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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


When to End a Relationship

Healthy relationships sustain us. We need them. The latest AARP poll tells us that the number one reason for people using social media is not business networking, or learning something—it’s keeping in touch with friends and family. Yet, sometimes we, as leaders, must walk away from toxic relationships. Here are the ones I believe leaders must end, with no guilty feelings:


photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photo pin cc

The False Victim: Sooner or later people who identify as a victim will paint you as an oppressor. Victims always feel under attack by somebody; they want to be rescued. Believe it or not some people want to be victims so they don’t have to take responsibility for their lives.

The Narcissist: These people appear to be friends, but they’re really in love with themselves. They’re self-absorbed and are always talking about “me, myself and I.” They often fail to see the needs or importance of anyone else. It’s all about them. 

The Chronic Downer: Like “Debbie Downer” from Saturday Night Live, these people always see the negative side of life; they are not happy, life is scarce and things are sure to go wrong. They seem to sap the fun out of almost any situation and they are critics of everything. 

The Bully: Donald Miller says the quickest way to spot a bully is to notice what they laugh at. Bullies don’t laugh at themselves, they laugh at others. If someone makes fun of others but isn’t self deprecating, they’re not healthy. They manipulate people so they can look good.

The Underminer: These people are hard to spot at first. They’re nice to your face and seem to like you, but behind your back—they undermine your friendship. They gossip and backbite. In reality, they try to pit friends against friends so they look good. They’re two-faced. 

The Flake: Sadly, these people may promise you everything, but fail to come through on their promises. They flake out on commitments, appointments, pledges and dates. Eventually, they lose the trust of others. No one can depend on them. 

The Overly Religious: I love people who have a sincere, open and honest faith. They’re some of my favorite people. But when a person starts proof-texting using Bible verses to prove they’re right and others are wrong (even if it’s true) it’s unhealthy. They’re all about controlling others.

Are you willing to walk away from toxic relationships? Are there others we should include on this list?


  1. Joe Wickman on September 14, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Interesting list Tim. It sounds like these come from a lot of experience accrued over thousands of interactions. Thanks for sharing candidly out of your experience.

  2. Matt Ray on September 14, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Wow, this is great Tim. Thank you.

    • Tim Elmore on September 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment!

  3. Joey on September 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    How do we end these toxic relationships responsibly?

    • Tim Elmore on September 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      That is the tricky part – and different for every situation. A general rule would be to make the break as clean and clear as possible. Prolonging the inevitable will only make it more difficult.

  4. Jamie on October 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Great list! I think you should add “The Authority”–Someone who uses their position as a reason/excuse to push their own agenda, and expect you to follow along unquestioningly. They denigrate or ignore anyone who is not in lockstep with them. These people are especially dangerous if they are pastors who preach grace, but do not really understand or live it!

    • Tim Elmore on October 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Great thoughts, thanks for sharing Jamie.

  5. Cheryl Dagner on January 25, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    What if each of your parents are one of these? As an adult, what do you do? How can you honor your mother and father by ending the relationship?

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When to End a Relationship