by Jenna Drennen
2020 was a difficult year for all of us. Each of us confronted and overcame obstacles, and for me, many of those challenges also presented valuable growth opportunities. Facing adversity often necessitated reevaluating aspects of my life I took for granted. My priorities shifted, and I began to identify better what was and wasn’t serving my mental and physical health. As our world hit crisis mode, so did my relationship with one of my lifelong friends. Recognizing what support I needed to get myself and my family through this challenging time also meant identifying and discarding the toxic components that remained in my life. The challenges I faced allowed me to more clearly see how toxic my friend (and our friendship) was, and I made the agonizing decision to walk away from the relationship. It was a painful confrontation, but as I’ve emerged from my tunnel of grief, I feel better equipped to focus on relationships that offer me strength and joy, and I’ve gained several valuable insights along the way.
Recognizing the toxic traits my friend exhibited was a slow process that naturally came to a head when crisis hit. Her inclination to resist or sabotage my positive growth and change became a common thread in our interactions, and it became clear that she did not have my best interest at heart. Our communication left me feeling invisible, invalidated, and emotionally drained. I began to realize that I did not enjoy spending time with her or appreciate the energy she put out into the world. Worst of all, I began to realize our competitive relationship brought out the worst in me as well. I did not like who I was when I was around her. Prioritizing my mental health during a difficult time also meant acknowledging that friendships should overwhelmingly add to our lives in positive ways. Being fundamentally incapable of supporting me, my friend could not remain in my life. As I took steps to end the friendship, these are the lessons I’ve learned:
1. Remaining loyal shouldn’t compromise my mental health.
My relationship with this friend spanned 30 years. Our bond seemed impossible to break due to our history and shared life experiences. Our relationship’s longevity created a sense of loyalty that may not have been warranted but was nonetheless fierce and seemingly impenetrable. It wasn’t until I began to identify and process the difference between our relationship’s quantity and quality that I began to acknowledge that the loyalty I carried shouldn’t come before my well-being. In the end, my loyalty was one-sided, and I walked away, not because I didn’t care, but because she didn’t.
2. It is ok to go our separate ways.
Overcoming the initial panic I confronted when ending our relationship meant acknowledging that it is absolutely ok for us to go our separate ways. Much like moving on from a romantic partner, it is reasonable and healthy to move on from a friend. Our needs and values shift over time, and the friendship may have come to its natural end. Choosing to walk away solidifies healthy boundaries while in no way negating the time we shared.
3. Sometimes, personal growth necessitates losing people along the way.
As I get older, I am more aware of my worth. I have established healthier boundaries, and these boundaries are maintained by acknowledging what I will and will not tolerate and what a genuinely reciprocal friendship looks like. Growing up sometimes means realizing that a lot of your friends aren’t really your friends. Moving forward and cherishing those relationships that aren’t lopsided allows me to continue to foster my self-worth.
4. End contact swiftly, and let myself move on.
In giving myself permission to walk away from someone who hurt me, I’m also acknowledging that I don’t owe her an explanation for taking care of myself. I stated my point and moved forward. Being pulled into an argument will not change the outcome; it only delays the healing process.
5. Stop expecting an apology.
In an ideal world, my friend would acknowledge and apologize for the ways she demeaned and invalidated me. I spent many sleepless nights hoping for this outcome but eventually realized how unrealistic this expectation was. If my friend could recognize and correct her toxic behavior, we would still be friends, and waiting around for an apology only allows her to maintain a negative hold over my life.
6. Allow myself to just sit in my feelings and be sad.
I am entitled to my grief, and making room for it does not mean I made the wrong choice in ending the friendship. Recognizing that I can be simultaneously relieved and heartbroken and making room for both emotions validates these feelings. It allows me to appropriately process them while trusting in the knowledge that I’m going to be ok.
7. Find support from family and friends while investing in the healthy relationships in my life.
Talking through my feelings, rather than bottling them up, allows me to work through them. Sharing the ups and downs and vulnerability that accompany the loss of a friendship lessens the burden of these emotions. It lets me shift my focus to the relationships in my life that offer me support, strength, and joy.
8. Stop stewing in my bitterness.
Ruminating on what went wrong in the friendship or refusing to let go of my anger only perpetuated my grief and anxiety. By feeding my bitterness, I was continuing to nurture the toxicity I walked away from. I could not completely break free from that toxicity until I made a conscious choice to forgive my friend for not being the person I needed her to be.
9. Grieving the loss of a cherished relationship is not a linear process.
Nine months after ending our friendship, I’ve come to accept that my grief and anxiety will ebb and flow. Some days I’m completely at peace with my decision; other days, I’m wracked with anger or guilt. I’ve learned to give myself the room to feel or not feel these feelings while continuing to remind myself that I made the right choice in removing a toxic person from my life.
10. Acknowledge all that I’ve gained from the relationship.
Even overwhelmingly negative relationships teach us something and offer opportunities for growth. In recognizing toxic traits and dynamics in our friendship, I can more readily identify and avoid these pitfalls in the future. Shutting down an unhealthy relationship solidifies my ability to uphold that boundary and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships going forward.
While my friend will always be a part of my journey, she was not meant to stay until the end. Letting go and moving on did not dishonor the friendship we shared but honored the person I am striving to become.
Jenna lives in Firestone with her husband, two kids, and a house full of animals. She enjoys, running, gardening, and climbing mountains in her spare time.