7 Subtle Ways To Distance Yourself From A Friend You Need To Let Go Of

You’re here to learn how to break up with a friend nicely—or as nicely as possible, given how they’ve been treating you lately. 

It’s not an easy thing to “dump” a friend, even if they’ve never really earned that title.

Still… how can you be sure it’s for the best? 

Deep down, you know it’s right, but you want to understand why.

And you’d like some help working through the process.

Where do you begin?

Is It Okay to Distance Yourself from Friends? 

It should surprise no one that many friendships end with something less than warmth and more than a few choice words. 

Knowing that doesn’t make it easier to cut someone out of your life. But if you can say any of the following about your relationship, it’s time to consider saying goodbye: 

  • It leaves you feeling invisible, manipulated, and burnt out; 
  • It’s holding you back from the life you want; 
  • It makes it harder to make the changes you need to make; 
  • It isolates you from those who genuinely love and support you
  • It’s constantly getting you into trouble or dark places. 

Friendship is about so much more than having similar backgrounds or liking the same things.

You want a relationship that helps you become the person you want to be. You want to light up someone’s world and to have them do the same for you. 

Sometimes you don’t find that until you step out of someone else’s shadow. 

7 Reasons You Should Distance Yourself from Friends 

Knowing your reasons for breaking up with this friend can make the process simpler, if not necessarily easier. Which of the seven reasons described below fit your situation best? 

1. You’ve drifted apart. 

You no longer have anything (or enough of substance) in common. Maybe you even disagree on important issues —  so important you can’t imagine being more than civil acquaintances with them. 

Friends, to you, are kindred spirits. This person may share a lot of external traits, habits, and preferences, but their spirit is entirely alien to yours. 

two women wearing winter jackets to distance yourself from a friend

There is no common ground that’s firm enough to stand on. 

2. Their behavior has been damaging to more important relationships. 

This person has a way of putting you in an awkward position with all of them. You’re left apologizing and making excuses for them—putting out fires wherever they go. 

They’ve apologized to you in the past for their behavior, but they’ve done nothing whatsoever to correct it because your friendship isn’t worth any real effort to them. 

You’ve given them the benefit of the doubt one too many times, only to regret your stubborn optimism. Being their friend isn’t worth ruining relationships that are more important to you. 

You’re not giving up on them; you’re letting go of what you thought you had with them.

3. They’re hyper-critical and dismissive. 

This friend has always been quick to criticize you for one thing or another, passing it off as a “joke” or ending a particularly cutting remark with “Kidding! Wow, you’re sensitive. Lighten up, will you?” 

If you’re feeling good about yourself, you can count on them to sabotage that with some thoughtless but more likely calculated insult. Then they gaslight you for feeling insulted. 

You can’t ever just be yourself with them. If they see a glimmer of light, they pounce on it. 

4. Their behavior toward you and others is toxic. 

Look up the word “narcissist,” and you see your friend aptly described by a list of well-known traits. And their behavior has become impossible to ignore or to write off as “They mean well, really, but….” 

The last time you remember anything between you being easy is when they first charmed you into hanging out with them. They did or said something unexpected—something that left you feeling alive and special—and you were glad to know them. 

Cut to the present, and they still act as if they rescued you from your dull, desperate self. It’s time to find friends who see you differently. 

5. They weren’t there when you needed them. 

The same person who expected you to drop everything to be there for them is completely unresponsive to your calls and texts when you need them most. 

It’s not that you expect them to be around all the time, but if they can’t be there for you when you really need them… why are you even friends? 

You could understand if they were sick or needed to be there for someone in their family or if something happened that prevented them from receiving or responding to your messages. 

This person just didn’t bother. And you’re done being gaslighted when you call them out. 

6. Their influence has had a negative effect on your life. 

What is it about this “friend” that makes it so much easier to do things you invariably regret afterward? It sounds like fun when they first suggest it—risky and a bit scary but ultimately harmless. 

You don’t see the consequences until they come knocking. And they always do. Call your “friend” out for it, though, and they’ve somehow managed to escape the worst of the fallout. They leave that to you. 

And that’s not likely to change. 

7. The relationship is one-sided. 

You put more into this relationship than you gain from it. And you’re doing all (or most) of the work of keeping the friendship going. You’re always the one to reach out. Otherwise, you could spend months with zero attempts on their part to check on you. 

You’ve never missed a birthday–always reaching out with something you found that you knew they would absolutely love. They gushed and thanked you for it but never reciprocated on your birthday or at any other time. 

You’re little more to them than a convenient source of free stuff, as far as you can tell. 

How to Distance Yourself from a Friend: 7 Subtle Ways to Step Away 

Now that you know legitimate reasons for distancing from friends (who aren’t really friends) let’s look at how to distance yourself from someone who isn’t good for you. 

1. Give yourself the time and space you need to prepare. 

You need time to think about why you’re doing this. Getting clear on your reasons will help when it comes time to articulate them for the break-up. 

Jot down some ideas for a script you can use if you’ll be speaking. Or draft a written message for them. 

Give yourself the time to process what you need to say to this person. Try to anticipate what they’re likely to say if they argue for the continuation of your relationship. If they stand to lose more than you do, they may put up a good fight. 

two friends starting to get annoyed with each other to distance yourself from a friend

Time spent on this process now will save you years of back-and-forthing down the road. 

2. Decide on your method of delivery. 

Will you break up with your friend in person or via handwritten letter, phone call, or email? If you’re not sure, make a list of pros and cons for each approach. Since you know this person better than we do, you have a clearer idea of how they’re likely to respond to each. 

If possible, tell them in person if it’s safe for you to do so. Otherwise, choose the method that allows you to get your points across while limiting their ability to try and talk you out of it. 

If you can’t get them to meet, and they’re not responding to your phone calls, there’s nothing wrong with breaking up with an email or even with a thoughtfully-worded text

3. Be honest and go with the direct approach. 

Don’t lie to yourself with any “It’s not you; it’s me” business. This is a both of you thing. You’re not doing this “for their own good” or because “they can do better.” 

You’re doing this because you recognize the limitations of your relationship with them. You see that being friends hasn’t done either of you any real favors. 

You want a relationship that’s mutual-supportive and enjoyable for you both; you just know you don’t have that with this person. And it’s unlikely you ever will. 

So, tell this person the truth of it. And make your point as quickly as possible. 

4. Honor the friendship for any good it’s brought to your life. 

While the relationship had its shortcomings, you want to acknowledge any good that came of knowing this person and being their friend for this long. 

Even if you can only think of one small thing, honor it if it means anything to you. Thank them for anything good they brought to your life. Let them know you’re not doing this to punish them or to get back at them for hurtful things they’ve said or done in the past. 

This is not about the past. It’s about the present and being honest about where you are. 

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5. Give the other person a chance to respond. 

It’ll be tempting, no doubt, to just say your piece and walk away before the other person has a chance to reply. For all you know, they’re inclined to agree with your assessment of the relationship you have. 

But even if they aren’t, use this opportunity to stiffen your spine and let them say what they’re thinking, even if it’s more of the same stuff you’ve heard. Resist the urge to cut them off. 

two girls hanging out to distance yourself from a friend

When they’ve finished—or when you get a decent opening (because sometimes, there is no other way)—let them know you’ve got plans and need to get going. If they’ve got more to say and have already talked more than you have, invite them to write it down. 

Do not offer to resume the conversation on another day. End it calmly, and say goodbye. 

6. Make it stick. 

And by “it,” we mean the break-up. Once you’ve said your piece, and the thing is done, don’t confuse your ex-friend by inviting them to a party or asking about their plans for the weekend

Be polite and kind but not inviting. And once you’ve decided you’re no longer friends, don’t be surprised if they want nothing at all to do with you. 

They may even drag your name through the mud to punish you for ending the relationship (on your terms instead of waiting to be dumped or ghosted by them)

Leave them to their process. And mind your own. 

7. Move forward. 

Think about what will help you move forward without this person in your life. What would you like to do, for example, that they never wanted to do? What kinds of people would you like to spend more time with from now on?

And what can you do to get to know yourself better? Because you’re worth knowing. 

Spend more time doing what you love—with people who love you just as you are. And don’t let this stop you from making new friends. 

Your new bestie may be just on the other side of all this. 

When Friends Distance Themselves from You 

You won’t always be the one initiating a break-up. Sooner or later, someone you’ve come to identify as a friend will decide to end things and put distance between you. 

So, how can you deal with the pain of being “dumped” as a friend?

  • Give yourself time and space to grieve the loss of a friendship; 
  • Be honest about what this friendship brought to your life vs. what it cost; 
  • Spend time with other friends and supportive family members; 
  • Make time for some extra self-care; 
  • Make plans for something you can look forward to. 

Remember, too, that if this friend is ready to break off this connection and move on without you, they may be doing exactly what’s best for both of you. 

It may not feel that way at first. But you decide what you do with it. 

Now that you see this relationship for what it is and now how to end it, what are your biggest takeaways from this post? 

We hope it gets you closer to becoming the person you want to be, surrounded by people who love you unconditionally as you are. We all need at least one person who sees the good in us even when we make it hard. 

What will you do differently today?