8 ways to detect a toxic friend, according to psychology

The people around us either lift us up and energize us or drag us down and drain us.

Of course, we would all prefer our inner circle to be the former. So why are so many of our friendships the latter?

We do not purposely choose toxic friends, but we may not realize that the people around us are not good for us.


While some signs of toxic friends are pretty obvious, such as if they criticize and belittle us, there are many less apparent signs, too. And that’s what I’m talking about today.

Here are 8 subtle ways to detect that a friend is secretly toxic, according to psychologists…

1) They gossip about other people

As motivational speaker and podcast host Mel Robbins says, if your friends gossip about others, you can almost guarantee they are talking about you to others.

Research shows that gossiping is a manipulative tactic called triangulation that people use to bond with others.

So when your toxic friend gossips about other people to you, they are trying to build a bond with you.

That means when you’re not around, they use YOU as a form of gossip to bond with other people!

2) They are constantly complaining

There is a well-known saying, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

This essentially means that we absorb the energy of the people we are around. 

So, if you’re around someone who is always complaining, guess what? You’re going to become a negative complainer, too.

Pessimistic people are incredibly draining to be around. They zap your energy and lower your vibration.

If you have a toxic friend who does this, you will likely notice that you always feel down or depressed after spending time with them.

3) They don’t show you support

When you’re on the path of personal or professional growth, you quickly notice who is happy for you and who is not.

If you’re thinking, “Why don’t my friends ever show up for me,” this could indicate that their friendship is not entirely genuine. 

They might say they are happy for you or proud of you, but their actions do not match their words.

For example:

  • They never attend events that matter to you, such as your birthday party or events where you are performing/speaking/hosting, etc.
  • They never read/listen to/watch any of the work you share.
  • They never like or share your social media posts. 

If someone genuinely supports you, it will show in some form.

Your friends don’t have to be your biggest cheerleaders or fans, but if they are genuinely proud, they will take the time to support you.

In some cases, toxic friends won’t even pretend to be proud of you. 

Instead, they might just never ask you about your life and work and change the subject whenever you tell them about a win of yours….

4) They never congratulate you on your wins

red flags youre in a toxic friendship 8 ways to detect a toxic friend, according to psychology

According to author and former American football player Trent Shelton, one sign a friend is toxic is if you feel uncomfortable telling them about your wins.

Trent explains you can tell if this is the case if someone:

  • Never congratulates you on your achievements
  • Changes the conversation when you tell them about your wins
  • Tries to minimize your achievements or make you doubt yourself
  • Isn’t excited to hear that you are doing well

The people around you should be celebrating and crying with you. 

They should cheer you on when things are going well and offer you a sincere shoulder to cry on when things are going wrong.

So, if you have a friend who is only there for you during the good OR bad times, this suggests they may be toxic.

Let’s talk more about the importance of friends during hard times…

5) They disappear whenever you need them

Our friends should be a solid support network – people we can rely on when needed.

If someone is always unavailable whenever you need a friend, or they regularly cancel your plans even though they know you’re currently struggling, this shows they are selfish and unreliable.

Obviously, we can’t expect someone to be there at our every beck and call, but it is not too much to expect a friend to be there when you need them the most.

Of course, it also works both ways. So before you call someone toxic for not being there for you, consider if you are there for them.

Typically, with toxic friends, it is always about them. They always have something going on, and when they do, you show up. 

But on the rare occasion you need them, they are nowhere to be seen. 

Or they will minimize your problems and continue going on about their drama, which we’ll discuss next…

6) They chase drama

You know those people who seem to attract drama? The ones who always have something big going on?

Well, you should avoid these people like the plague!

These types of friends are incredibly toxic. They call you daily with a new problem, expecting you to put your life on hold (once again) and listen to their issues.

But they aren’t telling you about their drama because they want your help or advice. No, they simply want to vent.

If you try to offer them advice, they will ignore it or make up an excuse.

After this scenario happens several times, you might get frustrated, thinking, “Why won’t they just take my advice for once?”

Here’s why…

They thrive on drama!

Despite what they may say, they unconsciously need drama in their lives. That’s why they will sabotage their peace whenever things seem to be going well. 

Psychologists believe the reason for this is the excess of adrenaline that is produced during the highs and lows of drama. This feeling becomes addictive, so the person continues to seek out drama to get that ‘high’ again.

Moreover, someone in the middle of drama is the center of attention, and toxic people CRAVE attention!  

So another sign that a friend is toxic is if everything is always about them…

7) They only talk about themselves

Friendships should be two-way streets. A true friend will genuinely want to know how you are and what is going on in your life. Meanwhile, a toxic friend only focuses on themself. 

You can detect a toxic friend if they:

  • Never ask about your life
  • Always change the subject to turn the focus on them
  • Frequently call you to moan and vent

Another way this might manifest in a friendship is if, whenever you hang out, you find yourself doing things to help your friend.

For example, let’s say you plan to meet up for coffee. But at the last minute, your friend tells you they have many errands to run and asks if you can help them with these things instead.

These types of people are incredibly selfish and bring nothing to the friendship. 

8) They envy you

ways to deal with a toxic friendship and how to know when to cut ties 8 ways to detect a toxic friend, according to psychology

You cannot have a healthy friendship with someone who wants your life (in a negative way).

A little jealousy is healthy, but when it turns into envy, it is not.

When someone envies us, they think that they deserve our life and are entitled to what we have, even though they’ve never made the sacrifices we made to achieve them. 

Sometimes, this envy goes even further, and the toxic friend will believe they are more deserving of our life than we are.

If you feel like this is the case with one of your friends, it’s essential you cut ties with them ASAP because if you don’t, they will try to sabotage things for you sooner or later.

According to LMHC Richard Zwolinski, an envious friend can try to ‘steal’ whatever it is of yours that they want, such as your partner, career, or money. 

To do so, they will resort to evil actions to make you lose these things. They believe that if you no longer have them, it will be easier for them to gain them.

How to deal with toxic friends

So, what do you do if you’ve identified a toxic friend in your life?

The best way to deal with toxic people is to let go of the friendship and focus on the friends who support and genuinely care for you.

Of course, the longer said person has been in our life, the harder it is to let them go. We may think, “But they were a good friend before; maybe they can be again?”

It’s important to remember that just because a friendship served you many years ago doesn’t mean it will in the future.

Still, you don’t always have to cut them out completely. But you do have to change their position in your life.


By setting boundaries, like:

  • Gradually reducing the time you spend with them
  • Telling them you can only answer their calls between a certain time
  • Making it clear that you will not tolerate them calling you to complain or gossip

Final thoughts

We all evolve at different paces, and toxic friendships often develop when one person grows and another doesn’t.

As we grow and evolve, we must question whether the people around us are still right for us.

If spending time with someone drains you rather than energizes you, this is a clear sign that it is time to let that friendship go.

Trust your gut and spend time with the people who show true loyalty and support!

Picture of Gemma Clarke

Gemma Clarke

I am a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher and an experienced content writer in the spirituality and personal growth space. I’m passionate about sharing my expertise through the power of words to inspire and guide others along the path of personal and spiritual development.

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