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.