8 Signs of A Toxic Friendship (And 4 Ways To Handle Them)

You don’t start a toxic friendship, but some of your friends become toxic over time.

Our friendships are unique relationships because we are not forced to stay in them, but rather choose to.

We need a few good friends to have a prosperous and meaningful life. Without them, we will not have that crucial sense of belongingness that all humans seek.

A toxic friendship harms you more than the sum of all good that it ever did. You must recognize this before you let yourself get badly scarred.

It might not always be a friend. It could be a colleague or a family member who has always treated you more like a friend. Occasionally, it is you who turned toxic in a particular relationship without realizing it.

How do you find out? Let’s explore how you can pick up the red flags when a friendship is turning toxic.

Toxic Friendships

What is a Toxic Friendship?

A toxic friendship is marked by a lack of empathy, understanding, and compassion. A toxic person trespasses their friend’s boundaries and degrades their self-esteem and self-confidence. They usually limit their friend’s ability to express themselves openly, and to feel supported in the relationship.

We all seem to have that one person in our lives who can make us wrap a barbwire around ourselves, only to please them. Friendships that were once healthy and cheerful can often devolve into toxic ones as that one friend starts to take advantage of our vulnerabilities.

The toxicity caused by these people 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).

Furthermore, toxic people are often unaware of the extent to which their actions harm their friends. They are frequently left wondering what made their friend force them out of their long-standing relationship.

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

8 Signs of A Toxic Friendship

Video by HIP.

Anyone can have some toxicity within them. However, the issue arises when people display toxicity to such a degree that they become more of a barrier than a backer. The good news is that if you see any of the following indicators, it may be time to mark this person out for your own good before it’s too late.

How can you tell if a friend is toxic? A frequent early warning sign is that they are increasingly looking for ways to criticize and demean you. Click To Tweet

Here are some signs to help you identify your toxic friends:

1. They Decide For You.

A toxic friend is convinced that they know what is best for you and hence tries to make decisions for you. While they may not intend to hurt you consciously, they may be doing so by making terrible judgments for you without taking in your input.

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

2. They Don’t Allow Disagreements.

It’s common for friends to disagree and sometimes share different opinions than each other, but a toxic friend doesn’t allow any room for disagreement and can retaliate if their opinion isn’t followed through.

If you and your friend spend more time arguing than actively listening to each other, then your friendship is most likely turning unhealthy. This is a classic case of a toxic friendship in which you are more invested in fighting and proving who’s right than in empathizing and bonding with the other person.

3. They Gaslight And Blackmail You.

They exploit you at the first chance. A toxic friend might use guilt-tripping and blackmailing techniques to maintain control over your life.

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 the result of them making you feel as if you are responsible for their feelings.

Toxic friends guilt-trip you, that is, they impute that a bad situation is the result of your fault, even when you had no role in it. Click To Tweet

Toxic friends also often gaslight you.

A gaslighter is often a narcissist, that is people who crave attention and praise and position themselves at the center of their social circle. They are master manipulators and brilliant blackmailers.


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When their methods work, they succeed in lowering your self-esteem and self-confidence. When they fail to get attention, they tend to become aggressive.

Moreover, when caught, they never truly apologize. They present a phony tale before tendering their fake apology. Their apologies are, in fact, non-apologies.

4. They Constantly Criticize 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.

Toxic friends criticize you for all your accomplishments. Even when your achievements are outstanding, they feel obliged to comment on 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. And if you’re a friend who isn’t doing well, then they’ll skin you alive for your dire circumstances, while offering no support.

If you’ve achieved something they couldn’t, they might feel envious or resentful of your success. It doesn’t matter whether they think you’re better than them or not — they just want to be around you to make you feel like a loser for achieving anything in your life.

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

We often boast we know how to deal with criticism. However, a harsh critique can make us react in horribly unhealthy ways. How to NOT be sensitive to criticism?

5. They Stop You From Making Other Friends.

Your toxic friends try to isolate you from your other relationships and restrict your ability to spend time with the people you care about.

They make you stop hanging out with other people because they want you to spend all your time with them. This can leave one or both of you feeling isolated from social networks, which could be helpful when dealing with tough times.

Toxic friends badmouth your other friends and relations. They spin stories about how they are using you for their benefit. They deliberately misinterpret the gestures and words of your other friends and present you with their “secret dark motives.”

They also make unhealthy comparisons between you and others.

They may compare your appearance and achievements to others to belittle you and make you feel lousy. And then tell you how you are “out of their league” and not good enough to be friends with them.

6. They Make You Walk On Eggshells.

When you’re with them, you feel like you have to walk on eggshells (that is, you’ve to be very cautious about your words and actions, so you don’t offend them).

When you are around a toxic friend, you have to weigh your every response, expression, gesture, and word to prevent getting into an argument or fight with them. The emotional and mental energy spent on managing uncomfortable situations never goes towards having fun, which often leads to resentment.

They project their feelings onto you.

For example, they may quip that you are being irritable when, in fact, it is they who are irritated. This often leaves you questioning yourself, and defending your innocence to them.

In the end, you find yourself asking for their forgiveness for no fault of yours.

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 leave 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 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.

8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship | Sharon Livingston | TEDxWilmingtonWomen
8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship – Sharon Livingston

The Friendship Paradox

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

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.

You don’t have to put up a show for a friend who is harmful to you.

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?

How To Deal With Toxic Friends

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

Friends form a big part of our lives. Friendships we form as children often last through our adulthood and beyond. However, even long-standing friendships can devolve into toxic relationships.

Here are 4 best ways to handle them:

1. Do Not Hold Grudges Or Seek Revenge.

Toxic friends are hard to deal with. Our toxic friendships can severely impact our physical health and mental well-being.

Do not harbor a grudge against them; it hurts you more than them.

In fact, you should avoid holding grudges against anyone. Grudges are negative emotions that keep hurting you for a long time.

Research shows holding a grudge can harm your physical and mental health, deplete your energy, and minimize your future success. It stores anger and resentment that can lead to depression and anxiety.

If you hold a grudge against your toxic friend, your “best revenge” is to forgive them for the sake of your own well-being. When you forgive them, you relieve yourself of the suffering and prevent the mental and physical consequences.

Forgiveness is an act of self-compassion that releases you from the negativity loop, allowing you to move on in your life with peace. How To Forgive Someone Who Keeps Hurting You?

Avoid engaging with them in a vengeful way; it can boomerang back on you harder.

Avoid returning their insults and abuse quid pro quo, particularly when you are upset or drunk. It is because they are usually sadists, psychopaths, and narcissists, who are highly revengeful.

Even if you are absolutely sure you can get away with it, do not try to harm them back. With toxic people, a simple disagreement can often escalate into a violent exchange.

Even if you succeed at demolishing them, you will stay on their radar. They will wait for the right moment to strike back.

Grudge seeks revenge
Grudge & Revenge Do Not Help Either Party.

2. Drift Apart From The Friendship.

The first thing to do is to understand the difference between friends and confidants.

A confidant is someone that you share your thoughts and feelings with and who you trust with sensitive or private personal information.

A confidant may not be your friend. People who have known each other for a long time often trust each other with their personal information, even if they do not count each other as friends.

Your lawyer and your doctor are your confidants but usually not your friends.

A friend is someone who does all the above and more, like supporting you through thick and thin and being there for you in any situation.

A friend is expectedly your best confidant. A successful friendship is based on trust and accountability.

A good friend is a confidant who is sensitive, trustworthy, and empathic.

On the flip side, a toxic friend is one who regularly gossips about you. You notice them gossiping about your mutual pals and have a strong suspicion that they do the same behind your back.

Toxic friends are unsuitable people to share your secrets with.

If you decide they are neither a confidant nor a friend, it is easy to drift apart without telling them anything.

When two people drift apart, they gradually become less friendly and their relationship dissolves without being apparent. They slowly lose interest in each other, and their interactions become less and less frequent.

Finally, they cut themselves off from the relationship irreversibly.

3. Tell Them To Stop Their Behavior.

If it is a friend who has recently turned toxic, a feasible way to deal with them is by telling them how their behavior has affected you, and you’d want them to stop.

The important thing is that we should understand the type of friendship we are having, or how our friend is changing for the worse, and take stock of how it is affecting us.

There are many ways that toxic friends can get under your skin and make life difficult for you.

People like them seem to be inescapable in our modern world, and every encounter with them can ruin your day, no matter what.

However, do not be certain that hat they will start and keep supporting you, your dreams, or your goals. They may do it for a while, but since it is not in their nature to be kind and good, they will revert to their old toxic selves.

4. Make A Clean Break From Them.

Sometimes, when our best friends become toxic or abusive, as the last option, we must decide to break it off.

Remember, toxic people are not a good option, even if they are your last option for friendships.

Even if you can’t seem to make friends easily, perhaps because of your shyness or social fear, compromising to have toxic friends will make your life unhappier and more stressful.

So, even if you have to end up feeling left out, miserable, and alone, a toxic friend is not the answer to your mental health or mental peace.

A clean break means blocking them on your social media and messengers, as well as blocking their email addresses and their phone numbers.

Discard anything that reminds you of them. Avoid places that bring them to your memory. Do things alone. Find a new hobby or a passion project to work on.

Join a group or charity where they are not present.

Are You The Toxic Friend?

Imagine you are the perpetrator 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. So, what can you do if your friends think so?

• Ask them if you are being toxic to them. If they point out that you have, get down to changing yourself positively.

• Make them feel comfortable around you. Let them feel they are welcome and wanted in your life.

• Focus on them, especially when you’re with them. Give them time away from you without letting them feel wrong about it. Let them have time with their other friends.

• Make plans for adventures and fun times together without forcing your decisions on them.

• Maintain relationship boundaries and do not ask them to tell or do things that make them uncomfortable. Ask them if they need your help before jumping to help.

• Do not take advantage of them. Do not abandon their side in times of need.

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. You have to trust a person before earning their trust. And once you earn theirs, you have to keep it safe. Learn how to build trust in a relationship.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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