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Toxic Friendships: 23 Signs

Toxic Friends

For many people, establishing a friendship with others comes as easily as breathing. After all, most of us begin establishing friendships in early childhood.

Some of us can remember meeting another child on the playground and becoming instant friends. Early friendships start our social learning process as they play a vital role in our emotional and psychological development. Through initiating and building relationships we learn as well as develop important social skills, problem solving techniques, enhance communication styles, and build important life skills. Learning how to build and maintain healthy relationships shape who we become as adults and how we relate to others.   

During our formative years, we are often taught and cautioned by our parents about what to look for in our future mates. However, this education and caution rarely includes what to look for and be weary of in our social relationships. Friendships just like romantic relationships can be toxic.

However, unlike romantic relationships, abuse that occurs during a friendship is often under-reported. It may come as no surprise that romantic relationships often take social precedence over friendships. Unlike romantic relationships, most people assume abuse among friends is not possible as friendships lack the degree of intimacy and emotional access that a romantic relationship includes.

Part of maturing and becoming an adult is developing a real understanding of what true friendship includes. Most of us have gone through the high school drama and angst that comes with being a teenager. We begin to learn that the term “friend” is often used too loosely.

It is during this time we begin to learn the important distinction between friend and acquaintance. We begin the process of learning that not everyone we meet or “know” qualifies as a friend. We learn a friend is someone that supports us, even if they do not support our decision, respects who we are as a person, does not try to change us, but accepts us as we are, is honest, careful with our feelings, etc. A friend is someone special to you, not because you may have known them for a long time, or because you share mutual interests, but because you cherish each other.

Toxic friendships on the other hand can create emotional and psychological distress, self-esteem issues, feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, a higher threshold for other types of abuse, etc. The reason most people acquire a higher threshold for abuse following a toxic friendship includes the erroneous the belief that all relationships consist of some sort of abuse or dysfunction. Studies conducted on social relationships and friendships suggests eight in ten people stay in a toxic friendship even when the relationship is causing emotional and psychological distress.

8 Reasons Why Some People Remain in a Toxic Friendship:

·         They believe abuse and dysfunction exist in every relationship

·         They are afraid of being alone or lonely

·         They are unable to, or do not know how to, voice their concerns within the friendship

·         They have trouble saying “no”

·         They have very loose boundaries

·         They are afraid that they will never find anyone with the friendship qualities they desire, so they decide to settle 

·         They are convinced the friendship will improve with time

·         They make excuses or minimize their friend’s behavior to justify the behavior

23 Signs You May Be Involved in a Toxic Friendship:

·         You dread seeing him/her, and you’re relieved when he/she leaves

·         He/she needs you for everything

·         You are unable to count on him/her when you need a friend

·         He/she is unable to see his/her own flaws

·         He/she betrays your trust

·         He/she constantly criticizes you, you can never do anything right

·         Your friend gets mad at you easily

·         You support your friends and are happy with their success, however, they aren’t happy with your success

·         They always want to talk about themselves, leaving you no opportunity to talk about yourself

·         You are constantly reaching out to them but seem to only connect with them when they need you

·         They do not consider your feelings

·         They are dishonest

·         They pressure you to do things you do not want to do

·         They are unwilling to make accommodations or adjustments to improve upon the friendship

·         Your friend asks personal questions of you, but is unwilling to answer the same questions

·         Your friend constantly takes on a victim role when there is a dispute or conflict in the friendship

·         He/she lacks accountability

·         He/she gossips about you when you are not around

·         He/she promotes negativity

·         You do not have an equal investment in the friendship

·         Your motivation for maintaining the friendship are not the same or similar

·         Your friend constantly compares himself/herself to you

·         Are inflexible, it is always his/her way or no way

Some friendships produce a positive impact on our life, enhancing the quality. However, there are some friendships that cause emotional and psychological distress resulting in a negative impact on our life, decreasing the quality.

If you are in a friendship that includes some of the qualities listed above you may want to rethink your friendship, i.e., the reasons you are friends and the reasons you are staying in the friendship. The decision to end a friendship does not have to happen overnight as you may want to discuss some of your concerns about your friendship with your friend.

By opening a discussion about your friendship, you can identify the issues in the relationship, isolate what is sustaining the problem, as well as identify strategies that can be used to resolve the issues. It is always a good idea to be upfront about your feelings, but if you’re stuck in a toxic friendship, stay committed to getting out of it. Breaking off a friendship is never easy, but you’ll feel better and more empowered once the toxicity from these kinds of friendships is removed from your life.

Toxic Friendships: 23 Signs

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2016). Toxic Friendships: 23 Signs. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Oct 2016
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