Chapter 1 - Relationships Subchapter: Changing friends

When friendships become disrespectful

Not all friendships are forever.

A friendship can fade when it becomes difficult to keep a close friendship going—like moving to a new area or changing schools.

It may also become necessary to end a friendship that has become disrespectful.

You may not notice straight away that a friendship has become disrespectful. Often it happens slowly. You won’t even realise that a friendship is becoming disrespectful, or even toxic, until it’s too late to salvage it.


Split-frame, left panel shows illustrated best friend characters with lots of smiling and thumbs up emojis; right shows one character confused at their friend’s toxic and negative behaviour.


It can be tempting to excuse bad behaviour from people we care about.

  • having a bad day
  • tired and stressed from exams
  • disappointed because failed an important test
  • annoyed with someone else—it’s not about me.

Sometimes this is true—we all get stressed and have bad days. Conflict isn’t always a sign of a friendship that’s turned toxic.

When a friendship is changing for the worse your feelings can be overwhelming—hurt, rejection, disbelief, anger, disappointment.

Typically, it’s not any one event or conflict that signals the end of the relationship. It’s a series of small things that build up and lead to increased tension. Differences of opinions are healthy, but it’s a red flag if those disagreements have become the source of regular conflict.


ASK YOURSELF: how does the friendship make you feel?


A friendship can recover from a disagreement or nasty comment. But if you notice that you are both constantly criticising each other, or you are complaining to your other friends about the person's behaviour, it’s likely to be a bigger problem. Your friendship may have turned disrespectful or toxic.


Taking a break versus breaking it off

Talk about it

Try to have an honest conversation with the other person about how the bad behaviour is making you feel. It probably won’t be an easy conversation to have and could even end the friendship, but it may help the other person understand how their behaviour is affecting you and the friendship.

If the other person doesn’t care, you know the friendship is over. But they might not have realised how their actions were impacting you and want to take the necessary steps to repair the friendship.

Take a break

Spending time apart can help you see the issue with more clarity. It could even help each of you see the friendship from the other person’s perspective.

You might find that time spent away from your friend makes you feel better, maybe less anxious. That’s a clear signal that the friendship is not working the way friendships should work.

Making the break permanent

If after an extended break you still feel dread or anxiety at the thought of spending time together, pay attention to those feelings.

Maintaining a solid friendship can, at times, involve hard work. All friendships need to evolve as we grow and change. But they should never cause feelings of anxiety or dread. A friend is someone whose company you seek out, not avoid.

A permanent friendship breakup can hurt. To deliberately distance yourself from someone you’ve been close to, possibly for years, is a significant and often difficult decision to make.

If the friendship had turned toxic, you will likely feel relief that you’ve taken steps to look after yourself and your well-being. Then, you might remember all the great things about the friendship before it turned sour. You miss the other person and how good your friendship with them used to make you feel. That’s ok, that’s natural.

Remember those feelings when you meet someone new. There are lots of great and interesting people out there for you to connect with.

Because there will be new connections—new people that you are drawn to and who are also drawn to you.


Leaving a group

It’s one thing for a friendship to fall apart. It’s another thing to decide to step away from a friendship group.


Split-frame; left panel shows two sad illustrated individual characters; right panel shows a sad character separated from a group of others.


When your issue is not just with one person but a whole group, everything becomes much more complicated.

Deciding to leave a friendship group can occur naturally over time. You change, the group changes, you all drift apart with no malice or ill-feeling.

It can also be a sudden change. The group dynamic has shifted, or a new group member is influencing others in a way that makes you uncomfortable. The groups values are shifting away from your own.

They might be bullying or annoying or generally being idiots to other people. Being part of the group used to make you feel good, like you belonged. Now it makes you feel bad, maybe even ashamed.

Before deciding to leave a group of friends, think about ways to fix the friendship circle by confronting them with your concerns. This seems like a logical thing to do but is never easy.

Pressure to conform with the group can make it difficult to call out what seems to be accepted behaviour.

This is about you. You must decide how much it matters to you.

Instead of staging a dramatic exit, you could try a slow step-back from the group by reducing the amount of time you spend together—turn it into a natural drifting apart rather than a confrontation.

You can reject group behaviour while still wanting to maintain some individual friendships with group members. The success of this will depend on the group dynamics and how the group feels about having their values rejected.


Having the difficult talk

Some tips for when you are ready to have the talk:

  • Keep the focus of the conversation on your experiences in the group by using “I” statements. This reduces the risk of the group feeling attacked or misunderstood.
  • Avoid any blame or criticism of the group if you are worried about repercussions.
  • Remember you have a right to be in healthy relationships where you can be yourself and feel respected and valued.