You’re not alone if you feel drained, exhausted, or bad about yourself after spending time with a specific friend. You may be involved in a toxic friendship.
Sometimes, it’s those who are closest to us who can hurt us the most.
There can be few things as heartbreaking as realizing that a “friend” doesn’t truly have your best interest at heart.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to get your power back. It starts with recognizing the signs of a toxic friendship and forming an action plan to cope.
A toxic friendship can be difficult to accept, as these dynamics may not start that way — if they did, you probably wouldn’t stick around for very long, right? Sometimes, the toxic elements build over time.
Some telltale signs include:
- insults or put-downs
- lack of reciprocity
- passive aggression or microaggressions
- ignoring your boundaries
- siphoning your energy, time, or resources
There are a few other ways you can tell when a friendship is turning sour.
Lack of trust
Just like in any relationship, healthy friendships are built and sustained on trust, says Cherrelle N. Shorter, a licensed clinical social worker out of Clarksdale, Mississippi.
“If your friend is quick to gossip about other people, or tell other people intimate details you’ve shared with them, then that not be a person you want to keep around long term,” she explains.
“Healthy friendships are supportive in nature. Naturally, we want people who are not only willing but eager to celebrate the big and small wins in our lives,” says Shorter.
But if they’re less than thrilled about the good things going on in your life, your friend may have feelings of jealousy.
Some red flags, Shorter says, can include:
- being slow to give you compliments
- competing or “one-upping” you
- making disparaging remarks
- minimizing your achievements
- not wanting to celebrate your successes with you
Healthy relationships require a great deal of honesty to feel safe, says Shorter.
“People are entitled to keep certain parts of their lives secret, and it’s perfectly fine to not share every aspect of your life. However, if you notice patterns of lying and deceit in your friendship, then that’s a sure sign that the friendship is unhealthy.”
For example, if you notice that you don’t want to tell your friend about your new promotion or partner, it could be a sign that you already expect it to turn out poorly.
Dr. Afshan Mohamedali, is a licensed clinical psychologist in Oyster Bay, New York. She says healthy friendships involve:
- the capacity to evolve over time
“They should change as the people in them change, and encourage positive growth at the same time. Healthy relationships are marked by a strong foundation to launch from, trying new things, failing, and drawing on the support to try again,” Mohamedali says.
She emphasizes that a strong friendship can make you feel:
- able to hold onto your sense of self
- considered and heard by the other person
Toxic friendships, on the other hand, can make you feel bad about yourself after an interaction. You may be around a toxic person if you regularly feel:
Toxic vs. abusive friendships
Toxic and abusive relationships are two different things, though neither is OK. If abusive behaviors are present in your friendship, it’s time to make an exit plan as soon as possible.
Some signs of abuse may include:
- coercive control
- gaslighting or lying
- narcissistic abuse
- isolating you from others
If this resonates with your experience, you can draw strong boundaries and put some distance between you and the other person. In some cases, you may have to go no-contact.
If your friendship no longer feels supportive, it may be time to make some changes.
Take stock of what you’re looking for
You may find it helpful to get clear on what you want. Try listing out what qualities you’d like to see in a healthy friendship, says Shorter.
“We often think about the qualities we want in a partner and actively pursue them,” she says. “I encourage my clients to approach their friendships with the same intention they do their romantic relationships.”
Consider talking with a trusted confidant
Dr. Lauren Napolitano, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says at times, it can help to talk with an objective third party, like a:
- a friend who doesn’t know the other friend
“Getting objective feedback about these interactions is the best way to get an alternate perspective. It might be that you misinterpreted this friend’s treatment of you, but it may also be that this person is not treating you very well,” she explains.
Try to talk with them about it
If this friend means a lot to you, consider initiating a conversation about how they hurt your feelings and see how they respond. “A true friend will reflect on this dynamic and participate in this conversation in a meaningful way,” says Napolitano.
Try to use I statements that explain how you feel. For example, “I felt hurt after our last interaction. I’d like to figure out what happened.”
Consider distancing yourself from them
There’s nothing wrong with taking some space, as needed. “If the person counterattacks you, it might be time to take a break from the friendship while emotions are heated,” says Napolitano.
Try working with a therapist
Sometimes, people may stay in harmful relationships for reasons that are difficult to understand on the surface. For example, this may be the case for those with an insecure attachment style or pattern of codependency.
If this sounds like it could be your situation, a licensed professional can help you:
- grieve the loss of your friend
- understand your motivations
- learn how to set boundaries
- release patterns that no longer serve you
You may find it helpful to use our search tools to find a therapist near you.
Healthy friendships depend on:
- mutual respect
- the ability to evolve over time
Toxic friendships, on the other hand, can make you feel bad about yourself.
You may find it helpful to consider:
- talking with a confidant
- confronting the person who hurt you
- taking space if you need it
If there are any signs of abuse in your relationship, consider ending the connection and working with a therapist to help you heal.