As with romantic relationships, when you are in a supportive and trusting friendship, it is hard to imagine that it may ever come to an end. But the reality is, sometimes it is necessary to break up with a friend.
You may have realized you are incompatible with your friend, or you may spot toxic behaviors you want to move away from. Alternatively, you may have simply grown apart, or they might have broken up with you. Whatever the reason, friendship breakups are sometimes unavoidable and always painful.
Losing a friend can be as challenging and painful as any other kind of breakup. You usually expect a close friend to always have your back and be there for you. So it can be confusing and upsetting not to be able to rely on “your person.” You probably would’ve turned to your friend for support in this kind of situation, but now that communication channel is closed.
If you have recently gone through a friend breakup, we hope these steps will help you to grieve and heal. (We also recommend Season 3 Episode 6 of Netflix’s Love, for a comforting take on the topic)
Step 1: Communicate Openly
The first step begins with the breakup itself. Try to communicate openly with your friend during the breakup so that you both have a chance for closure. This will help to soften the blow of the breakup, reduce hurt feelings and leave you more ready to face the future without your friend. Furthermore, approaching your friend with compassion, rather than anger, will go a long way in healing, according to shame researcher Brené Brown.
Step 2: Acknowledge the Sadness
It can be hard to be honest about the sadness of losing a friend, especially because we tend to focus more on the heartbreak of romantic breakups. But friendship breakups can be equally heartbreaking and disorienting — or even more so, since you entrust friends to share in so much of your emotional world.
Meditating and journaling are both excellent ways to process your emotions and calm yourself, especially in moments when the loss overwhelms you.
Step 3: Allow Yourself to Grieve, Even a “Bad” Friendship
When a toxic or abusive person leaves your life, you might feel like you are not allowed to grieve the loss. Your most well-meaning friends and family might tell you that you are “better off” without them and urge you to move on. But even “bad” friendships deserve grieving time.
Grief coach Shelby Forsythia explains, “In grieving people who are wrong for us, we are grieving the relationship and connection we had to them, but we are also grieving the hopes, dreams, and expectations we held for the relationship.” Friend share so much. It is only natural that you feel sad at the loss, even if you acknowledge the relationship was toxic.
These two feelings can co-exist. It is vital that you allow yourself to grieve now instead of trying to shove the feelings into a box and put on a brave face! They will only come up later if you hide them away.
Step 4: Find a Sympathetic Ear
Without your friend, you might feel like there’s no one to turn to to discuss your post-breakup feelings. Acknowledge the support system you do have in other friends, partners, family members and caring figures in your community. Don’t be afraid to open up about your pain with others.
Citing a 1988 study, Psychology Today notes that “simply talking about our problems and sharing our negative emotions with someone we trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.” It is a vital part of the healing process.
If you have a hard time opening up to people close to you — especially in the scenario that they thing you’re better off without that friend, as we mentioned in Step #3 — find someone you can share with in a judgement-free way. A therapist or Supportiv group may help in this circumstance.
Step 5: Be Honest About Your Part
Breakups are rarely only the fault of one person. Acknowledging your role in your friendship breakup is an important step in acceptance, and will help you in your future friendships.
Perhaps you avoided confrontation with a friend until it was too late and tensions boiled over. Maybe you chose to look past behaviors that deeply bothered you, because you thought you would not be a good friend if you did not accept your friend for who they are.
If you can recognize your behavior patterns, you can work to change them, and to build stronger and healthier friendships in the future.
Step 6: Choose Self-Care Over Guilt and Shame
At the end of a relationship, you might feel guilty and ashamed. You might want to punish yourself for “not being a good enough friend” and for failing to keep a friendship alive. Or you might even feel guilt at your own relief that a toxic friendship is over.
You can acknowledge your role in the friendship breakup without letting it paralyze you from moving forward. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, think about actionable ways to address communication struggles and conflict in the future.
You also do not have to torture yourself by remaining involved in an ex-friend’s life, for example, by following them on social media or still attending their events. You are allowed to check out and do what you need to heal.
Set boundaries for yourself and abide by them. You do not owe it to your ex-friend to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Use your precious time and energy to work towards your goals and take care of yourself, whether by eating well, going to the gym, taking up a new hobby or spending time with friends that are a comfort to you.
Remember that you are allowed to move on and be happy. You are not a bad person because your friendship did not work out.
It may be hard to see now, but remember that there are people in your life who want to support you, and you are worthy of healthy, happy friendships.