Red Flags Your Friends Are Actually Toxic

Friends are an important part of a fully functioning adult life. Having a support system you can rely on is crucial to your overall health. In the case of most people, this system is their group of friends. Mostly, this is because your friends are people of your own age who are likely going through similar physical, emotional and financial struggles. Good friends care about you. They are the shoulders to cry on after a tough day. But what if your support system isn't actually supportive? Loving, caring, and supportive friends can do wonders for your overall mental well-being. Likewise, toxic friends can emotionally drain you and leave you exhausted.

A toxic person is "someone who regularly displays actions and behaviors that hurt others or otherwise negatively impact the lives of the people around them," explains Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy (via MindBodyGreen). Toxic friends actively work to put you down constantly. This toxic friend could be your BFF or neighbor, making it crucial to identify them — and, more importantly, to distance yourself from them. The tricky part is that there are toxic people, and then there are people who merely display toxic behavior on a bad day. While the earlier persona is problematic, the latter isn't necessarily the same. 

Here are some of the signs that your friend is indeed a toxic person, along with some actionable tips to handle them. Spoiler alert: Self-care and self-love are crucial in dealing with a toxic friend. 

They don't respect your boundaries

Setting boundaries is key to every healthy, functioning relationship, as is asserting and observing said boundaries. When a boundary is set, we expect others to respect and adhere to it. Your boundaries could be around any topic, and need not make sense to everyone. 

If a friend continuously breaks the boundaries you set, chances are that they are toxic. Sometimes, this is a conscious act; on other occasions, this happens unconsciously. Either way, when boundaries are breached frequently, there's a risk that your relationship will go into uncharted territory (e.g., extreme co-dependency).  When boundaries are broken, you have to take a stand. When someone violates your boundaries and you let them be, you are indirectly telling them that it is okay to cross the lines you have drawn.

According to Psych Central, if restating your boundaries doesn't bring any change to their behavior, the next step is to communicate the consequences of their actions clearly. If this also doesn't yield any results, the next course of action is to limit your engagement with the friend. This can mean different things, depending on how you want to go about it. For starters, you can choose to spend less time with them. This will provide some much needed self-introspection time for all the parties involved. If this doesn't work out, you may also opt to avoid all contact — or even completely cut ties. 

They are only concerned about themselves

One-sided friendships are no easy game. They are emotionally (and sometimes, physically) draining. A friendship should be equally beneficial to all the parties involved. There could be times when one friend needs more support or care, but if your friend is solely concerned about themselves all the time, it is definitely a red flag. "One-sided friendships are characterized by one person doing significantly more than their fair share of the 'heavy-lifting' within a relationship," explains licensed marriage and family therapist Tiana Leeds (via MindBodyGreen). 

If you are always making plans to meet, always initiating conversations, finding yourself on the giving end of support way too frequently, or starting to feel resentment toward a friend, you might be in a one-sided friendship. Another sign is when you are confused about your position in their life. "If you find yourself frequently wondering whether your friend cares about you or actually wants to get together, it's probably not a balanced friendship between two mutually invested people," explains Leeds.

Sometimes, this behavior stems from the friend being unaware of your feelings. In such cases, having an open conversation with the friend can save your friendship. Alternatively, you can pull back a little to relieve yourself of the resentment you may have been building up. If you feel that the emotional drain on your mental health is not worth the friendship, it is likely time to end your relationship.

They peer-pressure you into doing things you aren't comfortable with

Peer pressure is when you feel pressured to engage in an activity that you normally would not engage in. This can be a huge problem among friend groups, regardless of age. According to Choosing Therapy, statistics show that 63% of young women feel pressured to dress a certain by their peers, and that 70% of teen smokers started due to pressure from their friends. While you can succumb to peer pressure at any age, the way peer pressure manifests in children or adolescents is slightly different from how it manifests in adults. In adults, peer pressure "can look like working the same long hours as others, persuading others to do something you wouldn't want to do yourself and anything in between."

The best way to deal with a friend who pressures you into doing things you aren't comfortable with is to sit down and have a conversation with them. Be honest about how their behavior affects you, share your boundaries, and assert them strictly. If the friend still doesn't change their behavior, the next course of action is to remove yourself from that environment. As a side note, it will be helpful for you to figure out the root cause of you succumbing to peer pressure. Setting clear boundaries and expectations for yourself is as important as setting them for others.

They dump their feelings on you

Lending your support to a friend in need is emotional labor. Not everyone has this availability at all times. If your friends dump their feelings on you without confirming your emotional availability, it is likely that you are going to end up emotionally burnt out. 

Emotional labor involves managing your own emotions to deal with a task at hand. In this particular case, the task is to be there for your friend; to do this, you have to be in the right headspace to keep your feelings and prejudices at bay and objectively evaluate the situation. For some people, the process to achieve this can be painfully long — and to expect this availability on-demand from anyone is not the characteristic of an accommodating person. "Friends are not your therapists, and being a good friend does not mean abandoning your well-being to take care of others," reaffirms sex and relationships therapist Shadeen Francis, LMFT (via MindBodyGreen).

The next time a friend needs emotional labor which you are unavailable to provide at the moment, convey that to them. Alternatively, you can provide a later date to follow up. Francis says that by doing this, you are acknowledging the gravity of the situation your friend is in by communicating that they deserve your complete emotional presence.

They display narcissistic qualities

A narcissist is someone who has narcissistic personality disorder. Identifying a narcissist is not an easy task, especially if it is someone super close to you. According to BioMed Central, narcissists are often arrogant, entitled, envious, and exploitative, with little empathy and a constant need for attention and admiration. 

If your friend always wants to be the best, desires control, or always seeks praise, there is a high chance that they're narcissistic (via MindBodyGreen). Dealing with a narcissist is extremely challenging, as they lack the ability to perceive all the aspects of a situation and tend to approach things solely from their perspective. Narcissists deal with constant anxiety, and have a tendency to project this onto their loved ones and accuse them of being unloving or unsupportive.

According to Healthline, confronting a narcissist rarely works out. In most cases, they are resistant to change, and may even resort to lies and manipulation to get their way. When dealing with a narcissist, having a support system (and clear boundaries) is crucial. It is also vital to not let them affect your self-esteem. Engage in positive self-talk and have a self-care routine. Also, understand that narcissists require professional help. If the relationship gets abusive, move on. When the person starts throwing accusations, threats, and insults or attempts to manipulate or gaslight you, take it as a sign to officially sign out.

They drain your energy

While relationships are essentially energy exchanges, they aren't supposed to leave you gasping for breath. If you feel tired every time you hang out with someone, you might be dealing with an energy vampire. According to MindBodyGreen, an energy vampire latches onto the people around them, feeding off their energy in various ways: guilt-tripping, envy, constant blaming, bullying, throwing tantrums, whining, or even micro-managing. 

While it is not possible to walk away from every energy vampire in your life, there are ways you can make it easier on yourself. Start by creating "energetic boundaries." By not taking their words or actions to heart or giving them space in your head, you are denying them the ability to suck your energy. Alternatively, you can make it clear that their hurtful words or actions aren't acceptable. Lastly, an energy vampire's behaviour is reflective of their underlying issues, not your personality, so don't let them question your worth. 

Feng shui consultant Jen Nicomedes Stone shares an exercise to help you deal with energy vampires: "Visualize a protective light around you, like an energy shield. This can help you remain energetically neutral without letting their words or actions cut or affect you."

They are jealous of your other friends

Jealousy is a pretty common human emotion. While your friend showing symptoms of jealousy once in a while is acceptable behavior, long-term feelings of jealousy can have dire consequences that impact your friendship. Hence, it is important to identify the signs of jealousy in a friend or even in yourself. 

According to clinical and forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Judy Ho, the earliest tell-tale sign of jealousy is "when a friend seems withdrawn when things are going well for you" (via Oprah Daily). Left unchecked, this withdrawal can proceed to backhanded, passive-aggressive jabs. Another sign is them feeling the need to unload all the ways they are thriving when you mention the slightest positive update in your life.

While dealing with jealousy, it is important not to downplay your success. "Being pitied reinforces a person's sense of powerlessness," says spiritual leader Gabrielle Bernstein. As Dr. Ho explains, not all jealous friends need to be extricated from your life. "Our brains encode specific things in our memories stronger than others. This can cause us to have extreme reactions in a moment when our better judgment would tell us to feel or engage differently. So, with this in mind, it doesn't necessarily mean that a friend who acts jealous isn't truly supportive of you." But when a friend starts purposefully interfering in your life with the intention of hampering your happiness and success, it is time to say goodbye.

You feel relieved when your plans get canceled

Sometimes, we are unable to point out the exact red flag in a potentially toxic friendship. Since every action has a reaction, you can look within and find reactionary behavior to a toxic friendship. 

Friends are the folks we love, serving as our support systems. Ideally, the prospect of hanging out or connecting with them should make you happy. While you might not always have the mental or physical capacity to spend time with your friends, if you find yourself dreading the plans that you have already made or searching for reasons to cancel, you might be in a toxic friendship. 

If this is a pattern, it might be helpful for you to take a step back and analyze why you feel the way you feel and find the root cause of your behavior. This will enable you to decide whether to salvage your friendship or distance yourself. If a call or text from a dear friend is making you stressed to the point that you would rather not look at your device, it is a sign to reconsider the friendship, explains clinical psychologist Jill Squyres (via Women's Health).

You feel obligated to be their friend

Friendship is not an obligation, but a conscious, active decision taken by one or more people to enrich their lives in various ways. If you are friends with someone because you feel a sense of obligation, you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship with that person. According to Choosing Therapy, emotional abuse "is a pattern of behavior in relationships that purposefully controls, isolates, and/or punishes, using fear and humiliation."

Being in an emotionally abusive relationship can lead to depression, anxiety, relationship PTSD, and many other mental health concerns. It can also lead to problems in your other existing relationships. If you catch your friend constantly lying to you, ghosting you, pressuring you to go above your emotional or financial means, giving you the silent treatment, or disrespecting your boundaries, it should be a wake-up call to disconnect from them.

Making yourself a priority and setting clear boundaries are the first essential steps in dealing with an emotionally abusive friend. In such situations, it is important to treat yourself with kindness and grace. Similar to dealing with most types of toxic friends, self-love and self-care are very important when dealing with an emotional abuser. According to psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, therapy might be necessary and helpful in understanding "why you entered this friendship and tolerated it in the first place in order to avoid going back into it or entering another abusive one" (via Healthline).

You blame yourself for everything within your friendship

If you are constantly blaming yourself for everything wrong with your friend, chances are that you are being emotionally manipulated by them. Oftentimes, such signs of emotional manipulation go unnoticed. But if you pay close attention, the behavioral patterns of an emotional abuser can give them away (via Healthline).

An emotional abuser quickly gets close to you by sharing their vulnerabilities and fears to make you feel exceptionally special. They let you speak first in an effort to seize control of the conversation — and by extension, the friendship. But eventually, you will find them twisting facts to fit their narrative. With an emotionally abusive friend, you feel apologetic for sharing your feelings. They never take accountability, and often pass off hurtful comments as mere humor. They often downplay your feelings, too.

The trauma responses to emotional manipulation can be long-lasting. If you are in an emotionally abusive friendship, it is wise to cut that friend off completely. You should also consider talking to a therapist, so you can take the necessary steps to heal from the effects to the relationship.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.