that deters them from pursuing their goals.

How to neutralize a toxic friendship

  1. Get space, emotionally. Refrain from telling the toxic friend anything personal. Avoid talking about feelings, issues, hopes, and dreams. The toxic person cannot sabotage without this information. Also, do not go to the toxic person in need of help with something. Finally, steer clear of their drama with other people. Simply empathize with their feelings and politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
  2. Be diplomatic. Do not make it evident that emotional space is the goal. Say things like, “I'd love to talk, but I'm knee-deep in a work project. I'll call you next week.” It's OK to be slightly disingenuous in order to protect yourself and salvage the friendship.
  3. Pursue activities and friendships independent of the toxic friend. Hitch your wagon to a friend with healthier interpersonal capacities. Make friends with an empath. Find a passion or hobby independent of the toxic friend.
  4. It's alright to have fun with the toxic friend. Have some laughs and talk about impersonal things like the Cubs, HGTV, or the weather. Go out and dance or see a movie.
  5. Do mind and body work. A toxic individual can impact your sense-of-self. One way to recover is to do mind and body work, such as yoga, tai chi, and martial arts.
  6. Laughter is good medicine. A toxic friend can zap your ability to laugh. Find it again. Be silly. Go to a comedy club. Watch funny movies.

Learning how to handle toxic individuals is an essential skill in today's world. Identifying the toxic dynamic is the first step. Acquiring enough emotional space to be safe from a toxic person's manipulations is the goal. Have fun, but don't get too close.

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