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How to Identify and Free Yourself From Toxic People

How to Identify and Free Yourself From Toxic People

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to an alarming realization – I no longer need to be surrounded by people in order to feel happy. In fact, I now gladly stay home and do homework rather than socialize with the people I actively made plans with in the past, unless it’s with one of a handful of people that I actually enjoy being in the company of.

I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon, but as someone who has always been a social butterfly constantly making plans, I have found that my tolerance for hanging out with most people has dramatically decreased. Maybe it’s the lack of time I have since starting grad school or the lack of sleep that has made me into a less excitable person, but I am no longer interested in making plans with friends who do not meet me halfway or make me uncomfortable in conversations by speaking badly of others.

In the Sunnah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) explains that “A person is upon the religion of his close friend, so beware whom you befriend.” [Abu Daawood and At-Tirmithi]

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to an alarming realization – I no longer need to be surrounded by people in order to feel happy.

This hadith, while often misconceived, does not say to unfriend non-Muslims, but says to be aware of the company you keep. The morality and character of those you spend the most time with will be impressed on you as well. If you spend your time with friends who speak badly of others on one hand, but rush to say “I love you!” to that same person when they walk by, you will be more likely to behave the same way given enough time. The people you hang with really do influence you. They normalize certain behaviors and if you’re not careful you will be sucked into a friendship that turns out to me more toxic than comforting, and having to break out of a friendship can be extremely taxing.

When dealing with a toxic friend and knowing that it is time to change things, you need to decide whether you need to simply distance yourself or cut them off completely. If you are anything like me, shutting someone out completely is incredibly painful – especially when there is a lot of history involved. It’s easy to start thinking of all the good moments and making excuses for current behavior. But if this is a trend, saying things like “Oh, she’s just going through a tough time right now,” slowly becomes a habit. It is important to be there for friends going through a tough time, but it’s also important to have integrity when you’re becoming the only person they lash out on.

They normalize certain behaviors and if you’re not careful you will be sucked into a friendship that turns out to me more toxic than comforting, and having to break out of a friendship can be extremely taxing.

There are going to be people we meet in life that can be classified as annoying, demanding, selfish and miserable. It’s important to know that these qualities, while incredibly unpleasant, are not the equivalent of  toxic. Yes, you should probably stay away from people who display those qualities consistently, but frustrating qualities are very different from poisonous qualities.

Toxic friends usually display the following qualities:

1. Puppet Master
Often times, when people are feeling out of control in their own lives, they cope by controlling anything they can – including the lives of others. Unfortunately, you may be an easy target of master manipulation if you’re usually there to listen and help.

2. Always Taking, Never Giving
Toxic friends have a way of taking everything valuable – your time, energy, etc. – and never returning the favor. They might even mask it up by giving small gifts at random times to make you feel as though they’re there for you as much as you are for them. But in reality, the second you’re too busy to be there, those “gifts” become targeted reminders of how much they’ve done for you.

3. They can do no wrong
If you fight back about something and get into an argument, the argument will only end if you say sorry just for the sake of ending the fight. Toxic friends usually find it extremely hard to admit they’re wrong. Ever.

4. I ain’t get no respect [for boundaries]
Sometimes, you’re just having an off day. A friend should be able to take a hint. Heck, any person should be able to take a hint – people are entitled to having hard days. But if you’ve explained to someone that a certain behavior or request of theirs is not helping how you feel right now and they persist without taking your well-being into account, that’s a big indicator.

5. Liar, Liar
Oh were you supposed to meet up? You scheduled it a week ago because you’re both really busy? They can’t make it all of a sudden because of a last minute thing that came up? No problem, just reschedule when they’re ready to. Oh, but they’ve just updated their Snapchat story and are complaining about being so bored while watching Netflix with another friend? Gotcha.

6. Poor them
If you’re having a hard time this semester and decide to share it, get ready to be steamrolled. To these friends, listening to other people’s complaints doesn’t work for them in isolation. If they listen, it will only be long enough to get the gist of your topic and then, before you know it, the conversation will be dominated by their struggles instead.

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6. Take no suggestions
God forbid that you make a suggestion about how they should deal with their issues. When listening to a toxic friend of my own, I made a suggestion to her about talking to her parents about how she was feeling. Nothing could have prepared me for her flipping the conversation in a second just to tell me that I was lucky to have a good relationship with my parents and siblings because having that relationship made all my problems less stressful. And while I do agree, I am incredibly lucky alhamdulillah, the way she said it made me actually feel guilty about it. And then she actually got mad at me for having a supportive family.

7. Neither can live while the other survives
Sorry, had to throw an HP (Harry Potter) reference in here. But really, toxic friends don’t have too much time to spare when it comes to acknowledging your accomplishments. Mention something good to them and suddenly it’s a competition you never signed up for. Got an award? Well, look at this new lipstick she just got. Your little brother got all A’s and you’re proud of him? Yeah well, hers did something nice for her once. You met the President? Cool, but didn’t you hear? She got a new lipstick!

If you have a friend that consistently shows any number of these qualities, it might be time to either have a discussion about it or make a decision to distance or cut them off. Some ways you can start include:

  1. Set clear limits on the amount of time you spend with them. Your time is valuable too.
  2. Listen to their complaints but guide the conversation to something more positive – don’t be an enabler!
  3. Start branching out and spending time with other people who have similar interests and motivate you in a positive way.
  4. Speak out against manipulations and unnecessary lashing out. Use your voice.
  5. Ask for what you want. Explain to them how you feel – you can’t expect people to know what you’re thinking.
  6. If you’re still unsure, make Istikhara.
  7. Go through your texts – notice who responds more, who is more supportive, and who is more active in creating conversations.
  8. If all else fails, say goodbye. Do not be someone who is only asked to hang out as a second thought or when they’re having a crisis. Do not be someone who is never thanked for being there or going out of your way to do things.

When you’re friends for a while, resentment ferment and you can begin to drift apart naturally as you develop new goals.

It’s definitely not easy, and as someone who has either cut off or distanced myself from many people in the last few months, I know it can be an emotional process. You might have relapses in judgment but if you take a step back and really reflect on how your life has changed you will feel lighter. Most importantly, you are going to have more room for friends who bring more meaning to your life.

Lastly, even though your friendship might be ending, remember the good times and let go of your resentment. Just because someone was a toxic friend to you does not mean they will be for everyone else and it does not mean that they are a bad person. When you’re friends for a while, resentment ferment and you can begin to drift apart naturally as you develop new goals. Always wish the best for people, no matter how they’ve treated you. It’s okay to grow and want more from your friendships.

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