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21 Signs Your Friendship Is Toxic and What To Do About It

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Photo: Lauramba

The phrase toxic friends gets thrown around a lot. What does it really mean?

Do you dread seeing one or more of your friends and are relieved when they leave?

“The phrase ‘toxic friend’ is pop psychology,” Jenn Berman, a Beverly Hills psychologist told WebMD. “I would say it’s someone who, after spending time with them, makes you feel bad about yourself instead of good; someone who tends to be critical of you — sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes not so subtle; a friend who drains you emotionally, financially, or mentally, and they’re not very good for you.”

Toxic friends are people we hang out with, but when we refer to them, we are hesitant to call them friends.

Why are we such gluttons for punishment?

So why do we end up in these undefined, difficult, and often exhausting relationships? It’s often the good in us that keeps us from setting more appropriate boundaries. We don’t want to give up on people.

Suzanne Degges-White, a licensed counselor who writes for Psychology Today, suggests we may be thinking, “I enjoy spending time with her and although she can be a little (your pet peeve here), it’s worth it in the end, because I really think she is (your favorite trait here).”

Do you make similar excuses for a toxic friend? If so, you’re not alone. A quick google search reveals the internet is full of people looking for advice for managing toxic friendships. And while things like setting boundaries and staying aware of your emotions will help, they will only help if you recognize the problem to begin with.

Has this relationship ever even been a true friendship?

For a lot of us, we may know the friendship is sticky or difficult, but we may not have taken the time to reflect on why the friendship has become a burden.

Maybe the friendship started really well. And when things went south, we gave our friend the benefit of the doubt. He or she is having a bad day, we said. Only that one bad day turned into a bad week, a bad month, a bad year.

So what do we do? Hire an emotional body guard?

Since To Make Friends exists to help people form better friendships, we’d never be quick to recommend giving a friend (yes, even a toxic one) the axe. After all, all of us have bad days. And all of us hit rough patches where our worst qualities show themselves.

But if you have allowed a toxic friendship to impact your own well being or to negatively influence other relationships in your life, it’s really important that you become aware of that. That way you can begin to modify your behavior, limit your exposure to them, and set a new, healthier course.

How do I know if I’m part of a toxic friendship?

To help with assessing the severity of a difficult friendship, we’ve put together a list of traits that suggest a friendship may be becoming unhealthy and is in need of course correction. Keep in mind, however, that every person you’re friends with probably demonstrates a few of these traits, occasionally. If a friendship is truly toxic, many or most of these traits will surface…and they will surface not just on bad days or during trauma, but on a regular basis.

  1. It’s all about them. Always. They’re totally self-absorbed.
  2. They’re manipulative. They spin things, tell lies, or use passive aggressive techniques to try to get other people to serve their interest.
  3. They’re chronic over-talkers. You get in two words for every ten they say. And they may interrupt or talk over you and expect you to be fascinated by long stories about themselves.
  4. They don’t follow through. You can’t count on them to do what they say they will do. But they expect you to be reliable for them.
  5. They’re embarrassingly comparative. If you tell a story, they have to tell their own corresponding story…and often try to outdo you. No matter what you say, they’ve been sicker, braver, crazier, and everything-er more than you.
  6. They’re a bragger. They should know that it sounds juvenile and is off-putting to constantly share their accomplishments, superiority, or popularity. But they don’t seem to know. (Just check the posts on their Facebook page if you don’t believe me.)
  7. They’re in constant crisis. Just when you get tired or angry at them, a tragedy always strikes. They’re sobbing, venting for hours, falling apart, and you feel obligated to pick up the pieces…again and again.
  8. They’re unusually negative. They offer a lot of snap judgments about other people, constantly bad mouthing everyone from their family to their friends to the waitress serving their meal.
  9. They’re untrustworthy. They try to project themselves as polished and perfect, so they come off as fake and insincere. You don’t know whether you can trust their version of events and find yourself sometimes seeking information to confirm whether they’re telling the truth.
  10. They’re unavailable. When you need a ride to the airport or someone to watch your kids, when you need to vent for a minute about your work conditions, they pitch in support half-heartedly or not at all.
  11. They’re inconsiderate. They don’t remember details about your life, or ask about what’s going on with you. They don’t offer appreciation or even say thank you when you go out of your way for them.
  12. They’re needy. They may smother you with their need for attention. Even if you spend a long day discussing their problems with them, you wake up the next day to 18 texts and 3 voicemails which attempt to keep you engaged in their issues.
  13. They’re argumentative. They frequently and easily get offended at what people say or do to them. And they tend to pick fights over small things, feeling a need to argue about even small details that don’t matter.
  14. They pressure you. Rather than letting you be who you are, or do what makes you happy or feel good, they push you to do and see things their way.
  15. They judge you when you make a mistake, keeping track of how you’ve failed in the past. You never know how they might dig up and use your vulnerability to shame you in the future.
  16. They disappear. When they need you, they’re constantly calling and texting. They’re talking your ear off for hours. They’re looking for your sympathies for all their problems. But then when things stabilize for them, they vanish for months at a time.
  17. They’re pathological gossips. We probably all drop gossip into conversations here and there. Sometimes some bit of news seems too juicy or too shocking to keep it to ourselves. But toxic people collect gossip on a daily basis. They don’t just mention it, they over-analyze and dissect it. They love it.
  18. They minimize any concern you bring to them. If you feel hurt by what they said or how they acted, or if you suggest certain aspects of the friendship are draining or imbalanced, they will imply it was your fault and become furious at you for daring to say it aloud.
  19. They don’t respect things or people who are important to you. This could include other friends you give attention to, your possessions, your time, your energy, and so on.
  20. They’re unwilling to change. Rather than owning their behavior or trying to modify it, they hold grudges and resent you for bringing up their troubling behaviors. They truly think the problem is with everyone else and everyone else should change.
  21. They don’t make you feel good. When friendship is working, it is scientifically proven they bring good to your life.


There are 4 comments

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  1. Sugar76

    This is insane. I could write a novel about how many friendships I’ve had that end up having these sorts of patterns. It makes me feel really unhealthy that I’ve gone back to the same type of person over and over again. Hopefully I will be able to take some of this to heart and notice next time so I can head this off.

  2. PicoKerry

    I think it’s awesome that the article doesn’t advise you to cut things off immediately. That’s not real life. At least not for me. I can’t just drop people.


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