Relationships

13 Signs Your Best Friend Is Toxic

Cue up Britney Spears.

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Everyone has that one friend they don’t always get along with. Not quite a frenemy, these folks are constantly getting on your nerves, asking more from you than you’d ever get from them, or guilting you over total non-issues. (Think: Blair Waldorf, pretty much all of the first season of the original Gossip Girl.) That’s when you move from a regular friendship into toxic relationship territory. But how do you know if you have a toxic friendship?

Even if they’re not always rosy, non-toxic friendships generally make people feel good about themselves. “Healthy friendships and relationships provide a space in which we are able to feel safe, supported and valued as an individual, and as a result one can get through life challenges, develop healthy self-esteem, and cultivate a sense of belonging and trust in the world,” says Claudia Sigala, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist with the mental health provider Alma.

But that’s not always what happens, especially when your weekly movie date starts feeling more like a dreaded obligation than something to look forward to. At that point, it’s worth considering if you want to cut out your toxic friends — heck, the pandemic nudged plenty of people to do it. You might also want to pretend there isn’t an issue, especially if you have a long or intense history with your bestie. Sigala explains that denial kicks in when your mind is trying to keep you safe from the disappointment of ending a friendship.

With close relationships, it can be even harder to answer that age-old question: “Is my friend toxic?” Often, these people have been in your life for years or even decades. That's a lot longer than most of romantic relationships last. But just because they've been there forever doesn't mean that they're good for you. Here are 13 signs that your best friend is toxic, because “we go way back” is no excuse.

1

It's A One-Way Street

Supporting your bestie is one thing — constantly serving as their therapist is another. If you are always listening to them and being there for them, but your friend doesn’t send the love back your way, it's definitely a one-way street. And that's a strong sign of a toxic friendship.

“When emotional reciprocity is absent in a friendship, the relationship can feel one-sided and a friend can start feeling like they do not matter and their needs are not important,” Sigala tells Bustle. 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.

2

They Want You In A Certain Role

Maybe you started dating someone new, or maybe you’ve finally landed that dream job. Either way, you’re excited — but your friend is... not. "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?” says Todd Mitchem, a speaker and the author of You, Disrupted. "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. "You know they are toxic when you are around them because after you are in their presence, you just don’t feel like yourself,” says relationship expert Audrey Hope. If you keep up a certain façade around them, if you feel scared or uncomfortable, that’s your intuition telling you to cut your losses and bounce before it gets worse.

4

They Give Out Criticism, But Melt Down If Confronted With Any

Your bestie is great at giving you constructive criticism (and sometimes, critiques that aren’t so helpful). But when you try to return the favor, they shut down or even get mad. "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," says Chicago-based matchmaker Stefanie Safran, founder of Stef and the City.

If you find that you're a constant cheerleader for this person without ever being able to voice what you really think about their new roommate, that's not a friendship you want to keep. Close relationships mean 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 put you in a loop of thinking you’re less than. And friendship is supposed to be about making your life better. "An unhealthy friendship is one that makes you feel bad about yourself," says psychologist Nikki Martinez, Psy.D. "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 they’re concerned or worried about you — but they can do it with compassion and understanding.

6

They're Never Accountable ... You Are

“It’s not me, it’s you” is one of your best friend’s favorite refrains. Maybe you did pick a brunch place with bad service that one time, but they never seem to own up when it’s their turn to shoulder some blame. "One sign of an unhealthy friendship is when you are always taking the fall for your friend," says Samantha Daniels, a professional matchmaker and the founder of The Dating Lounge dating app. "If your friend does something wrong, [they] should take the blame and be accountable for [their] actions."

7

They Guilt Trip You

Sure, your convo about your conflicting travel plans got a little heated, but they didn’t need to make you feel like trash for accidentally double-booking. “In a healthy relationship, one must feel safe to express themselves without fear of being rejected, reprimanded, or shamed,” Sigala explains. People who are prone to toxic dynamics often know what will make you feel guilty, especially when you’re already close friends. 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 pal is jealous of your life, your other friends, your relationship — anything at all — and can't deal with it in a healthy way, it’s a sign of a toxic friendship.

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," says Clarissa Silva, MSW, a behavioral scientist and owner of relationship blog You're Just A Dumbass. "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.

10

You Get A Stomachache Around Them

Your body might know that your friendship is toxic before your mind does. “Common warning signs [of toxic relationships] in our body include an increase in heart beat, tightening in stomach muscles or feeling a pit in the bottom of your stomach, and change in appetite,” Sigala tells Bustle. If you suddenly feel sick when you have upcoming plans with them, it may be your body trying to tell you to avoid all that emotional stress. Or if your stomach is tied in knots the day after you hang out, you might be physically processing the stress of coping with so much toxicity.

11

You Stop Sharing Your True Thoughts And Feelings

That awkward moment when your supposed best friend finds out about your work promotion on Instagram might make them mad. But if you’re honest with yourself, you know there are reasons you’ve stopped telling them what you’re thinking and how you’re doing. “You may notice yourself holding back and sharing less than you usually would,” Sigala says. When your friend has developed a habit of putting you down when you’re happy and making you second guess your every move, of course you don’t want to tell them what’s really going on with you. That type of holding back might make you question if your friendship is still worth it.

12

Your Self-Esteem Is Lower Around Them

One of the biggest problems with toxic friendships is that they don’t just impact your relationship with that person. They also hurt your relationship with yourself. “Toxic relationships can end up having a long-term impact on the individual who is not getting as much as they are giving,” Sigala tells Bustle. “These individuals may notice a decrease in their self-esteem, isolation, and overall dissatisfaction in life.” So if your self-confidence reliably dips after grabbing drinks with your bestie, it might be time to grant someone else the role of Best Friend.

13

Your Friendship Standards Get Lower

It can be hard to believe you’re worthy of respect and love when you’ve become a full-time doormat for your supposed best friend. "Sometimes, people feel they don't deserve better,” says Kimberly Hershenson, L.M.S.W., an NYC-based therapist specializing in relationships. “We get comfortable with the status quo and just continue on the same path because change is hard!”

This momentum can make you doubt yourself and lower your standards, Hershenson explains. “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.” But the pain of a friendship breakup is somewhat temporary — the pain of staying in a toxic friendship will last even longer.

Experts:

Claudia Sigala, L.C.S.W., psychotherapist with Alma

Kimberly Hershenson, L.M.S.W.

Todd Mitchem, speaker and author

Audrey Hope, relationship expert

Stefanie Safran, matchmaker and founder of Stef and the City

Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., psychologist

Samantha Daniels, professional matchmaker and founder of The Dating Lounge dating app

April Masini, relationship expert and author

Clarissa Silva, M.S.W., behavioral scientist and owner of You're Just A Dumbass