THE BLOG

Toxic friendship? It takes two

03/15/2011 10:51 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

QUESTION

Hi Dr. Levine,

I have read most of your posts about needy friends and overbearing friends and annoying friends. I am in a long-term friendship that is so far gone, I don' t even know where to begin.

My basic problem is that this friend has no boundaries and no one else in her life so she relies on me for everything. I have accommodated her for so long now that it would be hard to just end the friendship. I don't want to end it but I want to be able to have a normal friendship with her.

How can I explain to someone nicely that I can't take any more? She is driving me crazy. Now, it's making me depressed and affecting my personal life with other people. I don't want to hurt her but I want to be able to live my life without considering her feelings or wants with everything I do in my life.

Signed,
Cece

ANSWER

Hi Cece,

I don't know how long this situation has been going on but this relationship is clearly unhealthy. I hope that by reading your own note in black and white, this has become obvious to you.

That said, it takes two people to define a friendship. So if your friend has no boundaries, it's also true that you haven't set any limits. If your friend is overly reliant, you've enabled her to be too dependent on you.

If you want this friendship to be "normal," and by that I think you mean less burdensome, this will require negotiation and change on both your parts. You will need to set clear expectations and boundaries---and stick to them. This would be a very dramatic change from the friendship you have now.

If you can't do this yourself and continue to feel depressed and overwhelmed, you may need to speak to a mental health professional to help you unravel how you got into this situation and to help you figure how to get out. You may not be able to change another person's behavior, but you can change your own.

I sincerely hope this helps. I know it is a tough situation.

My best,
Irene

Here are several prior posts on The Friendship Blog about toxic friendships that may be helpful to you:

Have a friendship problem or dilemma? Ask The Friendship Doctor.