Friends can get us through anything — the best of times, the worst of times, and everything in between. There are friends who are less than ideal for us, though, and many signs of an unhealthy friendship. It can be really difficult to differentiate between, say, a friend who is going through a difficult patch and less than their normal self from someone who is legitimately not a healthy person to hang out with, or separate a pal who is acting a bit off from a friend who is actually a detriment to your well-being.
"A person that always tries to tell you that you are always wrong when you ask for advice and lacks any empathy is someone that is probably toxic," Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. I'll say! If you have someone like this in your life, why are you still hanging around with them?
I asked a handful of experts about how you can tell when you're involved with a friend who is just plain old bad news. There are, of course, lots of things that raise red flags, but there are a group of things in particular that are really worth watching out for. Any friendship that seems abnormal can be measured against these really important red flags. If any of these things are happening in your friendship, it might be time to look for a new friend, as awful and painful as that can be.
1. You Feel Bad About Yourself
"An unhealthy friendship is one that makes you feel bad about yourself," psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. "The person builds themselves up by putting you down and is always pointing out things about you to make you feel badly about yourself." This can be really subtle — if you get a promotion at work, your friend might mention that she got one too, and then list all of the huge things that hers came with that yours did not, for example.
"They are competitive and draining to you," Martinez says. "It becomes all about them, and they are much more concerned with their own needs than yours." After a while, spending time with this person no longer feels fun.
2. It's One-Sided
A friendship that is unhealthy is one-sided, Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. "You do everything for the friendship, and your friend is passive," she says.
Carlyle Jansen, author of Author, Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms , also tells Bustle, unequal friendships are unhealthy. "Of course there are times when one person needs more support than the other, but if most of the talking, planning and decision-making about what to do and comforting is done by one person, then it is unbalanced," she says.
3. They Can't Get On Board With Changes In Your Life
"Friendships, like any relationship, require maintenance," Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, tells Bustle. "A friend who is dismissive of changes you make in your personal life is not someone who is fully participating in the relationship." If you have big things going on, and your friend is like, "Whatever," that is deeply uncool, and it'll cause a gap in your friendship to form. "Friendships ebb and flow, and the best ones need to allow room for individual growth and change," she says. "Not acknowledging that situation or even the possibility that things don’t stay the same forever is a warning sign."
If your friend can't let go of the past — and if she or he is holding on tightly in a way that doesn't serve you — it's time to bring it up.
4. You're Always Taking The Blame
"One sign of an unhealthy friendship is when you are always taking the fall for your friend," Samantha Daniels, professional matchmaker and founder of The Dating Lounge dating app, tells Bustle. "If your friend does something wrong, he or she should take the blame and be accountable for his or her actions." If it seems as though every time something goes wrong, it's on you, there is a problem here.
"If you find that you always need to cover for your friend or take the blame, this is unhealthy and unfair to you," she says. Stop taking the fall and move on.
5. They Make You Feel Guilty
"If your friend makes you feel guilty, red flag," Marina Sbrochi, IPPY award-winning author of Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life tells Bustle. "Guilt trips are for the drama queens. Guilt is a fine feeling to help keep yourself in check, but guilting others isn’t the way to keep friends." No one wants a friend who is going to act this way.
"Who needs an enemy when you have a 'friend' that will guilt you for breathing?" she asks. Answer: Nobody!
6. They Aren't Happy For You
"When a friend is jealous — overtly or covertly — you’ll find they’re not really happy when you have success, and they take a little extra pleasure in comforting your failures and setbacks," New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "This has to do with their self-esteem and their own feelings about their place in the world." Even so, when it comes out on you, it feels really horrible.
"If you have a friend who just can’t be genuinely pleased for you when something good happens, you’ve got an unhealthy friendship," she says.
7. They Have Unrealistic Expectations
"Sometimes we put unrealistic expectations on our girlfriends — especially when we're single,"psychologist, author and speaker Karin Anderson Abrell tells Bustle. "When flying solo ,it's easy to look to our besties to fill any emotional void we may feeling sans partner. Placing overly high expectations on your girls sets them up for failure and sets you up for disappointment."
Unfortunately, friendships need more breath than that. "Recognize that relationships have seasons — during some seasons, you and your BFF will be thick as thieves; during other seasons, she may less available to you due to wedding planning or changing diapers," she says. "Don't feel neglected or unloved, she's not rejecting you, she's consumed with other important aspects of her life! Be a true friend by being understanding and supportive of her during these seasons." Truer words have never been spoken.
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