8 Signs of A Toxic Friendship & How To Handle Them

Friendship is a choice, and it’s one of the most important choices we make. We need good friends to feel connected and belong.

A toxic friendship isn’t toxic from the start because we don’t make friends with someone who we know will hurt us. Usually, it is our old friends who become toxic over time.

Do you have that one friend who can make you wrap yourself in barbwire just to please them?

The problem is, while our toxic friends harm us more than the sum of all the good they have ever done, we are too familiar with them. So we let them hurt us more, unable to break away.

Toxic Friendships

What Is A Toxic Friendship?

Toxic friendships are one-sided, more argumentative than friendly, and lack open-heartedness. The toxic friend is insensitive and uncaring, violates their friend’s boundaries, and limits their freedom to openly express themselves. They are usually not there in times of need.

Toxic friendships, reduce your self-worth and make you walk on eggshells. They exploit your kindness and vulnerabilities, without being bothered by how their behaviors hurt you.

Their toxicity can be mental (criticizing you), emotional (invalidating your emotions), or even physical (like smoking in your presence when they know you’re a non-smoker).

That toxic friend might be a colleague or family member who has always been more like a friend. Sometimes, it is you who is that toxic friend, and not realize it.

Recognizing their toxic behavior is the first step toward containing the damage.

8 Signs of A Toxic Friendship

A red flag of a toxic friendship is when you constantly feel drained, stressed, or unhappy after spending time with them. This is the point you start marking out this person before it’s too late.

Here are the eight signs of a toxic friendship:

1. They Want To Decide For You.

A toxic friend holds the power in your relationship. They convince you that they know what is best for you, and so, will make decisions for you.

They decide what you wear and eat, where you go, and who you meet. You do as they say because you are afraid of disappointing them.

They could hurt you without realizing it by taking away your independence and right to learn from your mistakes.

Worse, they might shift the blame to you if their terrible decisions cause problems.

In a twisted way, they also decide that you are far too sensitive and enjoy playing the ‘victim card,’ and they tell this to all who know you both.

2. They Don’t Allow Disagreements.

Friends disagree and sometimes share different opinions than each other, and mostly we don’t mind.

But, if a friend blocks you from having any disagreements, take note.

Mark them out specifically if they get mad when you don’t back up their opinions and ideas.

If they spend more time arguing with you than listening to you actively, your friendship is likely turning unhealthy.

This is a classic case of a toxic friendship where you spend more time fighting and defending, instead of listening and seeing each other’s viewpoints.

8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship | Sharon Livingston | TEDxWilmingtonWomen
TEDx Talk: 8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship – Sharon Livingston, Clinical Psychologist

3. They Are Narcissistic And Manipulative.

Toxic friends often gaslight you unconsciously. It means they can convince you of a twisted reality about yourself, like:

“You don’t realize how everyone thinks you’re stupid.”

This is their dirty trick to isolate you from your social circle. So they find it easier to manipulate you to hold the upper hand in your relationship.

They can guilt-trip you.

  • For example, they might turn up one morning at your place, quite charming. Then, within a few hours, they turn sour and dark.
  • You will find nothing obvious to explain the drastic shift in their mood and behavior.
  • So, you are left wondering what you did to upset them.

That is how they make you feel guilty for their negative emotions.

A toxic friend can be a narcissist you can’t easily argue with. Narcissists are people who place themselves at the center of a social circle to seize attention and praise.

Narcissistic friends attack your self-esteem and self-image, making you think you’re worthless.

Your narcissist friends do not apologize, but they rather attack you for pointing out their mistake.

Sometimes, if you have cornered them, they may fake an apology to get away. Take note of this toxic sign.

4. They Constantly Criticize And Demean You.

They are always putting you down.

It is okay for friends to make fun of your achievements once in a while, but if you are repeatedly attacked and demeaned, this may signal that you are in a toxic friendship.

They will criticize all your accomplishments. Even when your achievements are outstanding, they feel obliged to tell you why they are not worthy of celebration.

You will find them talking about you in a disparaging way, both behind your back and to your face.

They can insult you severely during your bad phases. They can label you as a failure and underclass, even giving you a bad nickname. But they will offer no support.

And, if you achieved something that they could not, they feel envious or resentful of your success.

They want to make you feel like a loser for achieving anything in life. It doesn’t matter if they think you’re better than them or not.

In short, don’t expect them to support or encourage you in a positive or constructive way.

5. They Stop You From Making Other Friends.

Your toxic friend will likely isolate you from your other relationships, so they can have all your attention.

This makes you an easy target for their manipulation. It also stops you from asking others for help in your times of need.

Toxic friends make you stop hanging out with other people by badmouthing your other friends and relations.

They spin fake stories about how they use you to benefit themselves.

They trick you into thinking your other friends have “secret dark motives” against you when they really do not.

They compare your appearance and achievements to others to make you feel bad.

And tell you you are “out of their league” and not good enough to be friends with them.

6. They Make You Walk On Eggshells.

I read this on Twitter:

“Your triggers are your responsibility. Don’t expect the world to tiptoe around you to stop you from getting triggered.”

But your toxic friends do not take responsibility for their trigger factors. They make you stressfully tiptoe around them, so they don’t get triggered.

The constant caution about what you say and do so that they don’t get offended is called walking on eggshells.

You have to weigh your every response, expression, gesture, and word around a toxic friend to prevent an argument or fight with them. You do this out of fear of angering them or to not be rude.

Eventually, your friendship becomes a place to deal with uncomfortable situations rather than having fun.

Your toxic friend can also project their feelings onto you, making you ask for their forgiveness, even when you have done nothing wrong.

For example, they may say you’re being irritable when, in fact, they’re the ones who are irritated. And then force you to question yourself and defend your innocence to them.

7. They Abandon You In Times of Need.

First, they have a habit of making you choose between them and someone else. They do it to maintain their importance in your life.

But whenever you need them desperately, and they have to pick between you and something else, they will desert you.

They belittle you by labeling your issues as insignificant and leaving your side when you get challenged or threatened.

They typically make excuses to make way for the exit whenever you need them the most, even if you’re their best friend.

Observe them from now on, if you haven’t already, and notice how they come up with a reason to get out anytime there’s an emergency.

8. They Are Killjoys And Make You Feel Miserable.

Your toxic friends are pessimists, whiners, and scaremongers.

Toxic people exude a pessimistic and dismal outlook toward you and your life. They are a drain on your happiness and always find a reason to bring you down during your times of joy and glory.

So much so that you dread sharing your good news with them because you know you will be miserable after telling them.

Friendships are supposed to make you happy. However, meeting up with your toxic friends always makes you feel horrible afterward. They somehow always make you feel useless, despicable, and self-critical.

They are biased against you. They do quite well at highlighting your failures and making you feel sad about your ambitions and accomplishments.

How To Deal With Toxic Friends

It’s a difficult emotional task to deal with toxic friends.

However, you do not have to put up with a toxic friendship. If a friend is making you feel bad, you have the right to end the friendship. There are plenty of other people out there who will treat you with respect and kindness.

Here are a few ways to deal with a toxic friend:

  • Be honest with yourself. It can be difficult to accept that your friend is toxic, but it is more important that you’re honest with yourself about how they are making you feel. If you constantly feel drained, stressed, or unhappy after spending time with them, then they are probably a toxic friend.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. If your friend is constantly asking you for favors without reciprocating, it is okay to say no. You don’t have to do everything they ask. If they’re always putting you down, you don’t have to put up with their negative behavior.
  • Spend time with positive people. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself. These are the people who will support you, lift you up, and make you laugh.
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly. Taking care of your physical and mental health will help you to cope with the stress of dealing with a toxic friend.
  • Take a break. If the situation is too stressful, you may need to take a break from your friend. This could mean spending less time with them before deciding to cut them off completely.
  • Seek support. If you are struggling to deal with a toxic friend, it can help to seek support from a therapist or counselor. They can help you to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

What To Do If You Are The Toxic Friend

Imagine you are the offender rather than a victim in a toxic friendship.

If your friends are feeling threatened by you, it’s likely because they know you are the toxic person in the friendship.

Here are some actionable tips if others think you are a toxic friend:

  • Welcome their presence. Focus more on them when they’re with you.
  • Do not take advantage of them. Do not abandon their side in times of need.
  • Ask them if you are being toxic. If they yes, start changing yourself positively.
  • Make them feel comfortable with you and show them they are wanted in your life.
  • Be prepared to help, but always ask if they need your help before jumping in to help.
  • Make plans for adventures and fun times together without forcing your decisions on them.
  • Maintain relationship boundaries. Do not force them to reveal or do things they don’t want to.
  • Give them time away from you, with their other friends, without letting them feel wrong about it.

The Friendship Paradox

The Friendship Paradox refers is a phenomenon first noticed by sociologist Scott L. Feld in 1991, which suggests that, on average, most people have fewer friends than their friends do.

It is also a type of bias in which a person believes that when they are with their friends, they are not their true selves with them. Rather, they are busy being someone else.

While in the company of our friends, we think we have more freedom to be ourselves.

But, in fact, we end up suppressing our true identity. We put up behaviors that garner the most attention and appreciation from them. That is the friendship paradox.

The paradox suggests that trying to maintain a healthy friend group may be an impossible task. Identifying the toxic people in your group can help solve this problem.

Interestingly, this issue is more acute in these times when the people we follow on social media have friends and followers in millions, which makes us feel unnoticed and unimportant.

Are your Facebook friends making you unhappy?

Final Words

Toxic people are everywhere. They are in the workplace, in your personal life, and even in your family. They can make you question your self-worth or make you feel inferior to them.

The solution: Stop trying to please them. Ignore their manipulation. Walk away, whenever necessary.

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Trust is a two-way street. Learn how to build trust in a relationship.

• • •

Author Bio: Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy. His expertise is in mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.