How to let go of draining relationships in order to maintain happiness and well-being.

14 09 02 friend-detox

While studies have demonstrated the long-term health benefits of social networks, including lower blood pressure and improved longevity, toxic friendships can have the opposite effect, leaving us feeling down and worse off. Vancouver psychologist Dr. Albert Bernstein calls them emotional vampires, people who drain us of our emotional and mental energy. The author of Emotional Vampires (McGraw Hill, 2002) says curing ourselves of toxic friends doesn’t necessarily mean breaking up, but understanding how to deal with them.

Have Realistic Expectations  
Accept individuals for who they are. “They might be the fun kind of person you can go shopping with, but they may not be reliable,” says Bernstein. While we can’t change his/her personality, we can change our expectations of them. Friendship expert Shasta Nelson, author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen (Turner, 2013), says frustration with a relationship is often the result of expecting too much. “Only one in 12 of our friendships are lifetime friendships,” says Nelson. Expecting all friends to be our BFFs has us missing out on various shades of friendships that Nelson says are required to fulfill our lives. In her book, she describes five circles of friends that she says are essential to giving us the ability to set realistic expectations on our friendships and feel fulfilled. These are contact friends, such as co-workers, common friends, such as the mom’s group pal we talk about our children with but not much else, confirmed friends, such as our best friend from high school who we see occasionally, community friends who cross into various areas in our lives, and the best friends that occupy a space in our hearts.

Set Boundaries
You know her, that friend who calls at 2 a.m. pleading, “You are the only person I can talk to and will listen.” While it can be easy to get roped into her drama, Bernstein advises to set clear boundaries. “Try saying, ‘This isn’t really a good time. How about I call you tomorrow?’ Or, ‘I have about 10 minutes to chat and then I have to go.’ When the 10 minutes is up say, ‘Remember, I said I have to go after ten minutes. Let’s talk later,’” advises Bernstein.

Say No and Mean It
We’ve all been in situations where a friend wants us to do something we don’t want to do. Bernstein says the most effective way to protect ourselves from exploitive friends is the ability to say no clearly and refuse to answer the “why not” question that often follows. “The minute you [answer the ‘why not’], the fact that you said no will be forgotten, and there will be another discussion on whether your reasons for saying no are valid or not,” says Bernstein.

Share the Blame  
Nelson says toxic friendships are almost never the fault of one individual. “It’s not that people are toxic, but friendships can be. We have to recognize that we have a part to play in that, as well,” says Nelson. In recognizing our role in the dissatisfactory relationship, Nelson advises that we should ask ourselves whether we can change ourselves first to improve the relationship.

Know When to Give Up
Before breaking up with a friend, Nelson advocates that we should be clear on what we want from the relationship, what about the relationship isn’t working and be sure to actually ask for what we need, giving our friend a chance or two to change before abandoning the relationship.