How do you know if you have a toxic friendship? It can be really difficult— because we often don't want to see it. As much as people talk about difficult relationships where we don't want to see how bad things have gotten, the truth is that the very same holds true for friendships. We often stay in bad friendships for the same reasons we stay in bad romantic relationships. "Sometimes, people are afraid of being alone, so we stay in a relationship or friends with someone because 'at least we have somebody,'" Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, an NYC-based therapist specializing in relationships, tells Bustle. "Sometimes, people feel they don't deserve better. We get comfortable with the status quo and just continue on the same path because change is hard! People also stay in toxic relationships because they think their intuition is wrong. We engage in denial and go on because it's easier than going through the pain of conflict."
And with close friendships — with best friends— it's even more complicated. Often these people have been in your life for years or even decades. That's a lot longer than most of our relationships last. But just because they've been there forever, doesn't mean that they're good for you. So here are the signs that your best friend is toxic, because going way back is no excuse:
1. It's A One-Way Street
You know this one — because it's the most annoying effing thing in the world. If you are always listening to them, being there for them, and yet never having it returned, it's definitely a one-way street. And that's not a good sign.
Friendships are only happy and healthy if you both feel valued and heard — but some people view friendships as a constant support network for them, without feeling like they should give much back. Sometimes it's really good to take a step back and check in with yourself to see if you're actually getting anything good out of this friendship — if not, it may be time to rethink.
2. They Want You In A Certain Role
One of my friends had a close friend who loved her dearly— until my friend suddenly became more sexually confident and getting male attention. Then, she couldn't handle it. And it's not uncommon. "Have you ever noticed that right when you are about to take a huge risk or leap into a new exciting life moment that the people closest to you are often the most negative?" Todd Mitchem, speaker and author of YOU, DISRUPTED, tells Bustle. "This happens because subconsciously they MUST have you stay where you are in life to make them feel safe." If your friend wants to keep you in a box, something's not right.
3. They Make You Feel Uncomfortable
Just because you spend a lot of time with them, doesn't necessarily mean you're actually close — close friendships are about being yourselves together, rather than just spending a lot of time in the same room.
"Toxic people may look like ordinary people and may be the closest people in your life," Audrey Hope, relationship expert, tells Bustle. "However, you know they are toxic when you are around them because after you are in their presence, you just don’t feel like yourself." If you keep up a certain facade around them, if you feel scared or uncomfortable, it's a sign that something is definitely not right. Friendships should make you feel happy and relaxed — and able to be yourself.
4. They Give Out Criticism, But Melt Down If Confronted With Any
Toxic people loose their minds if there's any criticism thrown their way — but they will happily dole it out. "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.
If you find that you're a constant cheerleader for this person without ever being able to voice what you really think, that's not a natural friendship. Sometimes, friendship means giving that tough love — and accepting it when it comes your way.
5. They Make You Feel Small
All that criticism without any empathy is bound to make you feel small. And friendship is supposed to be about making your life better. "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."
Of course, a friend is allowed to say that their concerned or worried — but they can do it with compassion and understanding. If this person just likes to tear your down, that's not a real friendship at all.
6. They're Never Accountable ... You Are
Do you feel like you're always taking the fall for your best friend? Or get frustrated that they can never admit they're wrong? It's a classic sign of a toxic friendship. "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." There's a good chance you feel resentful— and with good reason. It's hard to be the only person acting like an adult, so you may find that you just don't want to put up with it.
7. They Guilt Trip You
Toxic people are manipulators — and guilt is a very strong manipulator. "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."
The worst part? Toxic people are often really good at it — they know what will make you feel guilty and they find it easy to play on that. If they're always pulling at those strings, it's time to move on.
8. They're Jealous
"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."
If you feel like your friend is jealous of your life, your other friends, your relationship — anything at all — and can't deal with it in a healthy way, then they're not worth your time. Real friends take joy in each other's successes, rather than resenting them.
9. The Friendship Makes You Feel Tired
Toxicity is draining. A good indicator of how healthy the friendship is is how it makes you feel. "We are supposed to be a better version of ourselves in our relationships and support each other’s goals," Clarissa Silva, Behavioral Scientist and owner of relationship blog You're Just A Dumbass, tells Bustle. "If that’s not happening, it might be that you are surrounding yourself with toxic people. Over time, surrounding yourself with toxic people not only erodes your self-esteem and sense of self; it creates maladaptive patterns and cycles." If you're feeling run down, worn out, or just fed up— there's a good chance you've got a toxic friend. Or more than one.
It can be so difficult to say goodbye to a friendship, especially a close one. But you don't have the time or energy for toxic people in your life. Know the signs — and know when enough is enough.
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