How to deal with toxic friendships

There is a popular saying that you cannot choose your family, but you can surely choose your friends.

But what if you choose a friend who saps the energy out of you, and leaves you depleted after leaving their company?

Shaking yourself free of toxic friends can be a hard thing to do. The result is that we are often stuck in unhappy, draining friendships that add no value to our lives.

But how does one recognise that they are in a potentially toxic friendship? Relationship counsellor Lethabo Ntsasa says that a good friendship should have the foundation of any good relationship in your life.

"It is a give and take. Some people make the mistake of staying in pretentious friendships that bring no meaning in their lives. They find themselves in friendships where they are used, abused or used as a dumping ground for a so-called friend's toxic waste. That is an unhealthy relationship.

"Go through your list of friends in your head and assign them each an emotion that immediately pops to mind when you think of them. That will give you an idea of where you stand with them," he says.

Ntsasa took us through different types of friendships and their toxic characteristics.

The bully

"This is the dictator of the group - always tells you what to do, where you guys should go for lunch, what movie you guys should see. This friend often tells you about what their preference is, and will not bother to take your opinion or how you feel about their choice. They will often make threats like 'I'm not coming' or 'count me out then' [if they don't get their own way], and you often times find yourself settling for what they say only because you do not want to make them upset," Ntsasa explains.

Fix or chuck?

Ntsasa's verdict: Fix

"This is where you would need to learn to stand up for yourself. Realise that your opinions also matter, and that certain decisions within a friendship require a mutual agreement as opposed to one person dictating everything.

"Talk to your friend about this. Often times they may not even be aware that it is how they conduct themselves, and it just may be a character flaw. Then learn to put your foot down. Do not agree to everything they say but rather express what your opinion is. If they choose to opt for emotional blackmail, then learn not to entertain [their] tantrums.

"If they say leave me out then, then do exactly that and leave them out."

The gossip

While we may all enjoy some fun, harmless gossip with our friends, be careful of the friend who constantly tells you other people's secrets, advises Ntsasa.

"I can guarantee you that they are doing the exact same thing with your problems to others. This so-called friend is divisive and toxic."

Fix or chuck?

Ntsasa's Verdict: Chuck!

"This friend only enjoys your company because you feed their insatiable need for info to gossip about. Do not proceed with this friendship.

The user

At some point we have all experienced the friend who always makes you pick up the bill, always wants to ride in your car without offering to pay for petrol, or the friend who constantly borrows money from you and never pays you back.

This person is not a friend, but a user.

Chuck or fix?

Ntsasa's Verdict: Fix

"The first thing you need to do is determine if this friend is in genuine need and cannot afford to always pitch in, or if they are just greedy.

"If they are not employed, there are a couple of ways you can help; perhaps assisting them with employment ventures, or pitching in when they need money to go to an interview.

"But even so, do not let them use you as a financial crutch. If they are financially secure and always seem to make you foot the bill, they are just being greedy, and you need to put your foot down.

"Next time you plan to go out with them, make it clear up front that the drinks are on them. In that way, the tired 'I forgot my wallet' excuse won't be used on you."

The sexually deviant friend

"There are some people who are just plain promiscuous, and if you happen to be friends with one of them, you may be in trouble.

"These are the friends who pride themselves on sleeping with other people's partners, and have no problem telling you all about it."

Fix or chuck?

Ntsasa's Verdict: Chuck!

"This person has no concept of boundaries, and it's only a matter of time before your own partner becomes the object of their lust," he says.