9 signs a friendship has gone toxic (and it’s time to walk away)

Friendship, like any relationship, isn’t always sunshine and roses. Sometimes, it can turn sour, become toxic and start hurting you more than it uplifts you.

The tricky part? Identifying when a friendship has turned toxic isn’t always straightforward. It’s like trying to see the forest for the trees – you’re so close to the situation that it’s difficult to spot the signs.

Thankfully, there are some telltale signs that can help you figure out if a friendship has gone toxic. And once you know what to look for, you can decide if it’s time to walk away.

In this piece, I’m going to share with you nine signs that a friendship has turned toxic. Remember, it’s your well-being that’s at stake here. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first.

1) Constant negativity

Friendships, like any relationship, have their ups and downs. But when the downs start to outweigh the ups, it’s time to take a step back and assess the situation.

If you find that your interactions with your friend are more often negative than positive, it might be a sign that the friendship has gone toxic. This can be anything from constant criticism, to unending drama, to feeling drained every time you hang out.

It’s important to remember that friendships should primarily bring joy, support and a sense of belonging. If instead, you’re constantly feeling stressed, belittled or unhappy, it might be time to reconsider if this is a friendship you want to maintain.

It’s your emotional health at stake here. It’s okay to prioritize your well-being over a friendship that has become harmful.

2) They’re never there when you need them

A good friend is someone you can count on, someone who’s there for you in your time of need. But what happens when a friend is consistently unavailable or unresponsive when you’re going through a tough time?

I remember a time when I was going through a rough patch. I had just lost my job and was feeling pretty low. I reached out to a friend, hoping for some comfort or at least an ear to vent to. But their response was lukewarm at best. They brushed off my concerns, changed the subject and seemed more interested in talking about their own life. It happened not just once, but repeatedly.

It was then that I realized that this was a toxic friendship. A true friend doesn’t just show up for the good times, they’re there for the hard times as well.

If you have a friend who is consistently absent or indifferent during your times of need, it might be a sign that your friendship has gone toxic.

It’s tough, but sometimes it’s necessary to let go of such friendships for your own emotional well-being.

3) They dismiss your feelings

In a healthy friendship, both individuals should feel valued and heard. When a friend dismisses your feelings or belittles your emotions, it can be a clear sign of a toxic friendship.

Did you know that according to a study by the University of California, feeling invalidated or dismissed by a close friend can lead to increased stress and even depression?

If you find that your friend regularly invalidates your feelings or minimizes your problems, it’s time to reassess the health of your friendship.

Everyone deserves to have their feelings acknowledged and respected. If this isn’t happening in your friendship, it may be turning toxic.

4) They’re always taking, never giving

A balanced friendship is a two-way street. It involves both giving and receiving – be it time, effort, or emotional support. However, if you find that your friend is always on the receiving end and seldom reciprocates, you might be in a toxic friendship.

If your friend is constantly leaning on you for support but disappears when you need a shoulder to lean on, it’s a clear sign of imbalance. Similarly, if they’re always eager to share their problems with you but show little interest in listening to yours, the friendship may have turned toxic.

Friendship should never feel like a one-sided effort. If it does, it might be time to reassess and possibly walk away for your own well-being.

5) They betray your trust

Trust is the bedrock of any good friendship. It’s the safety net that allows us to be vulnerable, share our deepest secrets, and truly open up. But what happens when that trust is broken?

If your friend is constantly gossiping about you, sharing your secrets, or betraying your confidence, it’s a glaring red flag. This kind of behavior can cause a lot of emotional pain and indicates a lack of respect for you and your friendship.

Betrayal of trust isn’t something to be taken lightly. It can severely damage the fabric of your friendship and sometimes, it’s an irreparable damage.

If you find yourself in such a situation, it might be time to consider walking away.

6) You feel worse after spending time with them

Friendship should be a source of comfort, a safe haven where you can be yourself without fear of judgment. But when a friendship turns toxic, it can start to drain your energy and leave you feeling worse than before.

Imagine this: You’ve just spent an afternoon with your friend. Instead of feeling refreshed and happy, you’re left with a heavy heart, feeling drained or upset. This could be because of their constant criticism, their negativity, or perhaps just the toxic vibe they radiate.

When your gut instinct tells you something is off, it’s worth paying attention to. Our feelings are often our best guide.

If spending time with a friend consistently leaves you feeling down, it’s a sign that the friendship has gone toxic.

It’s heartbreaking, I know. But walking away might just be the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

7) They’re overly competitive with you

Friendly competition can be healthy and fun. It can push us to grow and improve. But when it becomes constant and intense, it can quickly turn a healthy friendship toxic.

I once had a friend who was always trying to one-up me. If I got a new job, she’d make sure to point out how her job was better. If I bought a new dress, she’d buy a more expensive one. It was exhausting, to say the least.

This continuous competition isn’t just tiresome but also detrimental to your self-esteem. A friendship should be about mutual support and celebration of each other’s victories, not a constant game of comparison.

If you find yourself in such a friendship, it may be time to reassess if this is the kind of energy you need in your life.

8) They don’t respect your boundaries

Healthy friendships are built on mutual respect, which includes respecting each other’s boundaries. However, if you find that your friend consistently oversteps or ignores your boundaries, it could be a sign of a toxic friendship.

Whether it’s showing up uninvited, borrowing your things without asking, or pushing you into situations you’re not comfortable with, these are all signs of disrespect. Your friend’s disregard for your boundaries shows a lack of respect for you as an individual.

Everyone has the right to set their own personal boundaries. If your friend can’t respect yours, it might be time to reassess the friendship.

9) You’re constantly making excuses for their behavior

This is perhaps one of the most telling signs of a toxic friendship: you find yourself constantly justifying their actions or making excuses for their bad behavior.

A friend’s behavior should not require constant justification. If you’re always explaining away their actions or feeling the need to defend them to others, it’s a sign that something isn’t right.

In a healthy friendship, actions speak louder than words. If their behavior consistently causes you discomfort or distress, no amount of excuses can justify staying in the friendship.

It’s important to recognize this as a sign of toxicity and take steps to protect your emotional well-being.

Final reflection: It’s about self-love

At the heart of this journey is one fundamental truth – your well-being matters.

The American Psychological Association states that maintaining healthy relationships is key to promoting good mental health. Conversely, toxic relationships can lead to increased stress, lower self-esteem, and even depression.

Walking away from a toxic friendship isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. It’s an act of self-love and self-preservation. It’s about recognizing that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

It’s about understanding that your mental and emotional health are just as important as your physical health. It’s about knowing when to say “enough is enough”.

So if you find yourself in a toxic friendship, remember this: You have the right to walk away. You have the right to choose peace over chaos, love over disdain, and respect over disrespect.

And most importantly, you have the right to choose yourself.

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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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