9 Clear Signs You’re in a Toxic Friendship

Updated: Jun. 30, 2021

Breaking up isn’t just for lovers. If you've got toxic friends, parting ways could be the healthiest thing for you. Here are some red flags to watch out for.

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Hipster girl with her phone on a park bench

You keep good news to yourself

Are you hesitant to tell her about your new boyfriend? Hide the fact that you got a promotion, a new house, or other good news? You may be covering up your happiness since your toxic friends are jealous, envious, competitive, or negative when you experience successes and accomplishments. “Pay attention to those little nudges you get emotionally, the ones that make you pause before sharing good news with a friend,” says Cherie Burbach, relationship expert and author, who specializes in relationships and helping people connect. “If you hate to bring it up for fear she’ll put you down or make a snarky comment, then why would you want this person as a friend?” A good friend should be someone who can share in your excitement. Your relationship will suffer if you don’t have that level of open communication. Hint: Here are the signs that you can trust a friend with important intel.

Bored girl drinking coffee with her boyfriend and looking away
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

You never have a chance to speak

You start to tell her about a fabulous new restaurant. Then she tells you about the new restaurant she went to last night, how the food was awful and on and on. She only wants to talk about herself and hijacks all conversations. But when it’s your turn to speak, she barely listens to what you’re saying. “This is someone who doesn’t understand that friendships are reciprocal,” says Burbach. An occasional venting session where you’re the sounding board is normal. But a real friend should listen to you—even if she can’t help steer the conversation to herself—and pay attention to what you have to say. “Toxic friends tend to be very self-focused,” says relationship expert Andrea Syrtash, relationship expert and author of He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s a Good Thing). “If you find that your friend isn’t very interested in your life, pay attention to this dynamic. Friendship should be a two-way street.” Friends are more important than you think—facts that prove (good) friends are healthy for us.

Young woman worries about conflict with another woman

You feel like you’re in a fishbowl

Why did you wear that? Why did you have her family over for dinner? Why did you buy that gift? If your toxic friends are constantly judging your decisions and your opinions, they’re disrespecting your values. Your friend shouldn’t want you to be more like her. People want to be challenged—not changed,” says Syrtash. “It’s OK for friends to challenge us in a supportive way. But when they judge you, they’re imposing their own values onto you instead of acknowledging your needs and values.” (Here are some quotes about toxic people that will help you move past the judgment.)

young woman smoking electronic cigarette

You make bad decisions around her

Are your toxic friends always trying to get you to do something that’s bad? Maybe she pushes you to smoke when you’re trying to quit or to have that extra drink when she knows you have to drive home. A real friend doesn’t push you to act dangerously or unhealthfully. It’s disrespectful to put you in a situation where you’re uncomfortable or that may be illegal. Think about why she’s dragging you into this situation. Does she want a partner in crime to make herself feel better? “Sometimes toxic friends like to bring you into unhealthy behaviors so that they feel less guilty or ashamed of their actions,” says Syrtash. Get inspired about healthy friendships with these quotes about best friends that will give you all the feels. 

Young man looking at smartwatch

He’s just not reliable

You made plans months ago for dinner. Suddenly, he says he has to work late or offers a vague excuse for bailing. Or maybe he just forgets about your plans completely. Plans fall through or are forgotten sometimes; it happens to everyone. But who wants a friend who is constantly disrespectful of your time? “A friend who consistently cancels or worse, completely forgets about your plans, sends a clear message that you just aren’t worth the effort,” says Burbach. Syrtash puts it bluntly. “Good friends are dependable and consistent,” she says. “Period.” Before you act, though, make sure your friend isn’t having mental-health or substance-abuse issues that could be impacting his behavior. After all, being a good friend works both ways. Make sure you are being a good friend by doing these 24 little things you can do to be a true friend.

One friend texting, the other looking away
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

Your friendship is one-sided

Friendships aren’t always equal. We all bring something unique to the relationship, says Burbach, whether it’s being more proactive making plans or being a good listener. But if you constantly feel like you’re putting all the effort into the friendship, Burbach says that you probably are. She suggests testing the waters by not calling or reaching out first to your friend. Then, see what happens. “If your friend seems to forget about you, you’ll know that your friendship was one-sided,” says Burbach. “Friends who can only make time to call when they want something aren’t friends at all.” Instead, look for friends who treat each other well, like these 14 amazing things girlfriends have done for one another.

Man supporting upset friend

He’s clingy like seaweed

Your friend needs you to hang out with him every Friday night. He wants your feedback on every decision or be his plus-one at every work event. It can even reach the point of you feeling like he’s controlling or possessive, as he demands why you didn’t return or call a text immediately. There reaches a point when someone is so dependent that it crosses a line and exhausts all your time. If your friend is too clingy, Burbach suggests giving him the hint by pulling back. If need be, talk with him about what’s acceptable to you and what’s not.  Here’s how to tell if you’re experiencing gaslighting in a relationship.

Young couple arguing in a cafe
Roman Kosolapov/Shutterstock

She’s a Debbie Downer

She never likes the events at the school, the restaurant where you’re celebrating a birthday, the movie you saw at the local theater. It can be difficult to be upbeat and positive around someone who constantly complains. “Very often the world feels like a negative, hopeless place, which is why having the right friends is so important,” says Burbach. “Good friends will help you see the possibilities in life.” If your friend used to be perpetually sunny and suddenly becomes mad or annoyed about everything, check in on her well-being. But if she’s always been that way, you may need to find someone who is happier. If this sounds like you, read these 17 signs you’re causing a toxic relationship.

woman alone at bar checking phone

You don’t look forward to plans

You dodge her calls and constantly reschedule a lunch date. You feel better when she’s not around. That’s the problem right there—you should look forward to spending time with a friend, not trying to avoid it. “This is your mind and body telling you that this person isn’t a good fit for your life,” says Burbach. Remember that we’re born into our family, but we get to voluntarily choose our friends. “If you’re staying in a relationship out of guilt, it’s not a good thing for either party,” says Syrtash. “All of us deserve to be in relationships with people who we’re excited to spend time with.” Worried you don’t have any real, good friends? Fear of being alone is a big reason people stay in toxic friendships. Instead of suffering, use these ways to make healthy friends as an adult.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest