In discussions of human relationships, friends often get relegated to the back burner, after family members and romantic partners, which is kind of a shame because friendships are amazing, when you think about it: Unlike our families, we get to choose our friends, and surround ourselves with people solely because we like them and they make our lives better. And unlike romantic relationships, friendships don’t come with a lot of baggage about commitment or monogamy or finding “The One.” Friendships have the potential to be powerful and transformative, but, of course, it would be too much to ask that the world be one continuous Galentine’s Day. Not all friendships are close, rewarding, or even good. A bad friendship can be as destructive and toxic as any other relationship, and a really awful friend can completely shred your self-esteem.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the simple truth that you do not have to stay friends with anyone with whom you don’t want to. I get that it can feel almost impossible to cut ties with friends, especially ones that you’ve grown up with or have known a very long time, but you can and you should if a friendship isn’t bringing anything remotely good into your life, and that goes double if your friend is making you feel bad about yourself. When you have a friend who is bad for your self esteem, it can be hard to let go of the friendship precisely because your friend has damaged your sense of self-worth, and you therefore don’t think you deserve better. But if you recognize these signs of a self-esteem-wrecking relationship in one of your friendships, it’s time to seriously consider getting the hell out of there:
1. You friend criticizes and belittles you.
We rely on good friends to deliver cold, hard truths when we need it (like “I’m sorry to break your heart, but you are not among the blessed few who can rock drop crotch pants” or “Lady, you have a PATTERN when it comes to the people you date, and the pattern is that you love douchebags.”). But there’s a difference between a friend who helps you see important truths that you may not be able to see yourself, and a friend who is simply mean. If you have a friend who constantly seems to pick at you — criticizing everything from the way you look and speak to the way you live your life — that person isn’t a friend.
2. You edit yourself around your friend.
We should be able to be ourselves around our friends. Otherwise, what’s the point?. If you find yourself holding yourself back or altering your normal behavior when you hang out with a particular friend, you should ask yourself why. Do you fear being criticized? Do you already know that that person will judge you or demean you? That doesn’t sound like a fun person to be around.
3. You worry more about your friend’s approval than your own opinion.
When you feel really emotionally beaten down by someone, it’s easy to become dependent on that person for approval. It’s a twisted reaction, but one that makes sense; after all, if someone is constantly telling you that what you do is bad, then that person must be an authority on what’s good, right? (Wrong.)
If you find yourself thinking, “I wonder if [Insert name of judgmental friend here] would approve of this?” every time you have to make a decision, think about why you’re so concerned with what that person thinks. Is it because you actually believe that friend could be helpful, or because you’re so used to that person tearing you down that you’re afraid to give him or her a reason to criticize you?
4. Their “teasing” isn’t funny. It actually makes you feel like crap.
One of the best aspects of a good friendship is having someone who can tease you with love and help you not to take yourself too seriously. But, at some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced that line of teasing that slides right past “funny” and hits “mean” instead. If your not-very-good friend’s teasing consistently makes you feel uncomfortable and bad about yourself, ask him or her to stop. If you get a response like “Don’t be so sensitive” or “It’s just a joke” and the teasing continues, go find a friend who doesn’t go out of his or her way to make you feel awful.
5. You get a lot of backhanded compliments.
If you get a new haircut, and your friend responds by saying, “OMG, your hair looks so much better! It used to make your chin look so pointy!”, stop being friends with that person right now. Backhanded compliments are passive aggressive ways of simultaneously making people feel bad about themselves while also making them question whether or not they’re allowed to feel angry (They are). A real compliment will make you feel good, The End.
6. You’re always the “back up.”
Many of us have had that friend who keeps us around as “back ups” for when his or her "real" friends aren’t around. There’s nothing wrong with people having lots of friends (It’s great, actually!), but who wants to feel like second best all the time? Your friends should never make you feel like you’re filling in for someone with whom they’d rather be hanging out.
7. They tell HILARIOUS stories about you that are actually mean.
When you’re with your friend in a group of other people, does your friend like to say, “I have the most hilarious story about Jennifer over here,” and then proceed to entertain everyone in earshot with a story about you that makes you feel really embarrassed or uncomfortable? Not cool. Teasing (with love!) can be a great part of a friendship, but making you the butt of a joke in front of other people is anything but friendly.
8. You feel better when he or she isn’t around.
If you feel better about yourself and your life when your friend isn’t around — If you feel a rush of relief when you’re done hanging out with that person — that’s a very strong sign that your friend needs to go.
Remember: Friendships are voluntary. If your friend makes you feel bad about yourself, if he or she makes you question your worth, or if you just don’t enjoy his or her company, it’s time to pull back from this toxic relationship and start investing in friendships that actually make you happy.