9 classic signs of a toxic friend, according to psychology

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Navigating friendships can be a tricky business, especially when it comes to identifying toxic ones.

The fact is, toxic friendships can be hard to spot. They’re often disguised under layers of shared laughter, long talks and seemingly sweet gestures.

But, don’t be fooled. According to psychology, there are some classic signs that reveal the true nature of a toxic friend. And being aware of these signs is crucial to safeguarding your emotional well-being.

Let’s dive into these telltale signs. 

1) They’re constantly negative

In any relationship, a healthy dose of positivity is essential. But with a toxic friend, you’ll find that positivity is often in short supply.

Psychology tells us that people who are constantly negative can have a profound impact on our own emotions and mental health. This is known as emotional contagion – we can ‘catch’ the emotions of those around us.

If you find yourself constantly feeling down after spending time with a certain friend, take note. Their constant negativity could be dragging you down without you even realizing it.

A true friend should lift you up, not bring you down. So if your friend is always negative, it may be one of the key signs they’re toxic.

But remember, everyone has bad days. It becomes a problem when it’s more than just an occasional occurrence.

2) They’re never there when you need them

One of the main pillars of friendship is being there for each other in times of need. But a toxic friend? They’re typically nowhere to be found when you really need them.

I remember a time when I was going through a tough personal situation. I reached out to a friend, let’s call him Mark, hoping for some comfort and advice. But instead, he brushed off my concerns and changed the topic to his own problems.

That’s when it hit me – Mark was always happy to hang out when things were fun and easy, but when it came to offering support during tough times, he was absent.

This is a classic sign of a toxic friend. It’s important to have friends who can offer mutual support, not just take it.

3) They’re overly competitive

In a healthy friendship, there’s a sense of mutual celebration when one person succeeds. But with toxic friends, your success can often lead to jealousy or competition.

Did you know that according to research conducted by the University of Cambridge, competition between friends can lead to stress, anxiety and can even affect your physical health?

If you find your friend always trying to one-up you or showing signs of jealousy when you succeed, it could mean you’re dealing with a toxic friend.

A true friend celebrates your victories and doesn’t turn them into a competition.

4) They rarely apologize

We all make mistakes – it’s part of being human. But a clear sign of a toxic friend is someone who rarely, if ever, apologizes.

If your friend consistently hurts your feelings or does something wrong and never takes responsibility for their actions, it could be a red flag. This shows a lack of empathy and respect for your feelings.

Healthy friendships are built on mutual respect and understanding, and part of that is being able to apologize when you’re in the wrong. A friend who can’t do this might be more toxic than you realize.

5) They’re always the victim

Have you ever noticed that some people always seem to be the victim in every situation? This is another classic sign of a toxic friend.

If your friend never takes responsibility for their actions and always places the blame on others, it may be time to reconsider the friendship. It’s one thing to have bad luck, but quite another to never accept any responsibility for negative outcomes.

This kind of behavior can be draining and can create a negative environment. Remember, it’s not your job to constantly reassure someone who refuses to take responsibility for their actions.

6) They don’t respect your boundaries

Every one of us has certain boundaries that we expect others to respect. These boundaries could be physical, emotional or even related to our time and commitments.

A toxic friend, however, often doesn’t understand or respect these boundaries. They might push you into doing things you’re uncomfortable with or demand more of your time than you’re willing to give.

Having your boundaries repeatedly violated can leave you feeling disrespected and undervalued. It’s heart-wrenching when a friend, someone you trust and care for, shows such disregard for your comfort and well-being.

In a healthy friendship, both parties understand and respect each other’s boundaries. If this isn’t the case, it might be time to reassess the relationship.

7) They spread rumors about you

Trust is the backbone of any strong friendship. But a toxic friend can often betray that trust by spreading rumors or sharing your secrets.

I recall a time when I confided in a friend about a personal issue. I trusted her, believing my secret was safe. But soon, whispers of my situation began to circulate within our circle. It was devastating to realize that my friend had been the one spreading the information.

This is a classic sign of a toxic friend – they break your trust and use your vulnerabilities against you. A true friend would never exploit your trust in such a way.

8) They don’t celebrate your achievements

In a true friendship, your victories are celebrated and your joys are shared. But a toxic friend often struggles to genuinely celebrate your achievements.

If you notice that your friend either downplays your successes or ignores them altogether, it could be a sign of toxicity. They may even try to steer the conversation towards their own achievements, rather than focusing on yours.

This lack of support and enthusiasm for your achievements can be disheartening and may indicate that you’re dealing with a toxic friend.

9) They make you feel drained

Above all, one of the most telling signs of a toxic friend is how you feel after spending time with them. If you consistently feel emotionally drained, stressed, or unhappy after hanging out with a certain friend, it’s a clear sign of toxicity.

A healthy friendship should leave you feeling energized and uplifted, not drained and distressed.

So if your interactions with a friend leave you feeling worse off, it’s time to consider whether this friendship is truly beneficial for your well-being.

The crux: It’s about self-love and respect

When it comes to friendships, the most crucial thing to understand is that your well-being matters. Every friendship should add value to your life, not subtract from it.

If you find yourself relating to these signs of a toxic friend, it’s time for some serious introspection. Remember, it’s okay to distance yourself from people who drain your energy and undermine your self-esteem.

According to John Mark Green, a storyteller and poet, “Toxic people attach themselves like cinder blocks tied to your ankles, and then invite you for a swim in their poisoned waters.”

Navigating friendships isn’t always easy, but identifying toxic friends is an essential step towards creating healthier relationships. It all boils down to self-love and respect – because you deserve nothing less.

As you navigate the world of friendships, remember that it’s okay to put yourself first and prioritize your emotional health. After all, you’re the one who has to live with the consequences of these relationships. So choose wisely.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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