7 red flags you’re in a toxic friendship

Do you suspect that your friend is toxic? 

Or maybe you are wondering if the relationship between you is an unhealthy one?

If so, then read on to find out about the red flags of toxic relationships, and what to do about it.

1) It’s all about the other person

Think about you and your friend and your recent interactions and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the conversation always focused on them and rarely/never on you?
  • Does everything always go according to their ways and wants?
  • Does their well-being always come before yours?

If you’ve answered Yes to any of those questions, then it’s probably time to notice the little red flag waving in the background.

That said, there are other things to keep in mind. 

For instance, if your friend is very outgoing and you are introverted, it might be that your friend does most of the talking. Or if you are very easygoing, you might just fall into their plans and wants.

The important question to ask is “Am I ok with this?” 

If you are happy with the way things are then maybe it’s just a good fit as a friendship, or alternatively, a phase that the friendship is going through (e.g. they are depressed and are more self-focused than normal).

If you realize you aren’t happy, try speaking with them about it.  A good friend will listen to your feelings and try to accommodate you.

Whereas a bad friend is likely to engage in:

2) Disrespecting your boundaries

This comes back to your well-being.  

If you feel your needs aren’t being met by a friendship because it is mainly one way, and you bring this to your friend – this is you respecting yourself and setting boundaries.

Or perhaps you are happy to be there for them and do certain things, but you want to say no to other things.

Picture this: You recently helped them move house even though it was tiring for you. But now, fast forward two days, they are sad and want you to come over and cheer them up.  Except that you are tired from work and moving and need some time to rest and recharge. You tell them so.

Congrats! You have just set a boundary. What next?

Good friend – totally understands and is grateful for your help before

Toxic friend – thinks you should be available for them at all times, regardless of your own life.

This can lead to:

3) Them manipulating you 

The most toxic type of people are generally manipulators.  The Scholarly Community Encyclopedia defines psychological manipulation as “a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through abusive, deceptive, or underhanded tactics.”

In the situation above, where you set a boundary, the toxic friend may try to guilt-trip you to get you to change your mind.

They may say something vague and victim-like such as “no one ever cares about me when I am sad” or personal, such as “you only want to be my friend when it’s convenient for you”.

This is a cocktail of guilt-tripping with a twist of gaslighting. Yum! Or…not. Gaslighting is when someone exploitatively makes you question your reality.

How do we know this is guilt-tripping and gaslighting? Because you do care about them, and, in the example above, you helped them to move house, which doesn’t fit with the ‘only-friends-when-convenient’ story. 

Other examples of manipulation in friendships and relationships include:

  • Using your weak points against you  – they know what you feel vulnerable about and then use this knowledge to get you to do what they want
  • Isolating you from other friends and loved ones  – so that you become dependent on them, and don’t question what they say
  • The silent treatment – withdrawing and going quiet and angry when they don’t get what they want

4) You (almost always) feel drained after seeing them

red flags youre in a toxic friendship 7 red flags you’re in a toxic friendship

Do you consistently feel drained after spending time with your friend? If so then one of two things may be going on:

Not toxic – Your friend talks too much, and you haven’t learned to set your boundaries and interrupt if need be, or perhaps politely leave when you’ve had enough talking.

Toxic – You’ve let your friend know what you need (and don’t need) from the relationship to not feel drained. But they don’t pay attention and expect you to stay with them regardless of your energy/well-being levels.

There may also be a third thing: 

That you are genuinely not compatible as friends and the things that they enjoy talking about and doing leave you drained.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the friendship is toxic, but rather that your needs are different.

If this is the case, you can try to redefine your friendship. Perhaps by meeting up less often, or in structured ways like a coffee date.  Or if you feel that things have just come to a natural end, you can just let things wind down, perhaps kindly letting them know where they stand.

Example: “I’ve really loved our friendship and I treasure all the times we have had together.  At this point in my life I need to focus more on myself or (insert whatever things/people are going on in your life), so I think it’s best we spend less time together.  But I’m here for you in an emergency.”

This way you are still being a true friend (caring about their wellbeing), while giving structure and boundaries to your friendship.

5) They don’t celebrate your successes and joys

Let’s assume that your friend is not a manipulator. They can still be toxic.

Ask yourself this: When something good happens to you, such as a new job, relationship or even friendship, how does that friend react?

If they are consistently uninterested, or worse, actually diminish your achievements and successes, this is a sure sign of a toxic friend.  

Don’t get me wrong, nobody is perfect – there are times when a big step forward in your life can make a friend feel like you are leaving them behind.  I know that I felt sad when I found out that my best friend was moving permanently to another continent! 

But I allowed myself time to feel the sadness (this was so healing!) And I even expressed some of it to her (without aggression or judgment). Then, I focused inwards and reframed my thoughts so that I could feel happy for her, knowing that leaving was important for her and her life goals and dreams.

The lesson? A true friend will get over any such disappointment and prioritize your well-being and happiness instead.

6) They pour cold water on your ideas and dreams

This is similar to the example above, where your toxic friend can’t be happy for you. But it is even more insidious.

It creeps into your mind and your relationship before you have even had a chance to experience new joys and successes. 

The toxic friend doesn’t want you to do things without them, so they seek to devalue anything that they feel threatens them, such as a new idea or life plan, or even something like an educational course.

7) You both complain all the time 

Sometimes it takes two to make a toxic friendship, and so it’s always good to ask yourself: What is my role in this?

Are you both complaining all the time, sharing thoughts of disappointment or negativity? Without leaving room for gratitude? Then it may be time for a toxicity check!

Here’s a (weird but relevant) example – “no negging”

In one of my very first jobs, we had to knock on people’s doors asking them if they wanted to change energy suppliers to save money. The old adage applies which is that ‘people buy from people’.  So if you turn up at someone’s door looking depressed and sad, the chances are that no one will want to hear you out.

After a few rejections it could be tempting to team up with a friend and start seeing the worst in everything.  This negative chat usually brings your mood down and makes it harder to sell.

So that’s why the company had a ‘no negging’ policy.

Why is this weird? Well the term ‘negging’ was inappropriate for the situation, since ‘negging’ is a coin termed by pick-up artists (PUAs) who put you down in order to make you want them more (yes really!). 

Mirriam Webster notes how the word started to creep out of PUAs and into wider language.  While I don’t think we should popularize this term, it’s worth taking a look at the link. Because you can learn about other manipulative tactics that you should avoid!

To conclude

Although everybody does things that aren’t perfect from time to time, if you resonate with these red flags, it’s time to:

  1. Assess your wishes and boundaries
  2. Have a chat with your friend
  3. Decide if the issues can be fixed or
  4. Whether it’s time to end the friendship

Good luck on your healthy friendship journey!

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Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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