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
- They drain you. – You feel psychologically and emotionally depleted after spending time with them, instead of uplifted. (Read Emotional Blackmail.)
- 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.
- They are up to no good. – They regularly partake in activities that are morally unjust.
- 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.
- They are unreliable. – They always break their promises.
- They only contact you when they need something. – Otherwise you never hear from them.
- 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.
- They are jealous of you. – Jealousy is: “I want what you have and I want to take it away from you.”
- 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.”
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
When the time comes, hit the delete button folks! My friend just became so jealous over the last twelve years, and very slowly turned toxic. She resents any of her friend’s happiness; a male friend just got engaged and she couldn’t even be happy for him. Tragic.
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.
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..
Yeah… I have a ‘friend’ like that (my sister) 8 of them fit her personality 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, & 10
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.
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!
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.
They seem to need a posse around them, to bask in a relationship, they are having, or people “liking” their photos on Facebook, to boost their ego. In one case, someone wrote ” I only want friends , who support my relationship. I mean, why does anyone have to “support”, the relationship, by “liking” her photos. I didn’t “like” the photos, because I know they are a away of her getting attention.
And if they are having a relationship, they get too obsessed to pay any attention, to people that have been their REAL friends. They want people to live in their drama.
Kevin Wagner says
I’m going through the same thing and was so mad and I lost everything with the girlfriend I could have been with They got In the middle of a good relationship I could have now it’s gone
It’s true. I was a happy person until I unconsciously befriended some toxic people who in the end back-stabbed me. Out of hurt I too was polluted. It was a long way to recover from my toxicity. I deleted those people from my personal life and only see them on a professional level when necessary. Moving on was hard, luckily I have the support I need. Those people are still who they are but I am a better me than the person I was. Nothing great could ever come from such toxic behaviours.
You can really tell a toxic friend in email. You have a written proof, of the toxicity of the friend, and you can add up all their toxic responses.
One of the worst things ever, is when they do not respond to anything you say, and only write back about themselves. I told a toxic friend about one of our good friends being ill, and she writes back about the new boyfriend she is obsessed with. Everyone knows the relationship is based on what it can do for her, as though the guy, was put on the earth as some one way to make HER happy, and please her. Then she writes off other people, who by the way, have been her unpaid psychologists for years, because she doesn’t “need ” them anymore. she drifts off.
There was always a sense of exhaustion, after getting an email from her. A sense you cannot write her back, because her message was too long to write back to. It’s like you cannot type another word, you are so tired.
It’s like writing into outer space, with no one answering you.
I’m tired of selfish people, and there has been plenty of selfish people , only interested in themselves.
Then a friend’s friend, has endless selfies day after day, but doesn’t write to my friend, to see how she is. This is happening on Facebook, it’s annoying to see this going on.
Boy, did I need this today. There are four of us, friends since junior high school. We’re all in our mid-60s now, living in far-flung places. One friend decided to round us all up for a Girls Get-Together. The last time we tried to plan this, I couldn’t go when she wanted to, and she took serious offense. She said very unpleasant things, and we didn’t speak for two years. The reconciliation was fragile. This time, all four of us could make the trip. Once we tied down our dates, I made my plans and flight arrangements. I also asked the son of another close friend if he could pick me up from the airport, and if he would like me to visit for a day or two after the trip with the girl friends. He said of course! Now, I find out that my one friend hadn’t planned to let anyone else know she was coming into our old home town, and is really mad at me that I told anyone. She feels she now has to visit all of her old friends and relatives (very small, very close-knit town) and she’s blaming me. Of course, she never told me that it was a secret mission, so how was I to know? The whole trip is up in the air now, and I am feeling like Charlie Brown and The Football. She’s done it again. Made a trip into a nightmare, and sucked the joy right out of this. Spoiled it for me, our other two friends, and the other folks who were looking forward to seeing me. Toxic? Oh yeah. I’m ready to leave this all behind. This article has helped clarify my feelings and now I know the best course of action is to do nothing at all. I’ll still go on the trip, since I’ll bet money she doesn’t. I’ll make the best of it with my other two friends and visit whomever I want to, whenever I find the time. She’s made me feel bad for the last time.
So I have this friend who needs to be a part of everything I do. She needs my friends to be her friends but never introduces me to people she knows.
She gets annoyed if I do something with one of my other friends and don’t invite her.
She exaggerates, twists things and lies so nothing is ever her fault and pins the blame on people.
I’m just getting sick of all her comments about things. She judges people like it means nothing, and then gets so angry when she thinks someone could be ‘judging her’.
It’s like she has no respect for me or anything to do with me :((
I’m 42, I’m a single dad of a 4 year old… I’m venting to strangers…. Because I need to hear other opinions.. As childish as my issue sounds. It’s depressing.
My friend “Bob” of 25 years, introduced me to several of his friends and we all connected. For one year and half we all meant, ate, and shared great times.
I had an accident 4 years ago and have gone through 2 surgeries… So, meeting these people with kids was great… Our kids played together.
My life changed when I had my accident and with the birth of my child things changed… I wasn’t going to bars or dancing anymore… So my surroundings changed… These new friends was something I needed.
Sounds perfect so far…
It seemed that Bob heard gossip that a friend of mine “Cathy” said about him. I never heard it myself. However gossip is gossip and I tend to ignore it… Don’t have time for these minor things in life.
I figured I could deal with both friendships and just not have them both over at the same time… I’m sure this happens to everyone when 2 friends don’t get along….
Bob wanted me to choose between them and I refused. I explained that we need to take gossip for what it is….
Bob was angry… He removed me from social media groups… Had all his friends remove me. Those great people with kids all walked away from my son and I. He has done other things that are unforgivable.
Some friends from social media inbox me his texts requesting to remove me and the insults when they refused… This is like high school.
I do not want revenge or anything like that… It’s sad that now I feel alone… I keep my son busy… Those great people… I guess they were not so great… I feel alone, I feel as if I have no one… Friends fill in the gaps when family aren’t around. My family is always busy. Cathy is great, but she isn’t always around.
What does someone do? I could never forgive Bob… I could never forgive his friends… Since now I realize they where really never my friends.
I have questioned myself… If I allowed him to make me choose would I be in this position… Each time I doubt myself… I realize I made the right choice… As lonely as it is….
Now at 42, single dad… I have to meet new friends… How “F” depressing
i had a friend like that as well.. they are most likely hardcore narcissist .. maybe you should do a checklist for your friend bob.. because it sounds like he’s a narc
Victoria Pratt says
I know that your story is a year old, however, it is an identical mirror to what has just happened to me this past week. I had a group of friends I thought were amazing…hung out with them for over 2 years. One of the girls who seems to lead the “Pack” did not like one of my other friends and constantly tried to upset me in an attempt to end my outside friendship…I would not choose between them as that is so immature and unnecessary. So this woman of 52 yrs old who claimed to be my best friend sends me text messages that she will “beat my [email protected]@” if I ever talk to any of our group of friends again or if she sees me out, text me to “do the world a favor and have some dignity and go kill myself”, put on facebook that everybody better “unfriend” me and without so much as a question as to why nearly everybody did. I did NOTHING to this woman…I wired her money to assist her with bills and paid her way all the time (as a single mother just like her I thought that it was what best friends did). Now one night while sleeping she sets off on a rampage to destroy my life with facebook post and threatening text. What is baffling is I did nothing and said nothing to her for 6 days leading up to this as she had been out of town. I thought things were fine. Then BAM…she attacks me for no reason. I have no family within 1200 miles and this group was like my family. Now I find myself alone and wondering how I let such a person into my life. I think the mere fact that she is a 52 yr old woman leading a group of friends that is 10-20 years younger than her and being a high school mean girl bully says a lot. What I do not understand is why anybody else would stand by her side through such childish and clearly insane antics. I am just curious as to how your whole ordeal ended up and what I should do here. Right now as threats of violence have been made against me I have said NOTHING…I have not even asked why she is doing this as I do not want to do anything to add to whatever this drama show is about. I then wonder how in the world when I am so kind and giving these women would follow such an evil person. If I was told to unfriend a person on facebook “or else” I would unfriend the person that threatened me and not the innocent victim. What is wrong with these people??
Sarah Lund says
It’s the broken promises that make me cut them out of my life. How the person will ever make it up to me, I really don’t know. Not very likely he even cares. So why should I think about him? He will never be sorry. I don’t think he’s the type to regret not spending time with me. If he is, why can’t he tell me that? I guess he isn’t as open with his feelings as he likes to think he is. I’m over it. I get satisfaction, knowing that if the lowlife ever meets anyone new, those new people will be treated the same way I was. They will be running for the hills. Good show he puts on, because he is a joke. He doesn’t know what true companionship is. I hope he comes to his senses and realised he’s lost me for good. The friendship didn’t even last a year. Goes to show. Maybe if he’d have treat me better, but I can only go forward with my life.
I had a neighbor whom I thought was a friend, but she showed herself to be a user and here’s why:
I caught her in a couple of lies, one of which was during a time she asked me to house sit/dog sit. Her and her husband were going to the beach for a few days and I obliged. This was during myspace era and when your posts would reflect if you used the web, mobile device, etc.
Where I caught her in a lie was the day they were due back, I never heard from them. I called once and texted once, she never replied, but she was doing her usual posting statuses about any and everything and it showed her being logged via mobile device.
I watched their house and dogs another day, which was no biggie, but where I took issue is that she lied and told me she lost her phone. If you had a phone, even if it wasn’t hers that she could log into myspace, she could’ve reached out and said we’re not able to come back.
I eventually let that go and got over it, even though she never once apologized. She held onto her lie of losing her phone, like I didn’t see her constant myspace updates. There have been quite a few times that she just was not there for me, but she’s a chronic complainer and a drama queen. A relative of mine passed away and I needed to clear my head, so I went to her home. She was engrossed between text and messenger the entire time.
Yet she would text me nonstop about her marital woes, her health issues, or whatever else she was complaining about, at all hours. I spammed her, because I’d explained to her a few times that I was not going to conform to being a texter or being bombarded by text. The last straw for me was when I had to put one of my dogs down due to chronic kidney disease. I am divorced with no kids and have been very close with my rescue dogs. She minimized by pain, was not there, blew me off.
Two months ago her drug addicted sister passed away, she did her usual thing – tried to bombard me with text, email and facebook messages. I felt no compassion for her other than to send my condolences and prayers. I was not about to put myself in any situation to be used by that user. She seems to be angered that I’m not doing what I used to by letting her use me, but I cut those toxic ties. She was never a friend and only a user.
I have had a friend for 35 years. She saw my kids grow but never knew how abusive my ex was to me. I finally left after 27 years( was catholic) She continued to be my friend and I stayed with her a few months till I got my own place.Her husband always worked out of town so I was the go to person for her and never minded. Fast forward to my life now. After being divorced for 11 year she said she would never of stayed in my marriage where I was getting beat and he was having one affair after the other. She would of taken the kids and went to live in the woods even if it meant all of us dieing. I had finally confinded in her when I left my ex. She claimed she understood. There was no where for me to go. Please don’t say the women shelders because he had already shot at me once and I have the scar on my ear where it hit. Her husband just retired and it seems like now I am only good to cat sit for her when they want to go places.I had never been good with making friends and to have one for 35 years was good. I don’t trust her now and feel I can not tell her anything. I don’t want to hear in 10 years from now that she would of done something totally different than I would of and judge me badly for it. If that is the way she felt she should of told me at first and I would of distant myself from her then. I guess I will just be the cat sitter now and not a friend. Guess that is really what I was all along.
Weed the garden. Nurture friendships that add value to your life. Weed out the others. Life is too short to have it any other way. That’s not being selfish , it’s being healthy.
Goodbye Natalie. There weren’t enough good times to miss you for too long. As soon as I can stop the what if’s running through my mind I won’t even remember you.
I once had a “best” friend that I knew since elementary school. He was nice at first, but over time he gradually changed (or maybe he was like this along). Starting in middle school, he would occasionally making deprecating jokes about me. In high school, he often asked me to do his homework, help him cheat on tests, and carry his textbooks. I also helped him buy stuff like video games in downtown stores because he “didn’t have time”. The deprecating jokes didn’t stop. I put up with the jokes because, according to him, they were just “sarcasm” and, if I can’t handle sarcasm, then I have a problem. He also played pranks on me such as writing my name on other student’s work in art class and typing expletives as screen saver messages on the computer where I was working on, misleading teachers and students that I had done those deeds myself. Being a stupid idiot that I was back then, I overlooked what he did and continued to be his friend.
His behavior continued even when we’re in college. I helped him in the same way as during high school: doing his homework, helping him cheat on tests, etc. He still made deprecating jokes about me, which included nonchalant comments of my depression which he accused me of having. But, in spite of all his negative behavior and attitude, which I only recognized as toxic in retrospect, I continued being friends with him.
The biggest mistake I’ve made was being his roommate when we transferred to a university away from our hometown. He told me to look for places to rent, which I did. I managed to find a two bedroom unit for $700 near the university. What we needed next was a guarantor for the rental agreement. However, my efforts, which he didn’t recognized, came to an abrupt halt when he said his family friend had already found a place for us to rent, which is just one block from the university. Rent cost $950 for a one bedroom unit on the ground level. I stupidly agreed to choose that place. Actually he never gave me a choice. Since only he was able to find a guarantor, I had to agree. He was very angry that I wasn’t able to find a guarantor despite my father putting every effort in trying to help me. Fast forward two months, he stopped paying his promised 1/2 share of his rent and began paying only 20% of it. He also insisted only getting 100% share of the internet service that I was paying 100% for and also insisted that I use the very unreliable and insecure “free” wifi from a unknown neighbor. I also gave him free bread and snacks.
Later on, there was an attempted burglary incident that happened that showed me how big of a coward my friend was. The burglar attempted to enter our apartment through a window while we were still in the apartment. I was the first to noticed the burglar trying to come in and turned on the lights in the bathroom to scare him off. Afterwards, my friend told me to check if the burglar was still outside. I went alone out of the apartment while carrying a hammer. It was a stupid move. Not only that, he should’ve gone outside with me to check, but he didn’t. He hid in his room and locked all doors. He was a total coward.
Fast forward a few years, I got into argument with him after getting sick and tired of his obnoxious behavior. He was yelling at me and blaming me for everything. That time, I had the courage to stand up to him, but alas, it was only for a brief moment. He promised to change his behavior. At first, he appeared to change, but later I realized he changed his outward behavior, not what was inside of him.
The incident that caused me to ceased being friends with him completely was when I wanted to make some changes to a small business venture we were partaking in. We didn’t even have an official contract. I had thought he would be lenient because I had been tolerant of him for so long and did so many things for him. But, in the usual fashion, he became furious that I wasn’t going along with him 100%. He didn’t tolerate even the mere suggestion of changing the plan. He said my disagreement would have waste all his efforts. He completely ignored the fact that I tolerated his broken promises for so long. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was when he ended an email with another one of his usual deprecating sarcasm. That was when I told myself that enough was enough.
My “best” friend was never really my friend. He never cared about my opinions except for his own. He always insisted that he’s always right and I’m always wrong. When I correct him with facts, he responds with deprecating sarcasm directed against me. He always acted as if he some wise sage full of wisdom. He only focus on my negatives (frequently exaggerating them as well) while completely ignoring my positives. I had always helped him when he asked for him, but he always refused my requests for help despite me not even asking for help that often. The friendship was completely asymmetrical. Once I stopped being friends with him, I felt as if an enormous lead weight was taken off my back.