Is it better to mute and archive a toxic group chat – or leave and block?

Group chats are at once a joy and a chore.

They keep you in the loop with your social circle and make arranging meet-ups easier, but they can also ‘buzz’ non-stop and become annoying.

It’s a double-edged sword: if you weren’t included you’d feel sad, but if you’re in one, there are times you’re likely tempted to mute notifications.

But what should you do when it moves beyond irritating and becomes toxic?

Perhaps people are bitching about others in the conversation, there’s a passive aggressive tone, people are being offensive, or something about the chat is adversely affecting your mood.

We’ve looked before and how to leave a group chat, but first you need to determine if that’s actually what’s best for you.

Caroline Plumer, therapist at CPPC London, says: ‘We are living in a time where we have an unprecedented amount of media as well as communication tools available at our fingertips.

‘It’s more important than ever that we are mindful of what we actively engage in or even passively consume.’

For this reason, staying in a toxic chat shouldn’t be done without proper consideration.

Caroline says this can be ‘akin to doomscrolling’, adding: ‘We may not be directly involved, but we will still feel something as a result of being exposed to negativity or cruelty.

‘Even if we are not the subject of the toxicity, the group may have us call into question whether our friends might also disparage us behind our backs, or even get us wondering about the nature of humanity as a whole.

‘Both these types of thoughts can be hugely damaging and can lead to depressive and/or anxious feelings.’

Faye Dickinson, a content creator, generally mutes groups that irritate her – but she does have a line people can cross.

‘I usually turn off group chat notifications, so I don’t see messages popping on my screen unless I go into actual messages,’ she says.

‘I need to be pushed to the limit to leave or block a group, like if someone keeps cutting you off.

‘Group chats are there to be heard by everyone individually under the same thread of conversation.’

When she has been ‘pushed’ and left, she acknowledges the decision can give her a sense of ‘relief’ and leave her ‘feeling so much better’.

Faye recalls: ‘I was in a group chat with an ex-friend of mine, and she always likes to be negative and keeps digging into me to push me.

‘I decided to leave the group and not to be added back in again.

‘That group chat started as fun, but you need to know when to draw a line when “bantering” over someone in front of other people in a group, as you could hurt someone’s feelings without knowing.’

Sometimes there are personal politics involved – and it might not be so easy to leave if you see or live with the involved people.

Caroline says in circumstances like these, muting is a second-best option for a short term fix.

‘It’s a better alternative than doing nothing,’ she adds.

Though she does feel that overall, exiting is best.

She says: ‘If you are considering muting a group, I would try and be honest with yourself about your reasons for not leaving altogether.

‘If you want to maintain some access to see what’s going on, and play occasional voyeur, that’s probably not a very healthy reason to stay in the group.’

Time to say goodbye.

Handling anxiety when leaving a group chat

  • If you are worried about how the group will respond, or talk about you, again question if it’s healthy to have these people in your life at all.
  • With any anxiety, it helps to look at the facts and rationalise. Even if you leave the group and there is some awkwardness, you are doing it to take care of your own mental health – which no one else will do for you and is an important part of remaining healthy.
  • Remember: have also likely been in awkward situations before, and you were strong enough to manage those, so there is nothing to suggest you can’t handle this.
  • When we are anxious, we tend to catastrophize, so try and talk out the reality either to yourself or with a trusted friend or therapist. 

– Caroline Plumer, therapist

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