10 ways to spot an insincere friend, according to psychology

Simply put, fake friends are people who act like they care about you, but they really care more about what you can do for them.

These fair weather friends only behave like friends when it benefits them.

You always hear horror stories about toxic romantic relationships, but toxic friendships are just as prevalent and heartbreaking. In fact, in my experience, a friend’s betrayal hurts far more than a romantic partner’s. 

According to psychology, friendship is a reciprocal exchange, or at least it should be.

If you find yourself doing all the legwork because your “friend” is flighty at best, you may want to reassess your investment in that friendship.  

So who are these fake friends? And what’s the point?  

People with low self-esteem sometimes cultivate superficial friendships hoping to boost their confidence and self-worth. Since they have a low self-opinion, they seek outside validation to feel better about themselves. 

Here are a few red flags that can help you identify fake friends.

1) Two-faced

A fake friend probably acts sweet as pie to your face, but if you leave the room they’re gossiping about you so fast your head will spin.

Psychology defines this treachery as a form of relational aggression and a common calling card of fake friends.

When a friend always spills the tea on others to you, it’s only a matter of time before they start doing the same thing to you.

They want you to think you’re their co-conspirator. You’re not. You’re a victim.

A true friend would never betray your trust this way.

Nor would they trade your secrets for a moment in the spotlight.

A fake friend will do this and more without even blinking. 

2) Judgmental

A friend should always be honest with you, but not overly critical.

If your friend is forever calling your actions, ideas, or decisions into question, you may be dealing with a fake friend.

It’s true that no two people see eye-to-eye on everything and disagreements are inevitable in any relationship. This is natural and normal.

However, a fake friend will wield criticism as a weapon.

The goal is to make you feel insecure so they can feel superior.  

In order to tear you down, they’ll focus only on your weaknesses and faults, without acknowledging your strengths and triumphs.

Doesn’t sound like much of a friend to me. 

3) Weirdly competitive

Fake friends can be weirdly competitive with you, which usually comes from a place of envy. 

For example, whether you’re hanging out alone or with other friends, the insincere friend will always try to one-up you, or even mildly insult you under the guise of teasing.

But a real friendship is based on mutual respect. It isn’t a competition.

If a supposed friend is always trying to outdo you rather than being supportive, are they really a friend at all?

No, they are not.

Real friends revel in each other’s good fortune. They don’t see your accomplishments as a threat to their fragile ego. 

4) They flake on you

As we’ve discussed, fake friends tend to only come around when they want something from you but disappear or are suddenly swamped when you need them.

They are users, plain and simple.

So, they’re probably unreliable and don’t keep their word. When push comes to shove, you can’t count on them at all. 

They think nothing of making plans with you just to stand you up.

Or, they may commit to helping you with something important and flake at zero hour. 

5) Conditional friendship

Friends who seem understanding but secretly judge you often exhibit these subtle behaviors 10 ways to spot an insincere friend, according to psychology

This type of fake friendship is contingent on what the person stands to gain from an association with you, be it social clout, material gain, or other perks, real or imagined.

Let me present an example from my own life.

I once befriended a huge fan of my good friend’s band because I thought she was hilarious and smart.

And that’s just what she wanted me to think, because getting close to me meant being near my friend, which is what she really wanted, anyway.

Long story short, my “friendship” was just a vehicle to gain entrance to a circle she was desperate to be in, even if only peripherally.

It was pretty gross, and in hindsight I should’ve realized what the deal was.

So, yeah, they might use guilt, charm, or manipulation to get what they want from you. And they may even succeed.

6) They “yes” you to death

Do you have a friend who falls all over themselves to agree with you, be it music, fashion, or even politics?

You may be dealing with a fake friend, because a person who agrees with you on everything is most likely not as authentic as you may think.

Some people will automatically agree to fit in a certain group or to avoid stirring the pot, rather than expressing their real thoughts and opinions.

A real friendship means not being afraid of a difference of opinion.

You can both respectfully agree to disagree with no hard feelings. 

Psychological research suggests that this lack of honesty in a friend can indicate insincerity or manipulation on their part.

7) You always initiate contact

You reach out to the people that matter to you. Facts.

Initiating communication is a two-way street, and nobody should be doing all the work.

In fact, a lack of participation is one of the major indicators you’re in a fake friendship.

So if you’re the one that’s always sending the first text or picking up the phone to call, you might want to reevaluate that relationship.

8) One-way street

Fake friends are users, so it’s not surprising if your relationship feels a bit one-sided.

Every conversation revolves around their life.

They may not show much interest in what’s going on with you, because your role is to act as their appreciative audience, not an equal.

According to experts, if you’re going through something, this pseudo-friend will likely ghost you, because supporting you isn’t beneficial to them.

And even if they did show up for you, odds are their sympathy would feel forced and inauthentic.

9) They push your limits

Respecting each other’s boundaries is crucial in every relationship.

Of course, that can prove to be easier said than done.

Even in fully functional friendships, some lines are blurry and harder to see.

For example, you could have a really cool friend who crosses your boundaries by showing up at your home unannounced.

In their world, this may be perfectly acceptable behavior with a close friend, but you might see it differently. 

So you have two choices. You can grow more resentful by the day and lose an otherwise wonderful friendship, or respectfully address the issue. 

A real friend will understand, but an insincere person is only concerned about what works for them. It’s no big deal to put you out if they get what they want.

If you’ve already set boundaries but they’re still pushing their luck and dancing all over them, this person is not a good friend.

10) Straight-up betrayal

It stands to reason that fake friends will most likely end up betraying your trust. It’s just a matter of time. 

Remember my friend who used me for my connections? We remained friends for years until I realized she was in cahoots with my ex. That was the final straw.

Mutual trust is one of the fundamental building blocks of any successful relationship. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.

It’s just a sham.

Final thoughts

Real, genuine friendships are one of the greatest gifts life has to offer. In fact, studies prove that having good friends you can count on is linked to physical and mental health.

Fake friends, on the other hand, can cause at least as much emotional damage as a romantic partner, if not more.

We all know statistically that the odds are stacked against any one relationship succeeding. It’s sad When a romance ends, but that outcome is always present and possible.

Most of us probably consider platonic friendship a more permanent thing. But unfortunately, sometimes that’s not the case.

Some friends are just with us for a season or so, and that’s OK because nothing is more soul-sucking than being a friend to someone who considers you an accessory.

Picture of Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden lives in a New England forest paradise with her cats, kid, and trusty laptop. She has been writing since age 8 and is such a pack rat she can back that up with physical evidence. Music is her solace and words are her drug, so her house is strewn with records and books. Watch your step.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.