19 signs of a toxic friendship

In this guide, we’ll go through the warning signs of Toxic People (TP). A toxic person is someone who doesn’t take responsibility for their feelings or problems. The fallout from these negative emotions is then taken out on others.[1] Understanding these signs can help you decide whether you should save or end the friendship.

1. Do you do most of the work in the relationship (listen, support, encourage)?

They call when they’re depressed, angry, sad, defeated. You listen and are empathetic. You start to talk about your day or something good/bad that happened to you. Crickets.

There isn’t enough balance in the relationship. When you want to talk about your life, they interrupt or tune you out. You become their personal Therapist. That may make you feel good in the short term because you’re needed. But it doesn’t create a fulfilling long-term friendship because they don’t give you any emotional or social support.[2][3]

Read more here about how to deal with one-sided friendships.

2. Do they cancel on you at the last minute to hang out with their cooler friends?

You always call them to hang out. They never call you. You purposely find things to do together that will appeal to them. They cancel on you often. When you mention that you know they decided to go out with someone else after they canceled on you, they have a thousand reasons. None of which makes any sense to you.

3. Do they monopolize your time to the exclusion of family and other friends?

When you first meet, you like them, but they really like you. This is nice at first since you aren’t a social butterfly, and it feels good to have a connection with someone so quickly. Not to mention, it ticks a lot of the ‘make friends’ boxes.

Then slowly, they want to do everything together and start monopolizing your time.

Here’s an experience my friend had: She had a friend like this at university. The friend was all-encompassing. She was the star of every conversation, every class, all the guys liked her. Yet she was massively insecure. When my friend was busy, this happened: the toxic friend pouted, was nasty to her, or she punished her with silence later on. My friend never knew what to expect, but generally, she felt like she was always in trouble with her.

4. Are they taking advantage of your generosity?

You get invited out to group events with them or one-on-one, but there’s always a catch.

Either you have to drive the toxic person there, or you get to pick up the cheque at the restaurant/event. The reasons why you have to do this are myriad and creative (or not). They’re too poor. You have such a great job. You ate the biggest meal. You haven’t been out for a while. It’s Tuesday, they have no money. Blah, blah, blah…

5. Have they put you on a self-improvement plan so you can be more like their cool friends?

Are they continually telling you to be a better dresser, funnier, smarter, like their other cooler friends?

It’s like they are deigning to be your friend, and if only you would be a little more {insert stupid requirement here}, then they could be better friends with you. You’re like their personal charity case. You should be grateful they spend time with you at all, given all your “obvious deficiencies.”

6. When you hang out with them, are you exhausted and stressed-out afterward?

Your job as their unpaid Therapist is exhausting. You hate to see anyone hurting, but nothing you do for them resolves anything long term. It’s just an endless loop of misery.

When you get to this point, you’re relieved when they cancel plans. Or when you see their text come in, you delay responding as long as you can without seeming rude. (Which is never long enough for you, but way TOO LONG for the toxic friend.)

7. Do they seem oblivious to your feelings?

They make mean-spirited jokes at your expense. Their favorite line is, “Hey, can’t you take a joke?” They seem to enjoy subtly tearing you down. As a result, you feel you have to ‘armor-up’ emotionally when you see them.

They tend to ignore your feelings and problems. When you’re sick or need help, they say that you’re too needy. Or they are “too sensitive” or “drama averse” to get caught up in your problems.

8. Is their mantra, “I don’t look for drama. Drama is attracted to me.” YET their whole life is drama.

They look for the negative in most situations or people. They create conflict and adversarial relationships or have bad habits like alcohol, drugs, cutting etc. All cries for help. They aren’t genuinely alive unless they are pushing boundaries and buttons.

They act genuinely confused as to why their life is filled with drama, but they’re also happy to lament it. They have little ability to self-reflect, and if you mention that they are the author of most of their problems, well, that’s just not right with their world-view.

9. Are they jealous of your other friends and insecure?

They are jealous of you and random other people. When something great happens to you, do they have a hard time celebrating it or congratulating you? When a co-worker gets a promotion, do they say “it’s because they know the right people.”

Is everyone secretly or not-so-secretly against them – friends, family, the government, the NRA, PETA? When you talk about organizations, are they deemed untrustworthy? Are they the one-true-source-of-all-truth-and-justice?

10. Do they continuously one-up you?

Sometimes they are so subtle about this; it’s hard to notice because it may not happen every time. Eventually, you start to see the pattern.

You went to the beach; they just came back from California. You just joined Twitter; they have over 5,000 followers. You like Ryan Reynolds; they live beside him and party on weekends.

Somehow they are always two steps ahead of you and everyone else. Wearying to the listener and utterly improbable as well.

11. Do they lack boundaries and or have no respect for your privacy?

They’re the first to date your Ex. They share your secrets with others and “forgot they couldn’t share that.” Gossip is their favorite pastime, and you get friend cred if you bring the ‘goods.’

Everything they do seems justifiable in their head, but when you say it hurts you or you don’t agree with what they did, they are completely baffled, and YOU are the problem.

12. Do they pressure you to do things you don’t want to do?

It’s the call at 11 PM on Tuesday when they say, “Come on, let’s go out tonight after I get off work at midnight. Can you drive? What do you mean you have work tomorrow at 8 AM? You never come out with us. You’re a hermit. This is why you don’t have any friends? CHORUS “I won’t like you unless you come out.”

This stuff keeps happening in your 20’s and 30’s. At some point, you realize you just don’t like doing the same things.

13. When you make a mistake (i.e. when you’re human), does the ensuing argument explode out of proportion?

You left the computer on when you went to work. You forgot they don’t like red meat. You were supposed to call on Tuesday. You called Wednesday morning instead. Any small infraction gets blown out of proportion, and the toxic person starts a massive argument. You’re left wondering what just happened. You apologize. They grudgingly accept. Wait 2 weeks – Repeat. Or you don’t apologize, and they DISAPPEAR. Years of friendship “poof” gone. Count yourself lucky.

14. Are they unable to hear or understand your concerns about how they treat you?

When you stand up for yourself, they guilt-trip you into feeling bad when you confront their poor behavior. The things that bother you are all TRIVIAL, and you have clearly misunderstood them. In return, you get nasty comments, full-on confrontation or the silent treatment. The end result is you MUST apologize first because YOU are the greater offender.

Completely exhausting. It’s like talking to a wall but one that is in constant Attack Mode.

15. Are they resistant to any kind of personal change?

They like their problems. Fixing them or working on themselves is totally not the point. The world is out to get them. You are there to reinforce their own warped view of the world, not provide alternatives.

If they could get you to sign an agreement that you would always agree with them, they would. But that is too direct, so it’ll never happen.

16. Are you required to reciprocate plus 10% when the toxic person does something for you?

Let’s go back to my friend’s toxic university roommate for this one. She bought dinner one night for my friend. The next night my friend would be “required” to make dinner based on her preferences, served between her classes and then my friend would do all the cleanup. Fair right?

My friend would also always be reminded that her friend brought all the dishes and glassware for their apartment. Even though they were old ones her family had in the basement. Somehow the toxic friend always did more, deserved more, and my friend was basically mooching.

17. Are they competitive with you about everything?

This is similar to the one-upmanship sport that some toxic people love to engage in. They will compete with you on jobs, marks, significant others, friends, cars, condo/house, clothes…

Alternatively, they believe they are entirely hard-done-by compared to everyone else in the world. In this case, everyone has more than them, does better than them, is luckier than them. They will never rise up from under the yoke the world has placed upon their tender neck.

18. When you end the friendship, do they go nuclear?

You’ve had enough and said you can’t be friends anymore. They go ballistic and run you down publicly, in social media and even to your friends, telling them you were the problem, you’re crazy, delusional etc.

They will not own up to any problems in your relationship or accept responsibility for any of their lousy personal behavior.

Read more here: How to end a friendship.

19. Do you give up too much to be with the toxic person?

You know deep down this friendship is bad for you. You feel worse after you spend time with them and they want too much from you or give you too little.

Maybe you haven’t established your boundaries of self-respect yet and been able to put yourself first and end this emotionally draining relationship. It happens more than you know. Don’t beat yourself up about it. End the friendship if you’ve gone past the point of no return.

References

  1. Tartakovsky, M. (2018). What’s a Toxic Person & How Do You Deal With One?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/whats-a-toxic-person-how-do-you-deal-with-one/
  2. Demir, M., & Özdemir, M. (2010). Friendship, need satisfaction and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11(2), 243-259.
  3. Bukowski, W. M., Hoza, B., & Boivin, M. (1994). Measuring friendship quality during pre-and early adolescence: The development and psychometric properties of the Friendship Qualities Scale. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11(3), 471-484.

Viktor is SocialPro's expert in communication and relationships.

He has a B.A. with a major in Psychology at University of Gothenburg and a B.Sc. with a major in Biological engineering at Chalmers University of Technology

Before he joined SocialPro, he worked as a relationship and dating coach.

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