13 Signs You're The Toxic One In A Friendship, According To Experts
Some friends are better for you than others — you can tell them anything, you can be yourself around them, and they’re there for you unconditionally. However, other friends may not be as good an influence and may do more harm than good. In other words, they’re toxic — perhaps gossipy, negative, and/or don’t have your best interests at heart. But what happens when you’re the toxic friend? Only, you don’t realize it.
“Firstly, I think it’s important to define what ‘toxic’ means in this context,” Joshua Waters, LMFT, tells Bustle. “While we are all reliant or dependent upon our friends for support at times, there are a few ways to tell if you’re the toxic one in the friendship.”
For instance, Waters says you may notice that friends are not as quick to communicate or spend time with you as they had in the past. Or, maybe you become aware that you are heavily relying on people for what they can do for you, but they don’t seem to be utilizing the relationship in the same way. Or perhaps people have been telling you your whole life that you’re a toxic person, just maybe in harsher/different words, such as selfish, conceited, self-centered, or even phrases like “You only reach out to me when you need something,” or “You only talk about yourself; I don’t like being around that.”
“Whatever the case may be, it is vital that you explore your relationship to your relationships,” Waters says. “Friends should be there for each other because we want to be, but if you realize that you need your friends to listen, validate, or support you versus wanting to share your experiences, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate and work on giving off a less ‘toxic’ vibe.”
As Waters says, there are some pretty clear indicators that you may be the toxic one versus your friend. Below, experts weigh in to help you determine if this is the case.
Although it may be difficult to determine if you’re the needy one in the friendship, there are some ways you can tell. For instance, do you look to your friend to fulfill your needs, weaknesses, and to solve your problems? Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, says those are good questions to ask yourself. “You latch on and constantly seem to have problems and needs for your friend to solve,” he tells Bustle.
Giving someone constructive criticism is one thing, but if you’re critical of your friend — about nearly everything — it’s time to examine if you’re being a toxic friend. “You may think of it as helpful, but if you’re frequently critical of your friend — criticizing their clothing, their choice of dates, or what they’re doing — it probably feels pretty toxic to them,” Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”) psychotherapist, and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction, tells Bustle. “You shouldn’t be your friend’s parent; you are supposed to be equals. Trying to control everything is not helpful, it’s toxic.”
Melody Li, Austin-based LMFT, relationship specialist, and co-founder of the Austin Counseling Collective, agrees. “Healthy friends can offer and receive honest feedback from one another — but perpetual criticism is definitely toxic,” she tells Bustle. “Being a friend is not a free pass for throwing out criticisms.”
3You Repeatedly Make Conversations More About You Than Them
When your friend is in the middle of telling you something, do you make the conversation about you instead? “Oftentimes, toxic relationships can be masked by feigned enthusiasm or a quick ‘I know what you mean...,’ which quickly leads to ‘Oh my gosh, but that’s NOTHING compared to what happened to me yesterday,’” Waters says. “Emotionally one-upping your friend can make them feel like you barely listened to them, or that your feelings are more important than theirs,” he says.
Carolyn Cole, LCPC, LMFT, NCC, says that you should examine how balanced the friendship is — or not. “Is there an imbalance in it?” she tells Bustle. “One sign of this is if most of your conversations are focused on you rather than learning more about what’s going on in your friends’ lives.”
4You Give Unsolicited Advice
Although it’s nice for friends to give each other advice, what type of advice are you giving your friend(s)? “If you’re giving unsolicited advice and telling your friends what you think they should do or coming across as judgmental toward them, this is toxic,” Cole says. “This will just push your friends away.”
Li thinks so, too. “Feedback is most helpful when someone asks it — not when it’s offered unprompted — because it means they are ready to reflect and potentially shift,” she says. “Beneficial feedback comes in the form of sincere, selfless concern, and lots of encouragement and support.”
However, she adds that plain criticism, especially when uninvited, is often more reflective of what’s happening within the friend giving their “two cents.”
Even though you may not intend to be controlling, when you think about it, you realize you are, which is another trait of a toxic friend. “You are controlling and feel you own your friend — you have your friend and feel there is no room for others,” Dr. Klapow says. He adds that you not only want to spend time with the friend-in-question, but you also want to know what they are doing when you are not with them.
“Friendships that stifle growth are often toxic, such as if you’re trying to consistently distance your friend from their other friend groups, family, or their significant other,” Li says. “Healthy friendships offer each other room to grow and expand their relationships.”
She says a red flag is if you guilt trip your friend for having closer relationships with others than with you. “That protectiveness may appear sweet at first, but it may also point to signs of possessiveness, envy, and insecurity, which can easily evolve into a toxic dynamic,” Li says.
Are you the type of friend who bails on a friend when better plans come along? Yep, it’s another indicator that you’re a toxic type. “If you’re late a lot, don’t return phone calls, or drop plans with your friend because you’ve been asked on a date, you’re a toxic friend,” Dr. Tessina says. “Being inconsiderate shows your friend that they’re not really important to you and that you don’t value them as a person.”
If you’re more negative than positive, it could be another indicator that you’re the toxic friend. “You see the world through a negative lens: You have doubts about yourself, your relationship with your friend, your future, and the world,” Dr. Klapow says. “In essence, you are looking for the next problem, the next let-down, and the next thing to go wrong.”
Cole agrees. “If you are constantly complaining or focusing on negativity, this can emotionally drain those around you,” she says.
8You Gossip Behind Their Back
Think about how often you talk behind a friend's back to others. “If you gossip behind your friend’s back, and share things that were meant to be kept secret, you’re a toxic friend,” Dr. Tessina says. “It may make you feel popular with others to gossip, but it’s very toxic to yourself and everyone else. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
9You Get Upset When You Don’t Get Your Way
Every relationship is about compromise, whether it’s romantic or platonic. “If you get upset when you don’t get your way, it’s an indicator of being a toxic friend,” Cole says. “If your friend won’t meet you when you’d like or you two aren’t doing activities that you prefer, are you blowing up at them or responding in passive-aggressive ways?”
10You Only Call Them When You Have A Problem
Do you only contact your friend(s) when you have a problem? “I have people in my life that look up to me, and I’ve let them know it’s perfectly clear and welcomed to reach out to me in times of need,” Waters says. “But then there are others that only use me for my knowledge, my connections, or because they know I’ll answer my phone.” He says this is *conditional* love — versus unconditional, of course — and these same people won’t call to celebrate the good things when they happen, too.
11You’re Jealous Of Their Successes
Although jealousy is a normal feeling, being jealous of your friend’s successes is another sign of toxic behavior. “Examples of this include finding it hard to be happy for your friends if they have a happy relationship, get engaged, become pregnant, or get that promotion they were hoping for,” Cole says.
12You Seek Validation
If you feel you need your friend to give you meaning, affirmation, and purpose — in other words, you seek validation from them — it’s another sign of being a toxic friend, according to Dr. Klapow. “You are not looking for a relationship that is honest; rather, one that is reinforcing all the time,” he says. “You need someone to tell you that you’re ‘good enough,’ ‘smart enough,’ ‘well-liked,’ etc.”
13You Attack Their Identity
If you make fun of your friend — especially in the form of attacking their identity — it can be another toxic trait. “I think a lot of times when people are engaging in toxic behaviors, it comes from a sense of insecurity or being ‘lost’ and trying to assert their identity anywhere they can,” Waters says. “But, what it seems and feels like is an attack on your friend’s identity.” For instance, he says this includes making fun of their laugh, making mean comments when they trip on a curb or mispronounce a word, or even judging their fashion sense or taste in people they date. Waters says to ask yourself: “If you say something judgmental about them, then why are you spending time with them?”
As you can see, there are several signs that you may be the toxic friend. If you recognize some of these behaviors in yourself, know that it's something you can work on. It’s best to speak to a professional, such as a therapist, so you can become more secure in your friendships and approach them in a healthier manner.