How and when to let go of friends

We should have friends who want the best for us. Although this seems obvious and sounds cliché, it can be a little more complicated than it seems. We should have people in our lives who celebrate when we succeed instead of being bitter and resentful. We also shouldn’t have people around us who secretly celebrate our hurt. Every case and relationship is unique, so these kinds of issues need to be solved on an individual basis. However, when considering whether we need to end a friendship or give ourselves some space, there is much to consider and some common questions we should ask ourselves. 


Someone on a downward pathSomeone on a downward path

If one person is on a downward path, and you’ve tried your best to help them but they continue to not help themselves and drag you down too, you should consider giving them space.

Beneficial for both partiesBeneficial for both parties

This not only prevents you from getting dragged down by the person, but it also may help them in waking them up to the fact that they will lose people around them if they continue on their path.

A useful metaphorA useful metaphor

A very helpful metaphor to consider when it comes to a harmful relationship (any harmful relationship) is the metaphor of a drowning person and a lifeguard.

If it’s dangerous, they keep their distance9. Falling or drowning

If a lifeguard approaches a drowning person who insists on panicking to the point that they would drown the lifeguard when they try to save them, the lifeguard is trained to keep their distance.

Try to help, but don’t jeopardize yourselfTry to help, but don't jeopardize yourself

The lifeguard will try to calm the person down with words and through physical acts like shaking them. If it doesn’t work, they must stay away.

Otherwise, two people drownOtherwise, two people drown

This may sound harsh, as without the lifeguard’s help the person will drown, but the alternative is both people drowning.

Romantic breakups are less complicatedRomantic breakups are less complicated

With broken romantic relationships, there is often a clear process in place for people to separate. This may mean signing papers, moving out of their shared house, and separating themselves socially from each other.

Friendships can seem messyFriendships can seem messy

However, with broken friendships, the process is a little more complicated and often there is less of a clear way out.

It’s unclear if they should endIt's unclear if they should end

Furthermore, what can be hardest about a friendship ending is knowing that it should end in the first place. It’s often unclear because it’s less dramatic than the end of a romantic relationship.

Should a friendship end?Practice vulnerability

The question as to whether a friendship should end (or be faded out) is also complicated by the fact that friendships less commonly go so wrong that they can’t be fixed.

It’s personalIt's personal

To a point, it is a question of value for the individual themselves. If loyalty means a lot to a person, they will probably go to great lengths to save a friendship.

Friendships are more important to some than othersPractice vulnerability

On the other hand, for some people, friends and acquaintances are dispensable. For these people, friends come and go. They might be close to someone for a while until they move to a city for a new job and spend very little time looking back or feeling sad about the loss.

Maybe it’s just not that importantMaybe it's just not that important

Other people may value their career so much that friendships that aren’t related to it are not a priority.

Harmful friendships have some things in commonHarmful friendships have some things in common

However, even though we are all different and have varying value sets, there are common features in a friendship that we should try to fix. If we can’t, then we’re better off ending the friendship for our own sake and the sake of the other person.

An ongoing negative forceAn ongoing negative force

If a person is continuously dragging you down, complaining about the negative things, or focusing on the negatives of your personality, it may be time to talk.

We can’t be beams of sunshine all the timeWe can't be beams of sunshine all the time

It’s unrealistic to be positive all the time, and friends are great at waking us up to what we’re doing wrong, so this has to be considered on an individual basis.

When to distance yourselfWhen to distance yourself

If the behavior doesn’t stop after asking for a few times and you genuinely feel like they’re dragging you down, it may be a good idea to give them some space.


Another reason that someone might need space is when things don’t feel balanced and addressing it doesn’t change anything.

One-sided relationshipsOne-sided relationships

This could mean that one person is pouring time and effort into a relationship and is getting nothing back for it.\

How both parties should feelHow both parties should feel

No matter how close people are or how long they have known each other, there should be some form of balance where both people in a friendship feel like they are respected, valued, and of worth.


Honesty is huge in relationships. We need it to feel safe and secure. We need it when we inevitably wish to open up to people.

Malicious people existGet some perspective

Enough dishonesty and you may begin to question the motives of someone. It would be naive to go through life thinking that everyone has everyone’s best interest in mind. People can be malicious.

Good friends celebrate the goodGood friends celebrate the good

If you share good news with a friend, are they happy to hear it? Do they try to play it down by telling you something good that happened to them or someone they know?

Good friends empathizeGood friends empathize

If you share bad news with a friend, do they empathize with you, or do they tell you how much of an idiot you are and that it was your fault?

Good friends lift you up and encourage you to do goodGood friends lift you up and encourage you to do good

A good friend should morally support you for the good things that you do in your life. For example, if you are striving to get healthy by exercising and stopping smoking, the last thing you need is someone encouraging you to smoke.

Negative forces will question you when you’re doing goodNegative forces will question you when you're doing good

The people around you shouldn’t question your motives when you’re out attempting to do good in the world. However, working hard to achieve your goals can make people jealous.


Coming back to the point about balance, people who are exceptionally needy in the long run may not benefit your emotional state, as well as everything else.

Letting go won’t, and shouldn’t, happen overnightLetting go won't, and shouldn't, happen overnight

In most cases, it won’t be an overnight process of letting go of a friend. We will need to have plenty of conversations explaining how we feel (and possibly asking them to change). It’s also not an easy process, but in some cases it has to be done.



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