Warning: 7 Signs You Might Be in a Toxic Friendship

Dealing with toxic friendships can be draining. Watch out for these 7 warning signs you’re in one and the ways you can overcome it.

Published 16 Jun 2020

Warning: 7 Signs You Might Be in a Toxic Friendship - Feature-Image

Friends are not bound from making mistakes. While falling in and out of friendship is part of life’s rich tapestry, how many of you have fostered a toxic friendship with someone you trust before things hit the fan?

Here are 7 warning signs that tell you to run for the hills when it comes to toxic friendships and what can you do to deal with them.

#1. When they talk about you behind your back

Toxic Friendship-Talk behind your back

Are your friends putting in a bad word about you in your absence? When backbiting happens and your friends are putting you down and constantly making disparaging remarks about you, be cautious as they probably don’t value you and your friendship.

But how do you know if they’re bad mouthing you behind your back? If they spend a lot of time doing the same thing about other people when they’re with you, chances are you’re probably a victim too!

How to deal with this

While you should be rightfully furious about this, it’s important to stay calm and take your time to digest this news before jumping the gun. You don’t want to say things that you might regret later if you act on impulse. Instead, fact check the story first if you didn’t hear the gossip from the horse’s mouth. It’s worse when other people create rumours to sow discord between you and your friend.

Once you have all the information you need, it’s best to confront them and seek an explanation for what they said — whether or not you hear the gossip from them. This way, you’ll be able to weed out some problems you have with each other. If the underlying issue is immature and petty, the best option is to walk away.

#2. When they don’t have your best interest

Toxic Friendship-Dont have your best interest

How often have you been the free in-house therapist for your friend but the minute you need a shoulder to lean on, they’re nowhere to be found?

No one likes to be taken advantage of and these are clear signs that your friend is exploiting your good heart for their convenience. Of course, no one is exempted from bad days and your friend could be going through some tough times when you needed them. But watch out for patterns. If this behaviour happens every time, you’re probably in the company of a selfish friend.

How to deal with this

Once you’re sure that your friend does not have your best interest from repeated instances, it’s best to set some boundaries. Learn to be firm and direct when you can’t help them or even when you simply don’t want to. You can also calmly confront your friend by addressing this ongoing pattern and allow them to express their side of the story.

Be wary that your friend could manipulate or guilt-trip you for not lending a favour but whatever it is, remember to stick up for yourself and hold your ground if you’ve decided to maintain a distance.

#3. When they tell you they’re “joking” too many times

Toxic Friendship-Joking too many times

Teasing and joking among friends is a fun way to maintain friendships and to an extent, it can be healthy too. But if the offensive remarks were made followed by a series of “I’m just joking”, you should question if your friend is pulling the teasing card to make rude comments about you.

A lot of friendly teasing can come off ambiguous depending on the level of your friendship. So it’s crucial to take it in context to determine whether your friend might have taken it too far. Bad teasing often includes hostile and aggressive behaviour with an intent to hurt or humiliate someone. It can even be considered a form of bullying if it comes to a point where you feel uncomfortable and ashamed.

How to deal with this

As frustrating as it can be, you’ll want to avoid calling your friend out in public. Most of the time, your friend might not realise they’ve pushed your buttons so doing this might lead to unwanted drama. Instead, confront them privately and address how their insensitive teasing makes you feel uncomfortable. Subtly humiliating someone in any shape or form is not okay in any relationship.

#4. When double standards in your friendship exist

Toxic Friendship-Double standards

There are two types of double standards that you should watch out for. First is the ridiculous ground rules where your friend continues to behave in a certain negative way (e.g. tardiness, being rude or making rough jokes) but they refuse to tolerate any of these pet peeves from you. The other is when they make comparisons between your friendship with them and theirs with other people. Either way, these are bad ways to treat someone.

While setting boundaries to situations you refuse to tolerate should be practised by everyone, it‘s not right to put unrealistic expectations on other people when you don’t hold the same standards to yourself. Also, comparing friendships never ends well and it’s important to understand that your friendship is your own and has nothing to do with other people.

How to deal with this

Before you take the plunge and confront your friend about this unfair dynamic, try to give your friend the benefit of the doubt and consider looking at the situation from their perspective. Once you’re able to understand why they put certain expectations on you, you will find it easier to work out the issue.

There’s no harm in informing your friend the double standards you notice but it’s important to do it as openly and honestly as possible. You will want to avoid going for a snide remark in hopes that they will realise their actions as you may end up escalating the situation. Organise your thoughts and have concrete examples ready to support your point of view.

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#5. You’re in a one-sided friendship

Toxic Friendship-In a one-sided friendship

Do you have that one friend who only seems to hit you up when they need a favour? Or perhaps they’re constantly bailing on hangouts? From appearing indifferent during lunch dates to taking forever to call you back, it’s always you who has to cut the first turf.

While it’s completely okay to ask favours from friends, you need to draw the line when the only time you both ever hang out is when you’re doing something for them. In fact, if you feel like you’re the only one who is putting effort into keeping the friendship together, it’s time to consider if your friend is only sticking around for their own benefit.

How to deal with this

If you’re unsure about how much your friend is there for you, start an open conversation instead of a confrontation. Confronting will only make you both defensive and can potentially turn the situation hostile. Avoid blaming them; instead, make it clear how you feel hurt by their behaviour. Psychologists say that the “I” statements help steer conflicts into a non-threatening environment.

After explaining how you’ve been feeling, try to come up with ways on how you both can turn the friendship to be more two-sided. A real friend would feel upset to know that they have inadvertently hurt you and will brainstorm ways to make you feel more secure.

#6. Being around them feels like walking on eggshells

Toxic Friendship-Like walking on eggshells

It’s normal for a friendship to go through a little bit of friction and just like any relationship, arguments can make a relationship better; other times, break it.

One sign that your friendship has taken an unhealthy turn is when the slightest disagreement could set your friend off and any argument will leave you feeling apologetic and guilty — even when you didn’t do anything wrong! If it comes to a point where you hold yourself back from sharing anything to avoid unnecessary conflict, perhaps it’s time to have an intervention.

How to deal with this

While your biggest fear is confronting them, there are strategies on how you can approach a short-tempered friend with ease. The first step is to warm up to them and show them that your confrontation is by no means an attack. Try to avoid any triggering cues like provocation or accusations as this will only escalate the argument.

Most importantly, express how your friend’s behaviour has affected you and the dynamic of the friendship. Practise active listening and try to understand your friend’s irritability in hopes that you both can find a middle ground to agree on.

#7. When they constantly exclude you in group plans

Toxic Friendship-Exclude you in group plans

Now here is a tricky one. If you’re a gold medal naysayer every time you’re invited for something, there’s a high chance that your friends are just tired of you not showing up. And the best way for them to avoid hearing another no from you is to not include you at all.

Whether you choose to deliberately sit out on plans or your friends are purposefully excluding you, being left out feels awful. After all, humans are social beings and we’re just wired to feel belonged to a group. According to psychologists, people are more likely to be withdrawn from social circles when they experience exclusion. And since our self worth is closely tied to our relationships, feeling rejected can affect our confidence too.

How to deal with this

Sometimes when we notice we’ve been left out, our first instinct is to act like we don’t care about it to avoid feeling pain. However, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and understand why you feel the way you do. This will help you rationalise and articulate your thoughts better for when you need to address the issue to a trusted friend.

Bring this conversation to your friends and inform them about your feelings. Dealing with the situation is much better than keeping it in to avoid harbouring any resentment towards your friends. It’s important to hear what they have to say too! Being able to have a healthy two-way conversation will not only solve the problem easier but you may be surprised to find out that it could all be just a big misunderstanding.

Friendships can be a tough nut to crack but what’s one without all the drama. At the end of the day, it’s your call to fix the friendship or call it quits. And if you feel like you are the toxic friend, then it’s time to take this as a wake-up call and realise your actions could potentially be hurting your friends. 

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    Nina Fazil

    Nina Fazil

    A work in progress — has been for the past 24 years.