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Courtesy | Wiki­Media Commons

Some influ­encers and lifestyle gurus say cutting off “toxic friends” is a healthy thing to do. Web M.D., for example, clas­sifies a toxic person as “anyone whose behavior adds neg­a­tivity and upset to your life.” 

It’s only natural to dis­tance yourself from con­flict. Yet cutting off friends deemed “toxic” isn’t the healthy response it may seem at first. 

There are some gen­uinely abusive people in the world, but we should be cau­tious of using the term “toxic” lightly. The word means “poi­sonous.” What some people may describe as a toxic friendship may just be an ordinary incom­pat­i­bility or a mis­un­der­standing of expec­ta­tions. Some­times, friends make bad choices or mis­takes. Making mis­takes isn’t toxic: it’s human. Perhaps we’ve made similar mis­takes ourselves. 

Cutting off friends due to per­son­ality dif­fer­ences or past wrongs may seem sat­is­fying in the moment, but many times it only fuels more con­flict. It can force people to pick sides and can leave the excom­mu­ni­cated friend feeling hurt and con­fused. There are other ways to rec­oncile a broken friendship or even end a friendship without per­pet­u­ating harm.

There are a few important steps to take before deciding a friend is “toxic” and cutting them off.

We should first try to under­stand the other person’s point of view. In his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey encourages readers to “seek first to under­stand, then to be under­stood.” It may be easy to label friends as toxic when they do some­thing that we don’t like. When con­sid­ering a sit­u­ation from their point of view, we might dis­cover that while “toxic” friends handle a dif­ficult or dra­matic sit­u­ation ques­tionably, they’re doing so because they believe that they are doing the right thing. 

We should also talk to our “toxic” friends and express to them why their behavior upsets us. Many times, people aren’t even aware that they hurt others’ feelings. By pri­vately dis­cussing the sit­u­ation, we can rec­oncile our own problems and help others.

If nothing seems to work, we should let the sit­u­ation or even the friendship diffuse nat­u­rally, rather than make a scene and declare the friend “toxic.” If a person is truly vin­dictive and will not part ways even after having a serious con­ver­sation, it’s good to create dis­tance and get help if nec­essary. Still, there is a stark dif­ference between dis­tancing yourself from a manip­u­lator and trashing a friend who simply didn’t get along with you. 

It’s better to give friends the benefit of the doubt and let them go their sep­arate ways, rather than spread the word that they are “toxic” and need­lessly harm their rep­u­tation. Overusing the “toxic” label seems to only spread neg­a­tivity and harshness toward others.