Is It Really Possible To Fix A Toxic Friendship (And Is It Worth Fixing)?

Friendships are supposed to feel safe and supportive, but what if they don't? This might be a sign that you're stuck in a toxic friendship. "A toxic friendship is one in which you feel energetically exhausted when interacting with the person," Dr. Judy Ho, a triple board-certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist, told Well+Good. "Your friend may be an emotional vampire who seems to suck the life force out of you whenever you speak to them or spend time with them."

These bad vibes can be caused by a variety of issues. Your friend might always play the victim, text you only when they need something, or make critical comments that get under your skin. No matter what exactly makes your friendship toxic, it's crucial to protect yourself — or get out. After all, keeping toxic people around can trigger stress and is a common cause of anxiety. It could even harm your physical health and damage relationships with other people in your life.

But can a toxic friendship ever really be fixed? Here's how to know when a problematic friend is worth keeping in your circle and how to cope so you don't get burned.

How to know if a toxic friendship can be fixed

Just because someone behaves in toxic ways doesn't always mean you have to cut them out of your life. A hurtful friendship can be salvaged if both people (yep, that means you too) are willing to change. If it's only you wanting to change the dynamic, it's pretty unlikely that anything will change. 

However, your friend might not realize they're being toxic until you tell them. Though it may feel awkward at first, confronting them about their behavior and how it impacts you is an essential step in fixing a toxic friendship. If your bestie acts defensively, note that the relationship probably won't improve any time soon.

A friendship that seems to bring out the worst in you may also be difficult to fix. "If a relationship gets to a point where you start questioning your identity, you're not honoring your values, you're constantly feeling depleted ... it's time to reevaluate the friendship, and it's OK to walk away from a friendship like that," Karina Aybar-Jacobs, a licensed therapist and coach, revealed to Today. Be on the lookout for signs of emotional abuse, too, including humiliation, possessiveness, guilt-tripping, gaslighting, and disrespecting your boundaries and individuality (per Safe Horizon). These are serious warning signs that a friendship isn't worth saving.

Ways to deal with a toxic friend

If you're committed to working things out with a toxic friend, start by setting some clear boundaries. BetterHelp suggests using "I" statements to firmly communicate your expectations and the consequences that will occur if the boundary is crossed again. For example, you can say, "I feel uncomfortable when you gossip about people. Can we talk about other things? If you continue messaging me to gossip, I won't respond."

You may also want to adjust how you approach your friendship. If a toxic person is slow to change their ways, consider interacting with them less. "Maybe your friendship turns into reaching out on the holidays, wishing them happy birthday, and you become acquaintances more than friends," Dr. Annette Nuñez, a psychotherapist, told MindBodyGreen. Similarly, you might decide to only bond over shared interests or hobbies and stop engaging in intimate conversations, especially if you no longer feel comfortable sharing personal information with them.

Keep in mind that you can't make anyone change, and if your BFF's toxic habits continue to have a negative impact on your well-being, it's okay to let the friendship go. If you feel safe enough, tell your friend directly, though kindly, that you intend to step away from the relationship. Remember, friend breakups can be painful but not as painful as staying in a destructive friendship.