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How to break up with friends

Are you a good friend but feel you don’t receive the same level of support or kindness from your friends in return? Sadly, this is not uncommon. Researchers at MIT found that up to 50% of friends have a mismatch between how much both parties actually like each other – unbeknownst to both parties.

Lack of reciprocation and even overt meanness in friendships is actually more common than you think. And it’s time we called it out. 

Signs your friendship is toxic

One of the biggest signs that you in a toxic friendship is 1. the ‘giving-take’ balance and 2. are they mean to you? A total lack of reciprocation for the level of effort and time you put into the relationship is a red flag – and mean behaviour is a flaming billboard screaming ‘TOXIC’ in neon letters! If they give you nothing in return, they are a bad friend. If they return your kindness with meanness, passive aggression and/or rudeness, they are a bully. 

You need to ditch Friendship misconceptions – it’s not meant to be ‘all give and no take’ 

The idea that ‘friendship means giving and expecting nothing in return’ is very noble, but it’s actually really illogical! Of course you should expect something from a friend – expect them to be a friend! This means, you should expect to receive trust, support, affection and respect from your buddies.  If you can’t trust them, they don’t support you, they act like they dislike you, and they don’t respect you – that ain’t a friend dear one! 

Why do my friends do this to me?

Two important thing to keep in mind. One, the reason might be totally reasonable like ‘new bub means they’re barely showering or eating right now, let alone friending!’, to less acceptable, like ‘they needed a chair filler’, ‘laziness’, ‘not valuing the friendship’, or ‘not even realizing they were behaving crappily’.

Your job is to spot when it’s happening and set some boundaries. And two, most of these reasons are to do with that friend, not you dear soul.

Is there something wrong with me?

It’s always good to do a little personal reflection to make sure you haven’t accidentally been engaging in some #friendcrimes yourself. But if there’s something wrong with you then there’s something wrong with about 50% of the population – because 1 in 2 Aussies report feeling their friends were MIA, that they have no friends to turn to, and lacked companionship according to the 2019 University of Swinburnes ‘Young Australian Loneliness Survey’.

If you can honestly say you have been there for them and you’re feeling deep hurt due to their behaviour – it’s probably because they’ve legitimately done something to cause that pain. And it’s very ok to acknowledge that pain. Emotional rejection and meanness can feels as real as physical pain in our brains! You’re not crazy. And you’re not alone in feeling like this.  

How do I know if I should break up with them? 

Definitely don’t do anything in the heat of the moment! Firstly, figure out that a boundary has been crossed by analyzing what they have done to hurt you. Secondly, give them a period to change by communicating that behaviour is not OK! If nothing changes, then it’s time for a break up (and yes, you MUST communicate here friend). 

If the writing is on the wall – readjust or remove! Readjust by putting in the same level of effort as them! Or, remove by no longer putting your precious time and energy into that toxic friendship.

What if I end up with no friends? 

Firstly, you won’t – research indicates 1 in 2 people feel this way – that’s literally hundreds of thousands of people who also want to make true friends! You will find them if you look for them. Secondly, the neocortex of your brain is only wired to handle 5 very close relationships at any one time. Research tells us that as we get older its normal to end up with fewer, close friends, rather than oodles of mediocre ones. 

The most important point is that your fear of having ‘no friends’ may in fact be keeping you tied to toxic ones. As soon as you settle for toxic friends in your life, you close yourself off from putting that same energy into finding friends that actually value you. And remember, you’re worth being valued.

Neuropsychologist Hannah Korrel is the author of How to Break Up With Friends (Impact Press $24.99) and has spent over a decade becoming an expert in why the brain makes us do the things we do. A fierce mental health advocate, Hannah brings neurology and psychology together to explain common life dilemmas, minus the BS. Hear more from Hannah at www.hannahkorrel.com.

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