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The Dos and Don’ts of Friend Drama
What to do if your friends are stressing you out.
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Friendships can have an effect on your mental health, either positively or negatively. A good friendship can help you work through difficult experiences or emotions, and a bad friendship can leave you feeling even worse.

If you’re stuck in a stressful friend conflict, there are steps you can take to get space from it, confront it head-on, and, if necessary, end it altogether. Here are some dos and don’ts for all three.

Confronting A Friend

If you’re invested in your friendship, start by trying to work the issue out together. “Confrontation” is often interpreted as being aggressive or as calling someone out, but in reality, confronting an issue is all about addressing head-on, in a direct, mature, and respectful way. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Do:

  • Stay calm. It’s stressful to talk to a friend about something they did that impacted you, and you’ll both probably be feeling a lot -- embarrassment, hurt, anger, etc. Don’t let those emotions overpower what you’re trying to do (which is to come to a solution together).
  • Focus on the current situation. Keep the conversation on one specific behavior or pattern of behavior. If you’re talking to them about the snarky comment they made last week, don’t bring up unrelated drama from last year.
  • Speak from your perspective. “I” statements will keep the conversation grounded in what you’ve been experiencing and feeling, while “you” statements may just upset your friend. In other words, rattling off the things they did with no context on their impact on you might feel like an unnecessary attack to them. For example, this is the difference between, “I felt embarrassed when when you said that to me in the cafeteria,” vs. “You’re always mean to me in public.”
  • Listen to them. Give them the same courtesy you’d want from them, and try to see the situation from their point of view. You may just come out with a better understanding of why they behaved the way they did.

Don’t:

  • Blindly react. When your friend does something to upset you, your first instinct may be to lash out or try to respond immediately. Your conversation won’t be productive if you’re still fuming, so take a few breaths, hours, or even days to really process what happened and how you feel.
  • Pull others into it. The last thing you and your friend need is to put your situation on blast, either through social media or word of mouth. It’s between the two of you, and the pressure from other people will just add to your stress.
  • Make accusations. All that you know is what you experienced. If your friend bailed on your plans last minute, you’re allowed to feel upset about it, but you can’t jump to conclusions about why they did it. This conversation will help you get clarity if you just ask rather than make assumptions.
  • Try to “win” the argument. If you’re going into this confrontation expecting your friend to entirely admit to blame and give you some big gesture of apology, then you’re not in the right frame of mind. The goal is to gain some understanding and find a solution to the issue -- NOT to be “right.”

Stepping Back From A Friendship

Maybe addressing the issue with your friend didn’t make things better. Maybe you feel unsafe bringing up the issue with them. Or maybe you just need the relationship to take up less space, so you have more energy for other things. If this is the case, consider telling your friend that you’d like some distance, and keep these things in mind.

Do:

  • Set clear boundaries. Once you’ve made the decision to get some space from each other, be upfront with your friend about what you need. Can you still hang out in a larger group? Are texts okay? Should you unfollow their finsta?
  • Lean on your other relationships. This is a good time to make and maintain your other friendships. It’ll remind you that there are plenty of people in your life who support and care for you (plus, hanging out with friends is just super stress-relieving).
  • Keep it polite. You, your friend, and the people around you will feel a lot less tense if you keep things civil. You don’t have to be their best bud, but a smile and a wave when you see them in the hallway lets them know that you don’t totally hate their guts.
  • Take care of yourself. Use the extra space and time to build yourself up and do the things that make you feel good, like exercising, eating healthy, or making art. Fighting with a friend can be really emotionally draining, so keep an eye on your needs.

Don’t:

  • Expect too much from them. Communicating your needs to your friend is really crucial, but you can’t ask for more than what they can give. It’s not reasonable to expect them to change their class schedule or drop your shared club to avoid seeing you.
  • Feel guilty for wanting space. No one is entitled to your time or attention, including your friends. There’s nothing wrong with saying no and choosing not to engage in situations that make you uncomfortable.
  • Make it personal. Keep in mind that your friend isn’t necessarily a bad person -- it’s just that their behavior is impacting you negatively. You can work to avoid and adjust the behavior without making them feel like they’re just a crummy human being.
  • Send mixed messages. If this is a choice you want to make, stick with it. For example, it’ll get really confusing if you tell them you want no contact, and then keep tagging them in memes all week. Be clear and consistent from the start.

Ending A Friendship

If confrontation and temporarily taking some space aren’t enough, it’s possible the relationship has run its course. Lots of times we think of “breaking up” in the context of romantic relationships, but ending a friendship, while difficult, can also be really good for your mental health.

Do:

  • Know when to walk away. There are some relationships that aren’t worth trying to save. If your friend has repeatedly done things that hurt you, betray your trust, or just generally make you feel terrible, then you don’t have to stick around. You aren’t obligated to them no matter how long you’ve been friends or how good the friendship was before.
  • Have a one-on-one conversation. When ending your friendship, don’t just ghost them. Have a private conversation to let them know it’s over (and why). Only the two of you need to be there because the situation can feel escalated when there’s an audience.
  • Prepare yourself. Be ready for them to be upset (and as much as you may want this, be ready to feel upset yourself). Ending a friendship is really hard, both in the moment and moving forward. Have a plan for yourself (like planning to be with other friends afterwards) and for their response.
  • Stick to the facts. It’s helpful for your friend to let them know why you’ve made this decision, but don’t take it as an opportunity to bash them and make them feel worse than they probably already do. It’s the difference between, “You’ve changed and I hate the person you’ve become,” and “I feel like we’ve drifted apart these past few years, and I need space to grow on my own.”

Don’t:

  • Do it publicly. Once you’ve ended your friendship, don’t go subtweeting about it online or making a big show of it at school. Privacy will let you both heal and move on in the way that’s best for you, without fear of public judgement.
  • Be vengeful. Yes, you might have some not-so-great feelings lingering even after the friendship is over. There are better ways to get those feelings out (exercise, therapy, art, etc.) than being spiteful towards them.
  • Ask friends to take sides. It’s a tough situation for you and your friend, but it’s probably just as hard for the friends that you two share. Seeing your friends feuding is really upsetting, so don’t make it harder on them by asking them to choose between you. Not only is it unfair to them, you may find yourself upset with them too, if they don’t go the way you planned.
  • Gossip about it. These situations are really, really complicated, and as much as you might want to rant and vent to someone about it, recognize when it’s unhelpful. It’s likely that it’ll get back to your former friend and open up the same kind of tension that you’re trying to avoid.
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