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What does friendship PTSD mean?

Friendship PTSD, also known as relational trauma, refers to the lingering traumatic stress that can occur after leaving or ending a toxic friendship. Just like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), friendship PTSD can cause intense emotions, flashbacks, anxiety, and avoidance behaviors long after the friendship has ended.

What are the symptoms of friendship PTSD?

Some common signs and symptoms of friendship PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks or intrusive memories about the friendship
  • Nightmares involving the former friend
  • Severe anxiety when reminded of the friendship
  • Avoiding people, places, or activities associated with the friendship
  • Hypervigilance and feeling the need to be on guard
  • Outbursts of anger or irritability
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Trouble feeling empathy or connecting with others
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of guilt/shame

These PTSD-like symptoms are the mind’s way of processing the trauma from the toxic relationship. Even though the friendship is over, the brain is essentially “re-living” the pain in an attempt to make sense of what happened.

What causes friendship PTSD?

Toxic or abusive friendships can be traumatic in many of the same ways as toxic romantic relationships. Situations that can lead to friendship PTSD include:

  • Ghosting or abruptly ending the friendship
  • Bullying, criticism, or controlling behavior
  • Manipulation, lying, or gaslighting
  • Betrayal of trust
  • Verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse
  • Friendship infidelity (e.g. dating a friend’s ex)
  • Gossiping/spreading rumors
  • Scapegoating or blaming
  • Excluding, ignoring, or giving silent treatment

Being subjected to these kinds of behaviors from a close friend can damage self-esteem and leave deep emotional wounds, even if there was no physical violence. The resulting trauma is likely to be even worse if the friendship was very intense or co-dependent.

Is friendship PTSD a recognized condition?

While friendship PTSD is not an official medical diagnosis, it is an increasingly common way for people to describe their experiences recovering from toxic friendships. The symptoms fit within the framework of PTSD as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

According to the DSM-5 criteria, a diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. However, emotional abuse can also be valid trauma. A person’s subjective emotional experience determines whether an event was traumatic enough to cause PTSD-like symptoms.

How long do the effects of friendship PTSD last?

There is no set timeline for recovering from friendship PTSD. Symptoms may start immediately after ending the friendship, or weeks later after the person has had more time to process the situation.

For some people, the effects are temporary and begin to fade after a few months. But in other cases, the trauma can linger for years if it is not addressed through counseling.

With caring support from loved ones and mental health professionals, many people with friendship PTSD find they gradually regain their trust, self-confidence and ability to connect with new friends.

Can therapy help friendship PTSD?

Yes, working with a therapist is often key to healing from friendship PTSD. Therapy provides tools to process the trauma in a healthy way so the person can stop feeling controlled by it. Some examples of effective therapeutic approaches include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – Helps identify and change thought patterns that contribute to PTSD symptoms. For example, reframing feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – Uses bilateral eye movement while recalling traumatic memories to reprogram the brain’s processing of those memories.
  • Group therapy – Connecting with others who have been through similar betrayals can reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Interpersonal therapy – Focuses on improving communication and strengthening relationships.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – Builds coping skills to manage difficult emotions and PTSD triggers.

Additionally, joining a support group specifically for friendship betrayal trauma can provide validation and community healing.

When to seek professional help for friendship PTSD

It’s advisable to reach out to a mental health provider if friendship PTSD symptoms:

  • Are severe or long-lasting
  • Cause significant difficulty with daily activities
  • Strain other relationships
  • Lead to depression, severe anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm

Ignoring symptoms and trying to “tough it out” will only prolong the trauma’s effects. With counseling, friendship PTSD can be overcome.

Tips for coping with friendship PTSD

In addition to professional treatment, the following self-care strategies can aid healing:

  • Give yourself time to grieve the loss of the friendship.
  • Surround yourself with people who make you feel safe, understood, and validated.
  • Limit contact with the former friend, including on social media.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Join a support group to connect with others who have experienced friendship betrayal.
  • Express your feelings through journaling, art therapy or music therapy.
  • Make time for enjoyable hobbies and activities unrelated to the friendship.
  • Be patient and acknowledge recovery is a gradual, nonlinear process.

With support, understanding, and therapeutic treatment, the hurt of friendship PTSD can transform into wisdom – and the ability to forge healthy relationships that nurture you.

How to avoid developing friendship PTSD

While anyone can experience friendship PTSD under the right circumstances, there are some things you can do to avoid landing in toxic friendships:

  • Take it slowly when getting to know new friends and look for red flags.
  • Set clear boundaries and don’t ignore violations of those boundaries.
  • Speak up when a friend hurts or mistreats you; don’t brush bad behavior under the rug.
  • Make sure the friendship is balanced and reciprocal.
  • Don’t sacrifice other friendships or interests for one particular friend.
  • Limit dependence on any one friend for your self-esteem.
  • Trust your gut instincts – if a friendship doesn’t feel right, end it.

No friendship should damage your mental health. Listen to your intuition, and be ready to let go of harmful friendships before they progress to the point of causing trauma.

Signs it’s time to end a toxic friendship

If you’re unsure if a friendship is toxic or salvageable, watch for these signs it’s time to move on:

  • Your self-esteem declines and you feel insecure.
  • The friend puts you down or routinely criticizes you.
  • You dread seeing the friend or feel relieved when plans are cancelled.
  • The relationship is wildly unequal – you put in all the effort.
  • Your friend gaslights you and questions your perception of reality.
  • You feel pressured to do things that make you uncomfortable.
  • The friend rages at you or treats you badly then gives a non-apology.
  • You feel like you’re “walking on eggshells” and can’t be yourself.
  • The friend makes everything about them and shows little empathy for you.

Friendships should help both people feel good about themselves and give a healthy amount of support. Don’t second-guess yourself if a friendship clearly causes more harm than good.

Healthy ways to end a friendship

When you’re ready to move on from a toxic friendship, try to end it in a way that protects your self-worth and gives you closure:

  • Be direct and straightforward about why you need distance from the friendship.
  • Speak your truth but avoid insults or trying to “win” a fight.
  • Offer the friend a chance to explain their behavior, but don’t get drawn into circular arguments.
  • Disengage if the conversation becomes heated or irrational.
  • Express care for the person but firmness about ending the current dynamic.
  • Remove the friend from social media and avoid places they frequent.
  • Surround yourself with positive community and self-care practices to heal.

Honor your emotions but avoid lashing out, stonewalling, or ghosting, which prolong bad feelings. State your position, then make a clean break to begin releasing the toxicity of the friendship.

Ways to re-build self-esteem after friendship PTSD

Toxic friendships can understandably shatter your trust in others and sense of self-worth. Here are some ideas to nurture self-esteem post-friendship trauma:

  • Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with compassion for yourself.
  • Rediscover your interests and passions outside of the friendship.
  • Avoid comparisons and be mindful of your own growth.
  • Celebrate qualities you value in yourself.
  • Keep a list of people who care about you to read when you feel isolated.
  • Express your needs and set boundaries in new relationships.
  • Spend time recognizing small daily accomplishments.
  • Look at how far you’ve come since initially leaving the friendship.

Befriending yourself – and giving your inner life patience and nurturing – is key to regaining a stable sense of self post-trauma. You deserve to feel worthy and at peace again.

How to build trust and communicate in new friendships

After being hurt by toxic friends, it’s natural to feel guarded about letting new people get close to you. Here are tips for rebuilding trust and communication skills:

  • Focus on making low-stakes friendships centered on shared interests or activities first.
  • Open up slowly and watch for signs of empathy, integrity and compassion in new friends.
  • Notice any tendencies to catastrophize and challenge negative assumptions about others’ intentions.
  • Communicate your friendship needs clearly and watch how a person responds.
  • Accept offers of support from kind people, even if you initially feel undeserving.
  • Appreciate friendships that energize you and make you feel good about yourself.
  • Get comfortable setting boundaries by starting with smaller issues.
  • Remind yourself you have the power to walk away if a friendship becomes unhealthy again.

Healing happens gradually through baby steps. Focus on communicating clearly, honoring your instincts, and believing you deserve positive connections.

Signs you’re ready for new friendships after PTSD

Recovering from friendship-related trauma is a journey, not a destination. But notice these signs you’re ready to start welcoming new friendships:

  • You’re able to reflect on the friendship neutrally vs. becoming flooded with emotion.
  • You have strong self-esteem and a stable sense of identity.
  • You trust your ability to choose friends wisely and set boundaries.
  • You feel desire for meaningful connection vs. isolation and withdrawal.
  • You communicate feelings and needs calmly and confidently.
  • You embrace qualities like trust, respect, and honesty in new friends.
  • You feel energized by social interactions vs. exhausted or resentful.
  • You can give people a chance without ignoring red flags or warning signs.

New friendships still take effort, but are motivated more by hope than fear. This mindset shift is a sign your friendship PTSD is giving way to new growth.


Friendship PTSD is very real, with painful emotional consequences. But with time, self-care, community support, and professional help, healing is absolutely possible. If you’ve been traumatized by toxic friendships, trust that you can regain inner peace, self-worth, and the ability to build new positive connections. Be gentle with yourself and know you have a right to feel better.