Friendship is good for our mental, physical, and emotional health.
But there’s a hidden danger lurking behind a friendship that can make it a real drag and actually harm your wellbeing.
I’m talking about fake friends.
We’ve all experienced it and some of us have even been burned multiple times by toxic people, freeloaders, users, and abusers.
Fake friends don’t even always intend to hurt us, but they inevitably do, because they undervalue and exploit our kindness in order to manipulate and profit from us.
If you’re currently dealing with fake friends there are likely a lot of questions going around in your head along with a heavy dose of confusion.
What are fake friends and why do they act the way they do?
The answer isn’t just on the surface, even though fake friends often do have a certain stereotypical style.
As PS1 sings in their song “Fake Friends:”
You hate those West Coast plastic
Tinsel, Botox, perfect smiles (Umm hi)
I can relate…
One more fake plastic smile and I just might become a hermit and move to the middle of a remote forest.
If fake friends are getting a little bit too much for you to handle you’re not alone.
There’s practically a fake friend epidemic.
Why fake friends are ruining you
Fake friends are a hazard to your health.
But what exactly are they?
Bestselling author and behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards defines fake friends as:
“Someone who makes you fake it — fake liking, fake authenticity, or faking someone you are not, in order to be friends with them. If a fake friend finds out who you truly are, they probably won’t be friends with you anymore.
You don’t feel comfortable, genuine, or emotionally secure around fake friends. You also wouldn’t trust your fake friend with the keys to your house.”
Fake friends also tend to use you.
It’s a constant guessing game of where you stand and being toyed with for your money, time, attention, and affection.
As Edwards acknowledges fake friendships are “the kind of friendships that really drain you.”
The scientific data on how fake friends drain us is also clear: having friends who are downers and manipulators jacks up our blood pressure and heart rate, causing a range of health issues and worsening existing ones.
As for mental health?
Fake friends should be paying your therapy bills!
Negative and toxic friends use all sorts of twisted tools in their fake friend toolbox to take advantage of you and gossip, flip-flop, criticize, compete, lie and backstab that can do real damage to your wellbeing.
Many times fake friends don’t even consciously mean to be so undermining and toxic: but that actually just makes their behavior and actions all the more dangerous and hard to rein in.
If your friends are doing these kind of things to you it’s time to take stock of how much longer you can remain friends with them.
How to break free from fake friends
I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending you’re not smart enough to see warning signs in friends and know when things are getting a little iffy.
The truth is that friendships start – and get deeper – in many unexpected ways, and it’s not always predictable which friends will end up standing the test of time or going sideways.
In other cases you may be in social situations or need help in a time of crisis and inadvertently end up latched on to a manipulative narcissist without even realizing it until weeks or months later.
The important thing is to take stock of your friendships and stand up for yourself if you’re dealing with fake friends.
I know that for me Ideapod’s free masterclass on love and intimacy has made a big difference. In it, world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandé explores the difference between real connection and love and false ideas and attachments that cause us suffering.
It’s not only meaningful for romantic relationships: it also has a lot of application to our friendships and rooting out fake friends.
Rudá has brought shamanism to many people who weren’t previously familiar with it and might have considered it inapplicable to modern culture and society. The truth is that the deep wisdom Rudá brings from his interactions with Amazonian tribes and shamanic journeys is very much relevant and powerful to the lives that you and I lead today.
Thousands of Ideapod readers have said what a big difference the masterclass has had for them in improving their friendships and love life, and in building up the relationship they have with themselves.
Because the truth is that fake friends flourish where self-love is lacking …
So, now we’ll get right down to it.
Here are the 12 signs that say your friends are fake.
1) They are selfish.
It’s actually good to be a little bit selfish and take care of your needs.
If you don’t, who will?
But fake friends take selfishness to the next level. They don’t even try to hide it in many cases.
If they won’t get something out of an interaction or decision they won’t be interested, and when they do “play nice” it’s just to gain leverage and make more demands later – including using emotional blackmail.
According to Live About:
“It’s nearly impossible to determine the selfishness in a friend until you’ve known them for a while and have seen them in a variety of situations. After all, we’ve all got our quirks and we can all be selfish at times.
Friendship, like any relationship, isn’t always an equal division in who “takes.”
To be labeled a selfish friend, someone that embodies that term wholly means that the times when they put someone else before themselves are rare.”
The truth is that friendship is a two-way street. But for a fake friend friendship is just a giant vending machine and they mash the buttons whenever they want something.
It’s not that you should be “keeping track” of the give-and-take, it’s that even despite your best efforts you notice this friend is always taking.
And that’s not cool.
As Michael Bassey Johnson says, “Stay away from lazy parasites, who perch on you just to satisfy their needs, they do not come to alleviate your burdens, hence, their mission is to distract, detract and extract, and make you live in abject poverty.”
2) Your relationship with them is conditional.
“Are your friends truly your friends? If you didn’t have what you have, or do the things that you do for them, would you still have all of your so-called friends? Do they like you for you, or do they like what you can offer them? It’s time to be honest with yourself and face your truth. Fake friendships aren’t welcome here!” ― Stephanie Lahart
Fake friends are there for you when it works for them.
They’re around when they can get something from you or you are useful to them in some way.
But when you need them? It’s a roll of the dice and more often than not it’s going to come up snake eyes.
Fake friends are snakes who slither away when the going gets tough, but cozy up to you and whisper sweet things in your ear when they want a favor or need some advice.
They may seem like they’re your closest pal during a breakup and then a few months later you realize they met someone new and never call anymore.
Newsflash: they were using you.
Other examples? Borrowing money from you, using you for sex, using you as a sounding board to vent, using you to look cool in public, using you for career connections and advice … The list goes on.
Real friends don’t wax and wane based on conditions, because they … actually like you.
Watch out for the fakies, because they can be insidious and wear all sorts of masks.
Even worse, watch out that you yourself don’t start exhibiting some of the tactics and behaviors of a fake friend in your interactions with others …
3) They feed on gossip and drama.
This is a flashing neon sign that’s located right in the middle of Fake Friend Boulevard.
Fake friends love to revel in scandals and controversy. Other people’s misery is their morning orange juice.
They also have a need to constantly connect all the gossip and drama going on with them. In some cases they do this by actually causing and exacerbating the drama.
Sounds super fun, right?
Not so much.
“While some of us hate pointless drama, for some people creating (or engaging in) it is energizing. For others that are Empaths or a Highly Sensitive People (HSP) like me, drama is completely draining.
“Because we pick up on other’s emotional state as well as the effects that certain actions can have on others (such as causing pain or sadness), drama is incredibly painful. Worse, the more you are around a drama-maker, the more that your energy is tuned into their fear, sadness, and anger.”
Fake friends who roll around in drama and play it up are engaging in a type of relational aggression, which is a kind of bullying.
They are essentially bullies who want to feel superior to others or enjoy their problems in order to feel entertained, powerful, and amused.
Avoid these kind of fake friends like the plague.
4. They act weird when you’re with other people.
Fake friends who manipulate and use you often have issues with narcissistic behavior. They believe they are entitled to do what they want and that they are the center of the universe.
When you’re out in public or around other friends they may act weird in a few ways.
One way is by sort of downplaying that they’re even friends with you and dismissing you as if they forgot who you are. Even if you went out with them to an event, meet-up or in a social situation they can act like they’re doing you a favor even to be around you and make you feel like garbage.
Another way that fake friends may behave around others is by pretending to be more easygoing and chill.
They might even do a few generous things or be less manipulative and gossipy.
In addition to making you feel like your past perceptions of them might be wrong, this up and down ride is emotionally exhausting and highlights just how untrustworthy and unreliable fake friends really are.
5) You have to fake things so they like you.
Fake friends require fake things in common. Not only can you not trust them or really know their underlying agenda for hanging out with you or contacting you.
You also feel pressure to “live up to” whatever their interests, expectations and lifestyle is.
The constant feeling that you have to go above and beyond so your fake friends give you the stamp of approval is draining and frankly unacceptable.
If you have to change and chip away at yourself to feel accepted and liked then those aren’t real friends.
Real friends may tell you criticisms in a friendly way or be hard on you from time to time, but they won’t give you that disturbing feeling that you’re not good enough for who you are.
6) They are pathological liars.
Fake friends wouldn’t know the truth if it came up and bit them in the a**. They lie like they breathe and even when they tell the truth it’s usually only in the service of a greater lie.
You must not have had a truly fake friend yet…
Once you come across one of these emotionally manipulative narcissists you’ll see that if anything I’m under-exaggerating.
As therapist Perpetua Neo puts it, fake friends will often lie to get sympathy points or to place themselves at the center of a drama in which they’re always the star who needs to get doted on:
“They may play up the chaotic nature of their lives to get sympathy,” Neo says, adding “they might tell loads of stories that don’t make sense, don’t add up.”
All of us have times when the full truth is lacking, but nobody should be putting up with manipulators and narcissists who constantly twist the truth or straight out lie.
7) Fake friends are extremely manipulative.
In addition to massaging the truth, fake friends are manipulative people. They look at every situation purely from one of self-interest.
Your friendship is not a factor to them.
If they hear of a great job opportunity that you’d be well-suited for but telling you about it might make them less likely to get the job they’ll fail to mention it to you.
If they help you with some advice they’ll ask you for a loan a few days later and remind you of how they helped you out.
No matter what happens fake friends always have an “angle.” You can almost see the gears turning while they calculate what they can get out of you from any given situation.
No matter what happens they milk you for their own gain.
It would be better in many cases to have no friends instead of having fake friends.
8) They speak badly of you when you are not around.
As I wrote above, fake friends love drama. They’re attracted to it like bees to honey – especially drama where they’re the star.
Often they drum up drama by talking sh*t about people behind their backs.
It’s the oldest story in the book but it works like a charm because quite frankly spreading rumors and negative stuff about someone without their knowledge is very hurtful and enraging.
Real friends come to you when they have an issue. Fake friends go chirp about it around town and see what kind of a clamor they can cause.
Fake friends are manipulative people and they will talk behind your back or give two versions of the same story to play mind games and pull the puppet strings on friends and strangers alike.
If you find yourself getting pissed off I have some advice you might not expect: embrace it.
I don’t mean to pick up a chair and smack your fake friend (this isn’t WWE, guys), but embracing your anger instead of repressing it can actually be a powerful tool.
Society teaches us that anger is “bad” and many of try to push it down or ignore it our of the belief that thinking about sunshine and roses or repeating positive affirmations will make us a happy, well-balanced person.
In fact, anger can become one of your greatest powers if you learn to channel it in the right way as the shaman Rudá Iandê’s free masterclass on turning anger into your ally explains.
Rudá shows you how anger can become a transformational and empowering force and help you overcome a passivity and fear.
Here’s a link to the masterclass again. It’s 100% free and there are no strings attached.
9) Fake friends are only situational.
What I mean by this is that fake friends often only exist in one environment or place. They don’t translate into other contexts or places because … they’re not actual friends.
The most common example is someone who seems to be a great friend at work.
But invite them out for a drink on the weekend and you get a blank stare or a text message that’s left on read.
Another example would be a friend from college who you try to contact later only to realize they were your pal in law school while you were both hitting the books but now they don’t have time for you.
Are they really “fake”? Maybe it’s a bit harsh to say fake, and maybe your times together were epic. But the friendship was certainly temporary and situational.
Fake friends will be your buddy in a certain context, but they don’t actually want to be friends or deepen your friendship in any way down the line.
Your friendship is purely situational. And facing this reality will save you a lot of disappointment and fruitless attempts at making the friendship into something more.
10) Fake friends are jealous.
They’re not only jealous of time, energy, attention, money, and help that you give others, they’re also jealous of your accomplishments and successes.
They give out compliments like Scrooge gives out money and they look at your achievements with jealousy.
They aren’t glad you got promoted, they want to get the promotion for themselves.
They’re not happy you’re in love, they’re resentful that you’re having a better love life right now than they are.
As Neo says:
“They want to compete with you, even if you’re not competing with them. Even if you’re in a completely different field, they want the same things you do.”
It can become downright pathological.
Can’t a friend just be happy for a friend?
A real friend can, but a fake friend is just riding your coattails.
11) They are overly critical.
Fake friends are often very critical people. They may wrap their judgments up as “well-intended” or just trying to help you out.
But the words and judgments are going to sting.
And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know when a fake friend is just pushing you down to make themselves feel stronger.
Anything you do always has some issue. Their tone of voice is condescending, frustrated, coaxing. You’re always the person who’s out of the loop and doing the wrong thing.
And even when you succeed you could have done so much better.
Because the truth is a fake friend is a bully.
And even though it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that someone you believed you are close with is basically just toying with and putting you down, it’s vital you do realize it so you can take steps to address it and exit the friendship.
12) You can’t trust them.
Even though fake friends can sometimes have bright moments where they seem to be warming up a bit or showing a genuine side…
It’s inevitably followed by a let-down, a turn-around and a big disappointment.
Fake friends hurt because even when you see the potential they could have if they’d stop being so shifty and manipulative you can’t do it for them.
And the truth is that you may find yourself deliberately sharing less information or news of your life with them because you are scared how they’ll criticize, twist it, comment or manipulate it.
You can’t trust fake friends.
Because even when they seem to be rounding the corner and on your side they always double back.
At the end of the day fake friends are a real liability who make your life harder and even if you have some great times with them it’s usually better overall to just move on.
Surround yourself with real friends
Fake people become fake friends.
They waste your time, money, affection and energy and leave you stranded with an empty feeling inside.
The friends we choose to spend time with have a massive impact on our wellbeing and happiness.
As Morgan Manganello writes, toxic friendships can truly damage us:
“While there are even more manifestations of an abusive friendship, the simplest way to recognize this situation is by asking yourself: Do you feel worse about yourself directly following an interaction with your “friend” than you did before the interaction?”
Real friendship isn’t always easy, but it tends to be a mutually supportive experience that has solidarity and compassion.
Fake friendship can sometimes seem easy, but it’s always conditional, situational and limited to a transactional back and forth. And when it runs out of gas you’re stranded on the highway feeling lonesome as can be.
As University of California at San Diego Professor Emeritus Dr. Saul Levin writes, the importance of friendship can’t be overstated:
“Good friends are open, genuine, and honest with each other. They tolerate each other’s frailties, appreciate their differences, and honestly criticize when necessary. Over many years, they participate in each other’s celebrations and marriages, and in their children’s and grandchildren’s milestones. They are there for each other during illnesses and setbacks, and some are left to mourn the losses of their dear old friends, almost as a loss of a part of themselves.
You know that some of the feelings and experiences you shared with friends during good times and sad are among your most cherished memories.”
Letting go of a fake friend
If you have a fake friendship that’s bringing you down then it can be time to walk away.
The first step isn’t actually to go confront them, nor is it to “ghost” your fake friend.
The most important first step is to build up your own self-esteem and self-value.
As Dr. Kelly Campbell puts it:
“By bolstering your self-esteem, you’ll start weeding toxic people out of your life because their treatment will no longer fit with how you see yourself.”
Instead of beginning by getting rid of the friends who are using and abusing you, begin by valuing and maximizing your own potential and let the fake friends who just want to leech off you fall away naturally.
Sometimes confrontation or messy scenes will be inevitable – particularly with these dramatic fake friend types – but at the end of the day when you’re on a self-improvement arc it won’t hurt nearly as much and you’ll be able to wish your fake friends all the best in the future and actually mean it, too.
Take this time to reflect on your relationships
Fake people can pop up in many situations, including in our family and at work.
It can be more difficult when you have a fake person who is close to you such as a relative, through no choice of your own.
If your fake friends are sapping your energy and feelings of self-worth and even causing depression, anxiety and low self-esteem then it’s best to do what you can to distance yourself from them and ultimately to even end the friendship completely as much as that is within your control.
It’s OK to put yourself first, and if a fake friend is pulling you down sometimes you need to simply draw the line and say enough is enough.
“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.”
– Jim Morrison
As Campbell writes, it’s up to you to set your limits on what you will or won’t accept from friends:
“You set the example for how others should treat you so be kind to yourself and treat yourself well.”
Should you break up with your fake friends?
At the end of the day, the decision is yours. But if you decide that it is best for you to part ways with fake friends then all the power to you.
Remember: you are in charge of who you let get close to you and who you spend time with. Make the best choices for your health and happiness as well as to help shape the person you want to become.