10 Signs Your Friend is Toxic

10 Signs Your Friend is Toxic

Toxic friends complicate your life.  These people are more than a nuisance, they’re parasitic.  Precious time slips away as you deal with their negativity; and you’re left wondering why you feel so despondent.  If you’re ready to simplify your life, you can’t condone these toxic friendships any longer.

What Toxic Friends Do

  1. They drain you. – You feel psychologically and emotionally depleted after spending time with them, instead of uplifted.  (Read Emotional Blackmail.)
  2. They are unsupportive. – You’re afraid to tell them about new, important aspects of your life because they’ve been unsupportive or downright rude about your ideas in the past.
  3. They are up to no good. – They regularly partake in activities that are morally unjust.
  4. Their values and interests are opposite to your own. – Dissimilar value systems often mix like oil and water.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the other person is wrong, it just means they aren’t right for you.
  5. They are unreliable. – They always break their promises.
  6. They only contact you when they need something. – Otherwise you never hear from them.
  7. They aren’t meeting you halfway. – If you are always the one calling your friend to make plans and going out of your way to be with them, but they never return the favor and attempt to go out of her way for you, there’s a problem.
  8. They are jealous of you. – Jealousy is:  “I want what you have and I want to take it away from you.”
  9. They have zero ambition. – Beware; a lack of ambition can be contagious.  As the saying goes, “You can’t soar like an eagle when you hang out with turkeys.”
  10. They constantly drive you to moments of insanity. – You catch yourself daydreaming about how good it would feel to throw a banana cream pie in their face.  😉

My Story of Toxicity

Here’s why I know how bad these friendships can be:  I’ve been on both sides of the court.  Yeah, I have my share of victim stories about friends who were friends only if I agreed with them and gave them the spotlight.  I’ve got tales of woe about past friends who were fabulous and fun, provided I didn’t try to cut into their time by (gasp!) spending time alone and having other friendships.  (You know, having a life outside of them?)

But the truth is I’ve also been a terrible friend at times, and I realize this.  In the past I have neglected some friendships by relying on the other person to stay in touch instead of reaching out myself.  Some of these friendships withered away over time because of my toxic behavior.  Bottom line:  Toxicity is a two-way street – you have to be a good friend too.  (Hold this thought; we’ll come back to it.)

How to End a Toxic Friendship

In my experience there are two ways to end a toxic friendship:  quickly and painfully or slowly and awkwardly.  Neither is fun, neither is neat, and neither is easy.

If you still want to keep this person in your life, just to a lesser degree:

  1. Stop responding to fake crisis calls. – If you don’t drop everything to take their “I’m so devastated!  My boss gave me a look that I think means he secretly hates me and that jerk from marketing wore the same shirt as me” calls, they’ll find someone else who will.  Or they’ll deal with it.  Either way, it’s okay to step back and get off the first alert calling list for non-emergencies.
  2. Take positive control of negative conversations. – It’s okay to change the topic, talk about you, or steer conversations away from pity parties and self-absorbed sagas.  Be willing to disagree with them and deal with the consequences.
  3. Demonstrate that you won’t be insulted or belittled. – To be honest, I’ve never had much luck trying to call toxic people out when they’ve insulted me.  The best response I’ve gotten is, “I’m sorry you took what I said so personally.”  Much more effective has been ending conversations with sickening sweetness or just plain abruptness.  The message is clear:  There is no reward for subtle digs and no games will be played at your end.  (Read In Sheep’s Clothing.)
  4. Be brutally honest. – Some people really don’t recognize their own toxic tendencies or their inconsiderate behavior.  You can actually tell a person, “I feel like you ignore me until you need something.”  You can also be honest if their overly negative attitude is what’s driving you away:  “I’m trying to focus on positive things.  What’s something good that we can talk about?”  It may work and it may not, but your honesty will ensure that any friendship that continues forward is built on mutually beneficial ground.

If you just want to completely end your relationship with the person in question:

  1. Stop taking their calls completely. – If you’re stuck seeing them on a regular basis, like a coworker, keep things on a purely professional level.  Find a reason to leave and excuse yourself as needed.  It’s passive aggressive to expect avoidance to handle the problem, but it’s an important component.  You can’t cut ties if you still chat on a regular basis.
  2. Firmly tell them you’ve had enough. – If you’ve decided it’s time to cut a truly toxic influence out of your life, you can let them know honestly (without being cruel).  “I just can’t be friends with you right now” isn’t fun to hear, but it has the benefit of putting everybody on the same page.
  3. Make new friends worth having. – Seriously!  Give your time to friends you connect with and enjoy.  The long shadows of toxic friends shrink considerably when you’ve got better things to do with your time than worry about their negativity.

Finally, Be a Good Friend

It doesn’t help to cut toxic friends out of your life if you’re not ready to foster quality friendships.  On occasion, you may find that the toxicity of a friendship drains away when you start being a better friend yourself.  Honestly, I’m not trying to preach; this is something I’m working on in my life.

Make that first call, offer a genuine compliment, schedule a fun outing with another person in mind, send that ridiculously funny card for no real reason – there are tons of ways to nurture your friendships.  When you’re surrounded by good friends and good intentions, it’s amazing how pettiness and toxicity simply evaporates.  (I’ve written about this extensively in the relationships chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

The floor is yours:

What are your experiences with toxic friendships?  How can we better recognize them?  What else can we do about it?  Please share your thoughts in the comments, and of course, play nice.  :-)

Photo by: Paolo Marconi

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  1. BB says

    11. They talk down to you as if they’re superior, trying to make you feel like an idiot.

    I have a know-it-all friend like that. I’m highly educated, and I have a high IQ, but this friend treats me like I’m stupid. I’ve seen her treat others this way too if they disagree with her. She must always be right and have the last say.

    She’d posted a link to a medical study on FB about whether a certain medical issue is genetic or environmental. Having a lot of knowledge on the topic and personal experience, I made the mistake of disagreeing with her. I should have just ignored the message. I try to avoid online debates.

    Anyway, she wouldn’t hear a word I said and was extremely arrogant and demeaning, posting several lengthy and condescending rebuttals. I didn’t care that we disagreed on the subject, but the way she treated me was hurtful. I decided to quit responding to her. She certainly injured our friendship.

  2. Sel says

    I have been on both sides of this coin.

    On one hand I was the toxic friend who always called out for help from friends and I was very needy to the point where people avoided and eventually ditched me from their lives.

    On the other hand I was also the supportive friend or should I say doormat for some people who were only taking advantage and getting what they could out of the friendship without any regard for me.

    For some reason I have a tendency to high maintenance and high drama people and unfortunately I think I learned some of my own toxic behaviour from them but that is changing for the better, I have removed many people from my life who weren’t bringing anything pleasant or positive to the friendships and I am learning to be less needy and fearful.

    I agree with Chris in terms of finding out why someone is engaging in toxic behaviour, I believe that some people really aren’t aware that they’re being toxic, it may not be about you at all and their behaviour could be unintentional, in that case these people need more support and less judgement.

    As for the high drama abusive nasties who use others, gossip or put people down, they too have a myriad of problems which need to be recognised and acknowledged but at the same time if their behaviour becomes too unhealthy then walking away might be the best and only thing to do…I have walked away from such people myself and have found that my life is much better without them.

    One thing we all need to remember is that we are all fighting some kind of battle that nobody else knows anything about..

  3. Justin says

    Yeah… I have a ‘friend’ like that (my sister) 8 of them fit her personality 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, & 10

  4. says

    Good points, Marc and Angel. I strongly suggest people also consider these thoughts for toxic relatives as well. Toxic relationships come in all forms.

    It’s especially difficult when a relative relationship is toxic, but we have to learn to be kind to ourselves. When we allow someone to verbally and emotionally beat us up, it is so spiritually disheartening. Time to rise up and say “I won’t take it anymore.” and “I deserve better than this.”

    We’re all human, and we all make mistakes.

  5. Kathryn R. says

    This article struck a life-long chord with me..I especially found BB`s response right on! I have people in my life such as that,past and present and also a grown daughter who seems to not realize her behaviour.I have dealt with her most kindly but it falls on deaf ears..I am treated like an imbecile and it is worse lately..there is an arrogance and nastiness that is just awful.How lovely it is when one is in the company of kind,apathetic and yes,smart people and how draining when one is cut-down,diminished at every turn and leveled!! As one person wrote the problem lies with them,period.What a joy one feels when life runs smoothly..one wishes to bottle that feeling!

  6. Ruusa says

    An insightful article. Learn how to identify and cut down on toxic friends. They charm their way into your life and drag you into their little world. Best to have friends worth having.


  1. A lack of ambition can be contagious. As the saying goes, “You can’t soar like an eagle when you hang out with turkeys.” Ive certainly hung out with too many turkeys in my day, but I’ve since made it a point to surround myself with people who inspire me.

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