How to Set Boundaries With a Toxic Friend

Everybody has those friends: drama queens, Debbie Downers, shameless martyrs, etc. Whether you cling to these friendships because of a long history or an adoration for their finer qualities, you need to set some serious boundaries. Here, six ways to deal with when a toxic friend drags you down.

1. Be selfish and make it public

“No” is going to be your biggest tool in dealing with this friend. If she asks you to get together and you don’t want to, you reallyYou don’t have to, you don’t have to give him the old “Sorry, my boss just asked me to revise a presentation” spiel. Just offer a simple “sorry, not free, another time!” and if she pushes, tell her the truth. That you’re staying to catch up on some reading (and generally take more time for yourself these days). Trust us: it’s damn liberating.

2. Don’t stoop to their level

In other words, don’t reward bad behavior. When she starts talking about Suzy’s husband and nanny, don’t bite the gossip bullet and step in (we know, it can be tempting). Instead, offer a neutral response and pivot to a new topic. Once she realizes that you will never participate in her outbursts of profanity, she will likely start looking to do it elsewhere (i.e. with a receptive audience). Hopefully your dismissal will also point out that his behavior is not normal. Or nice. Or appreciated.

3. Establish a mutual interest at the heart of your relationship

Her incessant moans about how she’s going to die alone with her cats make her quite an irritating companion for brunch. But maybe she’s got a master’s in art history and is a fascinating museum visit, or is total fun to go dancing with on ladies’ night. To preserve the friendship, accept the fact that it may simply have to evolve (or rather, morph) into another type of friendship as you move in different directions (you towards personal growth and positive thinking, and her towards being a bit of a killjoy).

4. Rehearse before confronting her

If tensions have reached a tipping point, it may be time to address the issue head-on. In stressful situations involving people you care about, it’s often hard to say everything you want to say (“but she looked so sad!”) – so practice first on a close friend who knows the situation. Going over your points ahead of time (she always asks too much of you, she constantly outclasses you in social situations, etc.) will help you retain your monologue, feel more confident, and ultimately be more sensitive in your performance.

5. Take breaks to evaluate

No, we don’t mean a few days. More like a few weeks or even a few months. Do you miss his company? Isn’t book club just as fun without her? Or do you rather feel an overwhelming sense of peace and relief? Space is good for every relationship, and yours needs some breathing room and time to re-evaluate. Limiting exposure may be the very secret to keeping it in your life. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And if not…

6. Be strong enough to quit smoking

OK, be honest with yourself and with her, if the respective gossip/negativities/demands become unhealthy and unbearable for you. This might be one of the hardest challenges of your life, but don’t let her down and hope she gets the message…to break up with her, cold turkey. The truth probably won’t change her or her toxic ways, but it will fix you free.

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