Toxic Friendship | 15 Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

Toxic Friendship | 15 Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

What is a toxic friend?

While every friend will have weaknesses and occasional bad days, a toxic friend has an overall bad vibe. They’ll take without giving, make everything about them, criticize and suck the life out of you, and make you wonder why you’re friends in the first place. Luckily, there are loads of toxic friendship signs you can watch for to ensure your friendships remain healthy, balanced, and positive.

Signs of a Toxic Friendship

So…how do you know if your friendship is toxic? If you experience three or more of these toxic friendship signs, you may be dealing with a toxic friend.

It’s all about them.

A toxic friend will leave you giving way more than you receive. Their motto will unofficially be, “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine.”

And you can never talk about yourself for longer than a minute or two before they redirect the conversation back to themselves. You just started dating someone wonderful? Let me tell you about how amazing my boyfriend is! Your child scored a touchdown? Ahh, that reminds me of my kid’s time in football…

They’re always the victim.

Everyone in their life has wronged them…or so they’ll tell you. While some people have truly lived miserable lives of pain and loss, a toxic person has done no wrong…ever.

They were a perfect, attentive husband at all times…but their ex-wife was a crazy witch.  They selflessly sacrificed everything to help their friends…but their friends abandoned them.

And the fact that they nearly ate and drank themselves to death has nothing to do with the poor health they’re in now. They were cursed with bad genes!

Even unrelated circumstances, like the weather, can be blamed. “Of course, it would rain now. This always happens to me.”

There’s consistent drama.

While any relationship is bound to face conflict, a toxic friendship can never quite escape it. You’ll often find that just the sight of their name on a text will induce immediate stress as you wonder, “What now?” And more often than not, you’ll leave them feeling worse than when you arrived.

They constantly put you down.

You will never do or say anything right in a toxic friend’s mind. They’ll criticize what you do and how you do it. Even if you’re doing something in an acceptable way, they’ll often believe that their way is the only right way to do it…and insist you follow suit.

They might even compare you to others to pressure you to do the things they want. So-and-so goes to a dance class with her friend; she’s more supportive! And what’s-her-name is always running little errands for her friend…must be nice! This is one of the most obvious toxic friendship signs.

They try to change who you are as a person.

Friends often encourage each other to be the best versions of themselves. That’s a positive thing! But a toxic friend will encourage you to be someone you’re not.

They’ll insist you dress differently, act differently than your natural disposition, or even take up interests and hobbies that you don’t care about, or might even dislike, for their sake. While a true friend appreciates what makes you, you, a toxic friend will insist on “improving” you to better suit their needs.

They don’t respect you or your boundaries.

The Oxford dictionary defines respect as “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.” A true friend will respect these things, as well as any boundaries you set to protect your time, energy, and wellbeing. Toxic friends will not only disrespect you but call your boundaries selfish.

They can’t be trusted.

You may feel guarded when communicating with a toxic friend, knowing that anything you say can and will be used against you…or shared with others, even if you note that it’s private. You can speak freely within a healthy friendship, knowing your friend won’t judge, manipulate, or betray you.

They need all of your attention. All of it!

Toxic friendships are usually codependent, which means the majority of their emotional and psychological reliance falls on…you! They need you to be available to them at all times…pick up when they call, reply immediately when they text, and drop your plans to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it. It’s a needy relationship that will leave you feeling suffocated.

But interestingly enough, they often don’t return the on-call status when you need them. They won’t be bothered to return your texts if they’re in the middle of something and certainly don’t have the bandwidth to make themselves available to someone else’s plans or schedule.

They get jealous of other people in your life.

Because they want all of your time, toxic friends won’t like any other people who text, call, or spend time with you. They’ll ask who it was that just texted you and will find something to criticize about the other people in your life. If they “just have a bad feeling” about another person, they can even spin it as if they’re looking out for you!

They always try to one-up you.

In a healthy friendship, friends encourage one another and celebrate each other’s victories. But a toxic friend will always view you as their competition.

They’ll struggle to celebrate your successes without turning the spotlight back on themselves. And if you do one-up them, they’ll take a passionate stance that the thing you just accomplished isn’t important…or that it’s even negative.

They rarely apologize.

As noted above, toxic friends have trouble seeing their own faults and therefore, hesitate to apologize. If they do apologize, it’s often in a way that redirects the blame back to you. I’m sorry I said that, but you had to have known that would upset me! I wish you’d be more considerate in the way you word things to me.

They gossip regularly.

If they gossip about everyone else in their lives, there’s a huge chance they also gossip about you. Regularly cutting other people down is a strong indicator of a toxic friend.

They’re unpredictable and leave you feeling on edge.

Toxic friends are wild cards. Maybe they were sincere when they said that thing…or maybe they were being sarcastic and are now planning your demise. In a toxic friendship, you sincerely believe your friend could go either way and are often nervous to learn their true intentions.

You blame yourself and feel responsible for their behavior.

A toxic friend will shift the blame for their poor behaviors onto you. They’ll make you believe that if only you would have said or done things differently and better, they would have responded more positively. It’s actually your fault they blew up at you!

They may also leave you cleaning up their messes with others. They’ll treat other people terribly, then leave you to explain that they’re going through a lot and didn’t really mean that. You may also find yourself regularly lying and/or covering for them.

Something just doesn’t feel right.

Trust your gut! If you feel trapped or obligated to be their friend…if you don’t look forward to seeing them and are happy when your plans together are canceled…or if you constantly feel drained and on edge…you’re probably in a toxic relationship.

What Are the Impacts of Participating in a Toxic Friendship?

Maybe you know you have a toxic friend, but you’re not quite convinced it’s all that bad. After all, you always have someone to hang out with, and having a toxic friend is better than having no friend at all, right? But the impacts of toxic relationships are pretty…well…impactful:

  • You feel lonely, unsupported, and isolated.
  • You struggle with self-esteem.
  • You constantly play the game you can never win – blaming yourself for someone else’s behavior.
  • Your other relationships suffer as you withdraw from the people and activities you once enjoyed.
  • Your stress levels skyrocket, causing issues with sleep, appetite, and overall mental health.

How to Heal From a Toxic Friendship

Once you’ve identified toxic friendship signs, how can you heal and move forward?

Generously apply space and boundaries.

It’s easiest to fairly assess a relationship when you’re not in the thick of it. Give yourself a bit of space and time away from your friend to reflect on your relationship and decide what boundaries you want and need to set.

Set boundaries.

Actually setting your desired boundaries with a toxic friend is often the hardest part. They’ll tell you that you’re being way too dramatic and over-reacting. They might insist that your boundaries aren’t reasonable or fair. They may even accuse you of acting selfishly.

This is why you’ll want to speak directly and assertively, responding to interruptions and arguments with the same few bullet points over and over until your friend realizes you don’t plan to engage in their gaslighting attempts. It may help to practice what you plan to say by yourself or with a trusted friend or family member before you approach your friend.

Prepare yourself to cut ties with your toxic friend if and when necessary.

Once they’re informed of your boundaries, it is up to your friend to decide if they will abide by and respect them in order to salvage the relationship…or if they won’t. As a recovered people pleaser, I felt both terrified and liberated when I informed a toxic friend, “You can either respect my boundaries or we can end our friendship, no hard feelings. I would understand if those boundaries didn’t work for you and I would respect your decision.”

Take some time to think through the conversation and logistics of “breaking up” with your friend ahead of time so that you’re not thrown off guard if/when it comes to that.

Rekindle old friendships and make new ones.

Whether you remain friends or not, it’s important that your entire social life doesn’t depend on just one person. You certainly don’t need to have several best friends, but be sure that you’re regularly communicating and spending time with several different people.

I have some friends I meet up with monthly, some I text throughout the week, some I chat with at church and in the parent pickup line, and others I check in with every few months. Friendship is a lifeline that should be spread out over several people.

Take good care of yourself.

Taking the time to care for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health will keep you grounded even if and when your friends are not. And you know what they say…you can’t pour from an empty cup!

Consider therapy.

No, I’m not referring to couple’s therapy with your friend! I mean, seek therapy for yourself.

A therapist on TalkSpace helped me to realize how I was inadvertently creating and enabling toxic friendships through my own words and actions. By digging to the root of my own identity, self-esteem, and mental health, I was able to relate to others in a much healthier manner.

Toxic Friendship Signs FAQ

What causes toxic behavior?

It’s difficult to say! Many toxic friends don’t know how to address their own hurts and struggles in a healthy way and so project them onto others instead.

Others have grown up to believe that the toxic relationships of their parents and other family members are normal and expected. They’ve never seen an alternative, healthy relationship demonstrated.

No matter what the cause, the important thing to remember is that toxic behavior has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the toxic person.

Can a nice person be toxic?

A nice person can certainly be toxic. If they’ve grown up observing toxic relationships, they may be super kind and considerate and demand all of your attention, constantly compete with you, and gossip like it’s their job.

Being toxic doesn’t always mean that you’re angry and rude and throwing things at people. It means that you’re not actively contributing to a healthy relationship. 

Is the toxic person toxic to everyone?

Not necessarily! I once knew a toxic person who delivered toxicity to her husband and children, but readily received it from her father.

Toxic people will often treat others in whatever way those people will accept treatment. So if others accept a toxic friendship, that person will play the part of the toxic friend. But if someone sets clear boundaries and refuses mistreatment, the toxic person will treat them with more respect.

Why do I attract toxic people?

Toxic people need those who will accept their toxicity. So if you struggle to set boundaries and readily take responsibility for others’ actions, you’re a solid candidate in their (likely subconscious) eyes.

This is another reason that I strongly recommend looking into counseling. It was there that I learned that many of the behaviors I was receiving from others were actually behaviors that I was allowing. My therapist helped me to set clear and direct boundaries to take back control of a large part of my life.

Toxic friendship signs are usually plentiful and relatively obvious in a toxic friendship. By learning how to recognize the signs and address them appropriately, you’ll be well on your way to building healthy and balanced friendships with others. You’ve got this!

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