If you’re like me, you grew up with phrases like “play nice” and promises that everyone you meet will be in your life forever and always. For some reason, no one thought to mention to me that cutting ties with someone that treats you poorly is completely acceptable and doesn’t make you a bad person. It was only through many very difficult friendships that I learned that burning bridges with some of these toxic people was the healthiest choice I ever made.
As a kid, I had quite a few friends that were nice about 75 percent of the time. The other 25 percent was filled with a lot of gossip, purposeful exclusion, put downs, and various petty actions that all-in-all make up a bad friend. I remember when I was in third grade, my two best friends were playing in the cul-de-sac outside my house without me, purposefully rubbing it in my face that I hadn’t been invited while I cried in my mother’s arms. Clearly a juvenile action, but it was incredibly hurtful to a nine year old, so much so that I remember it 14 years later. But despite that incident (and many others, both similar and worse), it never even crossed my mind that I should stop being friends with these girls. They were my best friends, how could I ever replace them?
Unfortunately, friends in third grade are extremely replaceable and eventually our friendship gradually drifted into nothing. And when I look back, I can’t help but ask myself why I allowed myself to be treated so poorly for so long. What if I had been able to find better friends that would have lasted for the rest of my life? I, like many young people, stuck with those girls because I was too shy to stand up for myself and I was terrified of what would happen if I did.
I was convinced I’d never find friends as great as the ones I had or be able to grow close with new people again. Until very recently, I put up with a good number of unhealthy friendships. I thought that was what everyone did. But in actuality, cycling through friend groups is completely normal, especially if your current friends don't support you or insult you (which is never acceptable, whether it's behind your back or to your face, blunt or in a joking manner).
There is so much negativity around people who end friendships, no matter the reason. No one seems to think that cutting ties with someone is warranted, even if said person treats you like garbage. And that's simply not true. You never deserve to be treated poorly, no matter who is doing so. Whether it be a family member, close friend, or a new acquaintance, you don’t owe anyone the privilege of being associated with you if they don’t earn it.
I find it’s become even harder to distance oneself from toxic relationships now that social media is so omnipresent. Most of my friends have never cleared out their Facebook friend list, grimacing each time an ex’s photo appears on their timeline or someone they hate posts an ignorant status. Why bother even keeping the smallest piece of such a person in your life if all it brings you is pain?
“But they’ll know I unfriended them!”
And? Facebook friends aren’t real friends anyway and serve as more of a status symbol. Seeing someone you hate or watching your friends hanging out without you from behind your computer screen day after day is incredibly damaging and invasive. Unfriending and ceasing contact is the most refreshing thing you can do to relieve yourself from revisiting painful memories and drudging up old, negative emotions.
I’m aware that not all bridges are as easily burned as digitally unfriending and blocking people you barely talk to anymore. Friends actively reaching out are obviously much harder to confront. Having the “I just don’t think we should be friends anymore” conversation could end in disaster, but you truly owe it to yourself to rid yourself of people that don’t appreciate who you are, what you’re passionate about, and how you want to be treated. In order to lead a happy and healthy life, each person needs a supportive community of friends and family; the more negative your circle, the more bogged down and negative your life will become.
Stand up for yourself! You are good enough and if someone truly loves and cares about you, they won’t treat you poorly. And if people criticize you for cutting ties, just remember that only you know what’s right for yourself and what goes on within your own relationships. Don’t keep someone in your life just to serve someone else’s happiness; the happiness that is and always will be most important is your own.