10 subtle signs you’re in a toxic friendship (without realizing it)

I get it, friendships can be complicated. You might think you’ve got a solid squad, but sometimes the signs of a toxic friendship slip under the radar.

You see, we often give our friends the benefit of the doubt, overlooking little red flags here and there. After all, they’re our pals, right? They’ve got our backs… or do they?

You might be surprised to find that what you consider minor annoyances could actually be symptoms of something more harmful.

That’s right, you could be smack dab in the middle of a toxic friendship and not even realize it.

It’s a tough pill to swallow.

But don’t worry, you’re not alone in this. Many of us have been there, shrugging off our discomfort, thinking it’s just how friendships are.

Well, it’s time to shine a light on those subtle signs. No more brushing things off. It’s important to know where you stand.

So let’s dive in and uncover those 10 subtle signs that you’re entangled in a toxic friendship—without even realizing it.

This isn’t about pointing fingers or assigning blame. It’s about gaining awareness and making the best decisions for your social well-being.

Ready? Let’s get started.

1) Your gut is trying to tell you something

Have you ever had that weird, twisty feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’re around someone? Yeah, that’s your gut waving a big red flag. 

I recall hanging out with a friend who always left me feeling drained, and I couldn’t figure out why. It took me ages to realize that my gut had been nudging me all along, trying to tell me that something was off. 

It’s easy to dismiss this as nerves or even excitement, but trust me, your intuition is powerful

You know, the constant feeling of being on edge or when you become uneasy around a friend for no obvious reason, take a step back. 

That gut feeling? It’s often the first whisper of a friendship that might not be serving you.

2) It’s all take and no give

Think about the last time your friend needed something. You were there in a heartbeat, right? Now flip it. When you needed support, were they there with the same enthusiasm? Or did they seem to have a never-ending list of excuses?

A healthy friendship should be balanced with give and take. 

If you’re feeling like a one-person support team without any backup for yourself, it could be a sign of a one-sided, toxic friendship.

3) Communication feels like walking on eggshells

In any relationship, communication is the cornerstone. But if you find yourself rehearsing conversations or heavily censoring your words out of fear of how your friend will react, it’s another red flag.

 This isn’t just about avoiding conflict; it’s a sign you’re in a friendship where expressing yourself doesn’t feel safe. And when open, honest communication takes a back seat, resentment can build, leading to a toxic cycle that’s hard to break free from. 

When straightforward chats have turned into a mental minefield, it’s worth asking why that dynamic exists in the first place.

4) They diminish your feelings

When a friend consistently undermines your emotions, it can chip away at the foundation of your self-worth. You share something that’s been bothering you, and their response is to brush it off, tell you you’re overreacting, or—worse yet—use it as a segue to their own problems. 

It’s like your feelings are always playing second fiddle. This dismissal can slowly erode the trust and safety that friendship is supposed to provide. 

And true friends validate and acknowledge each other’s feelings, offering a sanctuary of understanding and compassion. 

5) Plans are consistently broken

I once had a friend who was the master of bailing at the last minute. Every time we’d make plans, I’d get that text—an apology, a vague excuse, and a promise to reschedule. 

At first, I was understanding. Life happens, right? But after the fifth, sixth, seventh time? It started to hurt. Each canceled plan felt like a small betrayal, as if my time—and by extension, I myself—didn’t really matter to them. 

When you can’t count on a friend to follow through on plans, it sends a silent message about their priorities. Sure, everyone needs to cancel now and then, but when it becomes the norm rather than the exception, it might be time to question the solidity of that friendship.

6) Your successes don’t seem to matter to them

outsmart a low level narcissist 10 subtle signs you’re in a toxic friendship (without realizing it)

You’ve just landed your dream job, or maybe you’ve achieved something you’re really proud of, and you can’t wait to share the news with your friend. But when you do, their reaction is underwhelming at best. 

There’s no excitement, no congratulations—just a half-hearted “that’s nice” or a quick change of subject. This lack of enthusiasm can feel like a cold shower on your warmest moments. 

It’s as though your victories aren’t worth celebrating unless they’re the ones in the spotlight. Friendships should be about lifting each other up, not raining on each other’s parades.

7) You find yourself making excuses for them

“Sorry, they’re just really busy,” or “They didn’t mean it that way,” might be phrases you find yourself repeating to others or even to yourself. 

If you’re constantly making excuses for a friend’s behavior, it could indicate that deep down, you know their actions aren’t okay. 

Here’s the thing: a good friend shouldn’t put you in a position where you feel the need to defend their questionable actions.

8) Conversations are always about them

Reflect on your recent interactions. Is there a pattern where every conversation revolves around them and their life? You might notice that your stories are frequently interrupted or overshadowed by their own experiences. 

When every discussion is hijacked to circle back to them, it’s a sign that the friendship isn’t grounded in mutual interest. 

In healthy friendships, there’s a balance of give-and-take in conversations just as there is in other aspects of the relationship.

9) You dread spending time with them

This one can be tough to admit, but it’s important to recognize. If the thought of meeting up with your friend fills you with more dread than joy, it’s a sign that something’s not right. 

Maybe it’s because you know it will be emotionally draining, or perhaps you’re subconsciously preparing for the negative energy they bring into your space. 

Friendship should add to your life, not detract from it. If hanging out feels more like an obligation than a pleasure, it might be time to reevaluate why you’re holding on.

10) The friendship feels like an emotional rollercoaster

One day you’re the best of friends, and the next, you’re getting the cold shoulder with no clue why. This kind of unpredictability can leave you feeling anxious and unsure about where you stand. 

A friendship shouldn’t have the same ups and downs as a soap opera—it should be a stable source of support and happiness in your life. If being around your friend feels like being strapped into an emotional thrill ride that you never signed up for, consider whether this dynamic is truly what you want in a friendship.

Last words

In summing up these 10 subtle signs, remember that recognizing them is the first step towards addressing the problem or moving on to healthier relationships. 

Friendships should bring positivity and growth into your life, not constant stress and uncertainty. 

Finally, trust yourself enough to acknowledge when a friendship isn’t serving your well-being and have the courage to make changes that support your happiness and peace of mind.

Picture of Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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