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Feel like giving up? Here’s how to help your heart move forward after a toxic friendship.

Feel like giving up? Here's how to help your heart move forward after a toxic friendship.
I'm Stephanie May Wilson!

I'm an author and podcaster and my specialty is helping women navigate big decisions, life transitions — creating lives they love.

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“I feel like giving up on friendship.”

That’s what a reader told me the other day. She’s been hurt. Betrayed. And making new friends sounded like more of the same.

She said, “Truthfully, I’m jaded. Why waste my time if I know how it’s going to turn out?”

Then she asked if I’ve ever felt this same way.

In an instant, I was back in college, my heart racing, my stomach in knots as I heard a group of my friends talking about me behind my back, just on the other side of the door.

I was living in the dorms with a bunch of girls, and my room was right across from the common room. After the first night, I tried to always be the last one to bed. I dreaded quiet moments when I could hear their stage whispers on the other side of the wall, tearing apart my actions, my personality, my words. Finally, I bought a big box fan to block out the noise. There was a small relief knowing that if they were talking about me, at least I couldn’t hear it.

Friend, if you have been burned by a bad friendship, you are so not alone! Because yes, I have been betrayed by friends. I have felt sad and lonely even in the middle of a crowded room. I’ve had great friendships, but I’ve also had awful ones.

There were times when I wanted to give up on friendships altogether. I had moments when I wanted to write off all girlfriends, declaring that they are all mean gossips, never to be trusted. But I couldn’t quite stamp out a glimmer of hope that maybe it didn’t have to be that way.

Eventually, while on a trip to Costa Rica, I connected with a group of 20 incredible women. I discovered there that it is possible to have true, life-giving friendships. I’m so glad I didn’t give up! Because in my faith, in my work, in my pursuit of God’s plan for my life, I have NEVER experienced anything (other than God, of course!) more life-changing than having a great group of girlfriends by my side and in my corner.

I often wish I could go back and show that 20-year-old Stephanie the future, full of some of the sweetest, wisest, most loving friends in the world. And if I could go back, here’s what I’d love to say to her:

Remember that hurt people hurt people.

Most of the time, when someone is a bad friend, it's because she’s never had a good friend. She had friends who talked about her behind her back, friends who made fun of her, friends she couldn’t be vulnerable with. If you have bad friends, maybe they have been hurt. And hurt people hurt people. Wounded people will wound people.

Choose not to be that person.

I know you’ve been hurt. But you can take a different path here. You can stop the cycle. Though I believe we as women can be the worst thing to happen to each other (we really can be so cruel!), I also believe we can be the best thing to happen to each other. And we get to make that choice. Choose to be a good friend. Choose to be kind. Choose to be the friend that feels safe, welcoming, and warm. That choice will change your life, and it’ll change your friends’ lives too.

Set healthy boundaries for the future.

As we're pursuing friendships, it's so important to know what we're looking for in a friend. It's equally important to know what we're not looking for. A few years ago, I got tired of being friends with people who were mean to me. It sounds so silly, but I was a full-grown adult who was still allowing girls to be as mean to me as they were when we were 13! I finally just said, “Enough!”

It took me until I was 25 years old to say, “It is not okay for you to hurt me because you are hurt.”

I decided not to engage in those mean-spirited relationships anymore. And I know it can be so hard to walk away from a friend—especially when you know she is acting out of her own broken heart—but I have learned it is not our job to fix someone.

I have realized walking away is not the same as saying, “I hate you.”

Instead, I was saying, “I love you and want you to get help. But until you can treat me with kindness, respect, and safety, we need to part ways.”

Keep trying! True, wonderful, life-long friendships are possible for you. I promise!

Yes, some girls are mean. Some friendships are toxic, and some relationships hurt us more deeply than we realized we could be hurt. But they won't all be this way. It takes courage to put ourselves out there again, but that's what it takes to meet women who will feel like sisters, who will be by your side and in your corner for the most important, most fun, most difficult, most wonderful days of your life. Those friends who will make your life so much better! Even if you have never experienced these relationships before, it's possible for you, and it's not even close to too late. Please don’t give up now.

For me, choosing to keep trying looked like showing up in new places. It looked like cutting ties with some friends and bravely trying to make new ones. And of course, it looked like taking a chance on a new adventure—heading to Europe with two new girlfriends who would transform (probably even save!) my life and become two of the most important people in my life! (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read my story of finding God, friends, and the perfect cappuccino here!)

I’ve said it already, but I am so glad I stuck it out. So very glad.

I hope and pray you’ll soon find yourself sitting around with a new best friend (with an open box of pizza on the coffee table), thinking, “I’m so glad I stuck it out. It was all worth it.”

P.S. Here are a few podcast episodes on the subject that I know you'll love!

Girls Night #9: How to Make New Friends as an Adult

Girls Night #67: How to go Deeper in Your Friendships

Girls Night #69: How to Know When a Friendship Needs to End (and How to Actually End It!)

Girls Night #88: How to Stay Close to your Friends When you’re in Different Stages of Life

And, if you're looking to make new friends, make sure you check out my guide on how to make friends in a new city!

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Feel like giving up? Here's how to help your heart move forward after a toxic friendship.

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