We refresh our wardrobes, revamp our diets and redecorate our bedrooms to suit our mood, but how often do we check on the health of our friendships? It has been said that we are the average of the five people closest to us. Think who the five are – does that sit well with you?

Whether we like it or not, our inner circle directly influences our thoughts and decisions. Good friends enrich our lives, support us through our successes and failures and even challenge us- constructively of course. Toxic friends bring out the worst in us and need to be weeded out. Friendships naturally go through ups and downs, so how do you spot if one is beyond repair?

What is a toxic friend?

An unhealthy relationship can be easier to identify in a romantic situation. A good rule is if you wouldn’t put up with it from a partner, it’s not okay from a friend. Certified life and relationship coach TJ Gibbs says “a ‘toxic friend’ is someone who puts you down, constantly seems to disagree with what you stand for or is only  interested in what affects them”. These friendships have an imbalance in talk time, you know the intricate details of their lives but they know nothing of yours. This friend criticises, begrudges your success and stirs up negative emotions. If you feel drained after their company (the rare occasions they don’t flake), maybe it’s time to reevaluate.

Friendships can become toxic for many reasons such as jealousy, bitterness and betrayal or simply growing apart. However, if it continues down this path the negativity can bleed into other areas of your life. Surrounding yourself with supportive people can improve your mental health, while a toxic friendship has the opposite effect. TJ explains: “a toxic friendship can really affect your ability to express and be yourself.  You may begin to feel less confident, less willing to open up and more critical of both yourself and others.” Studies show stressful friendships can also lead to “inflammation in the body”, which could in time lead to serious illness. Nurturing friendships may prove as important for our wellbeing as diet and exercise.

How to deal with a toxic friend

Cutting ties with a toxic friend can be harder than a romantic break up, as these bonds often go back to childhood. It is inevitable that you will feel sense of loss, so work out whether this friendship could be salvaged by setting healthy boundaries. If you feel this friendship is important enough, TJ advises explaining to your friend how they have made you feel, although do not expect them to agree with your feedback. Weigh up your options by asking “Do you feel this person has your best interests at heart”? If the answer is “yes” then it makes sense to make that call.  However, if in your heart and soul you know the answer is “no” then it is time to gracefully accept the friendship season for you both is over.” Remember their behaviour is no reflection on you and you are showing yourself kindness but distancing yourself from bad energy.

Although they can feel suffocating in the moment, a toxic friendship can be a blessing in disguise. It gives you the opportunity to learn about your needs and values. What do you want from a friendship? Do you crave loyalty, honesty or humour and fun? Create space in your life for people that possess qualities you admire. TJ also recommends becoming what you are looking for, as “your vibe will attract your tribe.”

If you need more advice on how to navigate relationships with friends, yourself or a romantic partner, a life coach can be an invaluable resource. Find one in your area by using the Life Coach Directory.