Just like romantic relationships, friendships can be complex. There are high and low moments. But one of the perks of having friends is the endless support they give. Good friends can also give you a sense of belonging and purpose.
Inversely, our life can take a sharp turn and become unbearable when what started as a great friendship becomes a nightmare. At first, you might make excuses for their behavior until you gradually fall into an unhealthy pattern.
Maybe you’re unsure if their behavior is toxic at all or you don’t know how to handle it. Whatever the reason, this guide will help you identify the signs of a toxic friendship and how to deal with it.
15 Signs of a Toxic Friendship
To help you know when a friendship is unhealthy, here are 15 signs you can check.
1. Lack of Support
As earlier stated, one of the importance of friendship is support. You should be able to count on those you consider friends to show up for you and vice versa.
But imagine a scenario where you’re always running to save them in times of trouble, but they disappear when you reach out for help. Or you actively listen when they vent, but they make it about themselves when it’s your turn to vent. If this becomes a pattern, chances are you’re in a toxic relationship.
2. Not Respecting Boundaries
Setting boundaries helps build trust, mutual respect, and a strong connection for a long-lasting friendship. More so, it helps bring balance and accountability.
When your friends don’t respect your boundaries, it shows a lack of respect. This sign of a toxic friendship might be hard to spot immediately, especially if they constantly turn the disrespect into a joke or make it seem like you’re overreacting.
3. Constantly Playing the Victim Card
People play the victim card to either get attention, avoid taking responsibility, gain sympathy, or control you. A toxic friend will always make it seem like the world is against them. In fact, others have it easy and bad things only happen to them.
To get your attention, they create a false emergency. When they have an actual crisis, they rather wallow in self-pity than address it.
Even when they are the oppressor and it goes badly for the other person, they’ll make it out like they suffered more loss than the real victim. In most cases, they’ll use their traumas or illnesses to justify their bad behavior.
Being unreliable is not only a red flag in relationships but also a sign of a toxic friendship. This is slightly different from lack of support in the sense that they turn up for you but not at the time you immediately need it.
Someone you can’t depend on to get things done immediately is likely to betray, lie, and hurt you. They can destroy your self-esteem and break your trust.
5. Constantly Putting You Down
Your friends should be rooting for and celebrating you. They should be your biggest cheerleaders helping you stand tall and strong.
However, they’re toxic if they drop snide comments or make you feel undeserving rather than celebrate your success or encourage you. You’ll likely hear comments like “you only won this because…”, “You made it work? Well, it’s too small but congratulations, anyway.”
6. One-sided Effort
Maintaining friendships takes conscious effort. However, it can be emotionally draining when one person is holding back. An example can be when you always call to check up on your friends, but they never reach out first. Or when you plan hangouts, they never attend.
Although people can get too busy, it’s a sign of a toxic friendship when they make it a habit not to contact you even when commit your time, resources, and energy to keep the friendship going.
7. It Drains You Emotionally, Mentally and Physically
A toxic friendship can leave you overwhelmed, unsettled and scared. It would feel like walking on eggshells because you are worried they would get hurt or angry. Every time their name pops up on the phone screen, you get scared.
You spend time trying to please your friends or read their minds, especially when they’re angry at you without telling you why—these can be emotionally draining. In fact, a 2021 study suggests that people who experience more negative social interaction has a higher chance of having suicidal ideation or thought. So rather than endure such toxicity, it’s best to leave.
8. Unhealthy Jealousy and Competition
A little jealousy is customary in every relationship, whether a loving friendship or a romantic relationship. However, it becomes unhealthy when left unchecked. An instance would be when your friends get angry at you for talking to someone else.
Also, healthy competitions inspire you to work hard and become more, but this is usually not the case in unhealthy competition. Rather than motivate you, it becomes a game where you both have to outdo one another. This would eventually lead to unhealthy jealousy, aggression, and resentment in the friendship.
9. Feels Transactional
Another sign of a toxic friendship that is easy to miss is when friends do something for you intending to ask for a favor. It might seem like they’re doing good from the kindness of their hearts, but they will ask for something equivalent to the ‘good deed’ shortly after..
It might be subtle at first. Maybe you always take care of the bills when you both eat out, but whenever they offer to pay, they always ask for a favor right after. Over time, the habit might intensify and they might even mention what they did for you outrightly whenever you refuse to dance to their tune.
10. Can’t Keep Secrets
Friends who repeat personal information you told them in confidence to someone else are toxic—you can’t trust them. It can be excusable when they accidentally divulge sensitive information once. Mistakes happen, that’s fine. But if it becomes a pattern, you’ll need to accept that you’re in an unhealthy friendship.
Inversely, it is also a sign of a toxic friendship if they come to you with sensitive information someone else shared. Constantly discussing another person’s secrets means they’re likely talking about yours with someone else.
11. Difficulty Apologizing
When one apologizes, it shows vulnerability and acceptance that you can’t be right all the time. However, this is a situation that most people don’t like to find themselves in because they value their ego more than the friendship they have with you.
If your friends find it difficult to apologize even when they know they’re wrong, they don’t value you. It also becomes toxic when you constantly forgive them even when they don’t make amends or apologize for what they did wrong.
Another difficult sign of a toxic friendship to notice is manipulation. Friends who cause you to do things you wouldn’t normally do are manipulative. Sometimes, you’re even unsure if you acted in a particular way out of their influence or free will.
Even when you try to speak out about the guilt eating you up, they find a way to downplay your feelings. For example, they can guilt-trip you into lying on their behalf or make you believe they take your things without asking for permission because they don’t want to bother you.
13. Not Taking Responsibility For Actions
Just like finding it hard to apologize, your friendship can become toxic when your friends continuously blame everyone else for the consequences of their choices or actions.
Imagine being friends with someone who would blame their failed romantic relationship on the advice you gave rather than on their actions and inactions. That would be incredibly frustrating.
Even when you don’t offer them any advice, they’ll also blame you (or someone else) when things don’t work out. “You didn’t warn them hard enough not to eat that Sushi”, “They’re always busy with work and you should have been the one to know their partner was cheating”. The aim is likely to make you feel guilty and make them look flawless.
14. One-sided Communication
You always express your feelings, but when your friend is upset, they’d rather keep it in and brood over it. You’re left to figure out if they’re mad at you or someone else.
Also, they are likely to cut off all communications abruptly and give you the silent treatment but would come back when it is convenient for them.
15. Undue Pressure
With unhealthy competition comes undue pressure. You’re likely to follow in the same path as your friends to live up to their standards.
For instance, if your friends constantly taunt you for not owning a house or a flashy car, you might feel pressured to get those things. Over time, you won’t be able to appreciate your life’s journey or little wins because you feel inadequate.
Toxic friends can also coerce you into developing unhealthy habits to fit into their circle.
How to Deal With Toxic Friendship
Loving yourself enough to know when you’re in an unhealthy friendship is necessary, but identifying the signs shouldn’t be where it ends. You need to know how to deal with toxic friends to protect yourself. Here are 8 steps to help you:
Once we identify the signs of a toxic friendship, it might take a while for us to accept that the way our friends behave is unhealthy because of the pain that often comes with this realization.
Wishing it stops won’t help. Accepting that you’re in a mentally and emotionally destructive friendship will help you address such toxicity faster.
2. Address the Toxicity
Confrontations can be awkward and scary, especially when the other party is immature. However, having long and uncomfortable conversations about the toxicity in your friendship is important. They might not even be aware that their behavior is toxic. This gives you a chance to save your friendship.
Be polite, watch your tone and avoid using negative words when confronting them.
3. Reaffirm Boundaries
Most times, boundaries get violated intentionally or otherwise. Either way, reaffirming boundaries helps your friends remember where you draw the line.
An instance is when your friends eat all your groceries without leaving some for you or replacing them. To reaffirm how much you don’t like this behavior, you can say: “Hey, I know how much you enjoy eating at my place, but I would appreciate it if you remember I like to have some groceries left for me or replace them if you intend to use all of it.”
Also, don’t let any disrespect slide. Always address it immediately.
Related post: How Does It Feel To Be Loved In a Relationship
4. Take Some Space
If talking about toxic behaviors with your friends didn’t make any impact, take some time away from them to evaluate your behavior and plan what to do next.
Considering how overwhelming toxic friendships are, staying away can help you gain some balance. It doesn’t make you a horrible person but shows you’re intentional about protecting yourself instead.
5. Gain Control
When you’re in a toxic friendship, you lose all control because all the attention goes to your friends. It’s always about them and what they want but never about you. Change the dynamics by gaining control.
Stop attending to their every whim. Only do the things you genuinely wish to do and only meet them on your terms.
6. Reassess Your Choice of Friends
Most times, we give little thought to picking quality friends. We find ourselves becoming close to someone without confirming if their values, beliefs, and lifestyle align with ours. While these elements may not always match yours, it shouldn’t be one you can’t tolerate and vice versa.
Take some time to think about what quality friendship means to you and what you expect.
7. End the Friendship
Ending a friendship can be as hurtful as ending a romantic relationship. However, you are a custodian of your well-being and should be able to walk away from situations or relationships that threaten you.
Inform them you no longer wish to remain friends, thank them, and cut all communications. Whether you choose to end your friendship by text, call, or physically, don’t let anyone guilt-trip you into thinking your decision is wrong.
You can lose yourself in a toxic friendship. So ensure you take time to heal before making new friends. Rediscover yourself, especially if your previous friendship made you forget who you are.
Seek support from family (and other friends) through your healing process. Remember to be intentional when choosing your new friends.
Your well-being is more important than maintaining an unhealthy bond with friends. Once you identify the signs of a toxic friendship, don’t wish it away. Deal with it immediately, even if it means walking away.
If you decide to allow them to stay in your life, make sure you thoroughly address the issues, reaffirm your boundaries, and gain control of your life.