Ask Evie: How Do I Deal With My Toxic Ex-Best Friend In The Workplace?

Welcome to Ask Evie, our advice column. Readers can submit their questions, and our editors will dish out their best advice!

By Evie3 min read
shutterstock 1224867595 (1)

READER’S QUESTION: “I have a coworker, who was my best friend for 5 years. She was the maid of honor at my wedding! Over the past year, her personality has changed significantly. She became intensely co-dependent on me, lying to me about things that don't matter, treating her children with contempt, was extremely negative about everything, became obsessive about moving to whatever city my husband and I moved to, and exhibited many other concerning behaviors.

I tried to help her as much as I could, but it came to a point where boundaries had to be established, and I had to take space and time away from her. This made her go into a frenzy. I explained to her (multiple times) why I needed to step back, and that we needed to rebuild our friendship from the basics: trust, loyalty, respect, etc. She was relentless, and refused to move forward, demanding that we be friends again and everything go back to how it was! This made it impossible to build any kind of relationship at all.

The problem is we work together, and she is now bringing this all to work, sharing it with our boss, using it as an excuse to miss work or come in to work late. She has demanded that we be friends again, tried to intimidate me into being her friend, has threatened me. All completely toxic behaviors that make me not want to be around her at all. She has been doing this for two months straight. I have been direct with her and clear about my boundaries, kind to her, I greet her every morning, treat her as I would any co-worker. I am trying to move forward, but she refuses. 

I just want to come to work and do my job, drama free. What should I do? I am not leaving the job I worked so hard for. How do you deal with toxic people in the workplace? How do you deal with an ex-best friend in the workplace? How do you deal with someone having a mental health crisis that is relentless in their need for control? I have never had a friend act this way. I still care about her and want her to be okay, but I am not sure what to do?"

EVIE’S ADVICE: This is a really tough situation, but it sounds like you’ve been handling it as gracefully as you can so far. Since it’s becoming an issue at work, especially since your toxic ex-friend has threatened you and tried to intimidate you, we think it's appropriate to privately explain the situation from your perspective to your boss in a factual way. Try to remove your emotions and refrain from complaining about her to your boss and any colleagues, as that will only add fuel to the drama. See if there are ways you can create physical space between you and your toxic ex-friend. Maybe you can move your workspace into another room or transfer to another department (depending on the size of the company). Or maybe you’re able to work remotely full-time or a few days a week to minimize your contact with her. It sounds like you’ve been very mature and professional about it at work, which we're sure your boss appreciates and is likely to help your boss want to be accommodating to keep you as an employee.

You can continue to uphold your boundaries and your professional demeanor at work – after all, you can only control your own behavior. If she keeps up her tardiness and immaturity at work, she may get herself fired (which would solve your workplace issue). But if your toxic ex-friend's behavior escalates – within the workplace or outside of it – you might want to consider getting a protective order or avoiding contact with her altogether (even if that means you look for another job) for your own sake. Don’t let your guilt or pride get in the way of keeping yourself safe if the situation escalates into dangerous territory. 

The women in your life are there to lift you up, support you, encourage you, and be a light in dark times. 

Sometimes friendships do need to end, no matter how close you once were. If you’ve been open and honest with her, set boundaries, and been clear about your expectations to move forward, and she refuses to take any of that into consideration, the hard truth is that she’s not a friend worth having in your life. Friends are not supposed to bring toxicity into our lives (and especially not our workplaces); the women in your life are there to lift you up, support you, encourage you, and be a light in dark times. This doesn’t sound like your friendship whatsoever. 

It's very possible that your friend changed so significantly because of a problem in her personal life that you’re unaware of. She may view you as her one stable constant in her life and is clinging to you extra hard for that reason, which, as sad as that is, is not a healthy coping mechanism for anyone involved. Encourage her to seek out a therapist and to lean on her family for support if you feel like she is truly experiencing a mental health crisis. You shouldn’t guilt yourself into staying in an unhealthy (and borderline abusive) friendship, no matter the reason why she’s acting the way she is. And aside from handling it at work as professionally and maturely as you can, you can let your ex-friend know that you’ve told her what needs to change in order to rebuild trust and salvage your relationship, and if she isn’t willing to do that then you need to cut ties and halt contact with her – maybe not forever, but at least for now. 

Have a question you want our advice on? Email it to us at