How To Not Be A Toxic Friend



embedIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
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One of my best friends recently told me I have “selfish tendencies.” She gave me a few examples and I actually understood where she was coming from and appreciated her honesty. But, since then, she’s been avoiding me. I thought this was an intervention to help me grow but I guess she thought it was a conversation to cut things off? I’m really hurt and confused and think I deserve an explanation or at least another chance to make things right. How can I get her to talk to me?

Annie Roseman, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
This sounds very painful and frustrating, and I understand your need for clarity. Our culture places a premium on romantic relationships, but platonic friendships are equally important. So, it can be just as devastating when one ends unexpectedly, as Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph illustrated so well in Bridesmaids. Ideally, you could have an open and honest conversation, then solve all your issues through shenanigans and ‘90s pop music, but this becomes much more difficult if neither one of you ever starred on SNL. In real life, she probably should’ve brought her concerns to your attention earlier but unfortunately, it sounds like the damage has been done.

That said, if her goal was to put an end what she saw as bad behavior on your part, it’s great that you had a friend that cared enough about you to offer some honest, though hurtful, criticism. It’s even better that you valued her opinion enough to be receptive instead of defensive. However, this doesn't mean that you get to skip off into the sunset — you’ve got work to do. If she needs space from you, you have to respect that. Pushing her to talk to you if she doesn’t want to will only reinforce her idea that you put your needs/feelings ahead of hers. But, consider yourself lucky: Sometimes, people get fed up and disappear with no explanation and all you're left with is questions and assumptions that make you feel bad about yourself.

And, though this might not sound fair, you can't control how other people act — but you can control how you react. So, use this time to develop insight on how you are perceived by others and learn from this fallout. Think back to your own reaction to hearing her call you selfish, and reevaluate the conversation and the examples she gave. Ask other friends and family for sincere feedback, and be prepared if it’s not good. Self-awareness is the first step to personal growth, so as painful as it might be to hear, I encourage you to challenge yourself to confront these behavior patterns and change them.

Ultimately, people don't often end important relationships on a whim, so it’s likely that she has been distancing herself for awhile. Even with time and space, the relationship may never go back to what it once was, but if you care about her as much as it sounds like you do, it’s worth the extra effort to try reconnecting. If and when she does come around, don’t spend the entire conversation asking her why she dumped you, because friendship shouldn’t feel exhausting. Instead let her know the things that you’ve been working on and thank her for being the catalyst to that change, then get back to the important stuff: having fun! Going forward, just do your best to be the kind of friend you root for and not the kind you run from.