How many friends do you have?
Five? Ten? Maybe 40.
In the age of Facebook and Snapchat, it all seems like a game of numbers: The more popular you are, the more online friends and followers you have.
But here’s the thing:
Quantity is never a good indicator of quality.
You could reach the Facebook limit of 5,000 friends but feel that you’re still all alone.
Sometimes, you don’t even get messages from people you thought were close to you.
But do you know what’s the worst thing?
Having fake friends.
In my experience, these are the people who associate themselves with you for all the wrong reasons. Even if you expect a good time, you’re eventually bound to have a terrible experience with these supposedly good friends.
A friendship with a fake friend can also be described as a toxic friendship.
According to Kelly Campbell, a professor of psychology at California State University, a “toxic friendship is one that violates the norms and expectations of friendship.”
She says that “friends should have your best interest at heart, stand up for you in your absence, keep your secrets, treat you with respect, be trustworthy and supportive, and be happy for your successes.”
According to Campbell, it’s when these norms aren’t upheld that it’s a “toxic friendship.”
I tend to agree with this.
So how can you spot a fake friend from a real one?
Here are what I believe are 5 common signs:
1) They Don’t Tolerate Differences in Opinion
Look, real friends always joke around and argue about both trivial and serious matters.
Fake friends also discuss these things, but here’s the difference:
They won’t let you win.
These ‘friends’ won’t let you rest until they’ve pointed out how they’re absolutely right.
Somehow, it’s them who know the full context and have all the correct opinions.
In other words:
Fake friends require unearned, full-on support — there’s no room for compromise.
Stefanie Safran says in Bustle that this is a clear sign of a toxic friend:
“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.”
And you know what?
This is bad for your emotional and mental well-being.
You should have an avenue to voice out your opinions without being harassed. If your opinion is discriminatory, you should get reprimanded in a peaceful manner.
And if it’s them who say really offensive things, they should own up as well.
Sadly, fake friends have this issue:
They have a hard time accepting they’re wrong. It’s as if you’re just there to please them all the time.
You’re not a friend to them.
You’re just someone expected to parrot their opinions. And if you keep on disagreeing with them, they will stop talking to you until you ask for their forgiveness.
‘Respect’ is a foreign word to them.
2) They Make Excuses and Break Their Promises
There’s one pretty popular saying about friendship.
It goes something like this:
“Real friends will always have your back.”
While this isn’t completely true because even the best of friends have many responsibilities, it still helps us understand why we’d want to have genuine friends.
In contrast, your fake friends won’t care.
And you know what?
We get it. It’s completely understandable to decline an invite to hang out if you’re busy. Friends shouldn’t force friends to participate in social activities.
But to always be unavailable?
That’s a trademark characteristic of fake friends.
According to Dana Peters, MA, a life, wellness + recovery coach, “If you are in need and you notice a pattern of your friend giving excuses or simply disappearing – you may be in a toxic friendship,”
Ask them if they want to have lunch with you at the mall. Or go see a movie that’s right up their alley. Or even be a shoulder to lean on when you’re feeling down and depressed.
No matter the gravity of the situation, it’s all the same:
“No, sorry. Can’t go.”
Sometimes, they even say things like:
“Yeah, sure! Promise, I’ll be there.”
But on the day of the occasion, they’ll back out. Suddenly, they’re sick or have a prior errand to attend to. Worse, they just won’t reply to your messages the whole day — even if you can see them online on Twitter and Snapchat.
Most importantly, remember this:
If you’ve helped them on more than occasion and they’ve never stayed true to their word, beware. You most likely have fake friends staying around only for their benefit.
3) You’re Only an Emotional Outlet to Them
We’ve all had this experience:
After class or work, you meet your dearest friend and talk about anything and everything.
You ask each other questions:
“How is work?”
“Did you see anyone you’re attracted to today?”
“What book are you reading now?”
The point is, you share moments with each other.
Both of you feel lighter and more enriched — knowing that there’s someone willing to listen to you, and vice versa.
So what’s the deal with fake friends?
Well, they still listen to your rants and raves. And you’re all ears when it’s time for them to speak out.
But here’s the problem:
They’re more keen to rant than to rave when they’re with you. Worse, they listen to your advice that they asked for — but they won’t actually change their ways.
In short: You’re just there so that they can vent about everything.
According to Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D. in Psychology Today, this is a clear sign of a toxic relationship:
“Friends who monopolize conversations or only want to discuss their own lives and experiences, without giving you time to share your perspectives or feelings.”
Maybe something good happened yesterday to them. But even so, they’ll focus on the bad things that happened to them yesterday. Or throughout the week. Or the past few months, even.
Do you know about stress management?
It’s why some people do yoga every weekend. Some play video games. Others read a book while having a good cup of coffee. Then there are those who scream into their pillow.
Yet even the last option is better than what fake friends do:
You are their chosen way to release stress.
And that’s just it. They won’t change their ways. They don’t become better after releasing all their frustrations onto you.
Because you take off all the emotional load for your fake friends. They can then continue living in toxic relationships or being unproductive all the time.
4) They’re Only Around to Get What They Want
According to Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D., a red flag of a toxic friend is if “your friend only seems to “like you” or want to spend time with you when he or she needs something from you”.
Have you experienced this?
As you’re browsing Facebook, a friend request pops out of nowhere.
You check it out, and you’re amused:
It’s someone you know at work or at school.
You two have never really interacted beyond the usual greetings upon seeing each other at the elevator or down the hall. You can’t even remember their name.
“But so what?”
You then proceed to accept their friend request. Soon enough, you realize the purpose of this supposed friendship.
It starts out like this:
They ask you how your day was. You guys talk about the stress of working or school life. You know, trivial stuff.
But then something happens:
Out of a sudden, they concentrate on a specific topic.
This could be about your current partner. Or your ex. Or one of your siblings. This could even be about a possible crazy, drunken night you had many, many years ago.
You’re not exactly sure why they want to know about something so personal.
But since you already see them as a good friend, you open up to them.
So how does this connect to fake friends?
Well, it’s because they’re only around you to get information.
Perhaps they’re a close friend of someone you broke up with. They only want to know who you’re with now, or if you’re feeling miserable that you lost your ex.
Another reason for them contacting you is that they’re jealous of your recent promotion. This friend of yours is really just hoping to get a shameful story from you, which they can use for bullying.
The main point is:
They have no genuine interest in being friends with you.
5) They Can’t Keep a Secret
It’s common to develop a crush on someone.
It’s also not rare to share secrets about love to your friends.
After all, it’s fun to have someone to tell stories with. Plus, who doesn’t like getting teased once in a while about their love interests?
So here’s the dilemma:
Fake friends don’t know when to shut up.
It’s as if it’s in their nature to spill the beans the moment you’re not around. They don’t care about your right to privacy — or that you trust them enough to keep a secret.
According to a piece in New York Times, “betrayal makes for a bad friendship” and “when friends split up”, “it is often in cases where one hs shared personal information or secrets that the other wanted to be kept confidential.”
For them, it’s all about the drama. They’ll even tell lies if they have to.
This is because spilling secrets make them feel like they have power — that, somehow, this will make them more popular or better in the eyes of others.
Do you know about Gossip Girl?
It’s like that.
Fake friends are just waiting for the next, big juicy gossip from their friends.
As long as it’s not about them, they’re more than ready to let the world know ASAP.
How to Deal with Your Fake Friends
Okay, so now you’ve identified whom among your friends are the fake ones. You’ve realized how manipulative and unworthy they are.
What do you do about it?
Here’s a suggestion:
Cut ties with them. We know it’s not easy being the one to initiate this, especially if you’ve had genuinely good moments with them.
You’re better off without them.
There are people out there waiting to be your real friends. People who will listen to you and who are willing to be there from time to time.
So approach your fake friends, one by one.
Tell them what your realizations and how you honestly feel about them.
Let them defend themselves, but don’t let your guard down. They might just be guilt-tripping you to get out of the situation and look like the good guys.
On the other hand, perhaps you don’t want to completely get rid of them.
It’s up to you to decide.
Dr. Lerner said in the New York times that it ”depends on how large the injury is.”
”Sometimes the mature thing is to lighten up and let something go,” she added. ”It’s also an act of maturity sometimes to accept another person’s limitations.”
Or you can’t because either you’ll see them every day at work or because they’re genuinely good friends with your other pals.
In this case:
Learn to distance yourself from them.
You guys can still be acquaintances or friends, but you will no longer be as open to them as before. You won’t trust them with your personal stories and secrets, nor will you expect to get any help from them.
This is where you could adopt the Grey Rock Method.
The Gray Rock Method gives you the option of blending in so that you no longer serve as a target for that person.
Live Strong says that the Gray Rock Method involves remaining emotionally unresponsive:
“It’s a matter of making yourself as boring, nonreactive and unremarkable as possible — like a gray rock…More importantly, remain as emotionally unresponsive to their pokes and prods as you can possibly allow yourself.”
If you can’t cut them out of your life completely, try separating yourself from them as much as possible.
But if you can cut them out of your life, then you need to decide what’s best for your emotional health.
Perhaps Karen Riddell J.D. says it best:
“Let’s ditch all those “frenemies” that seem to provide us with a constant stream of pointed barbs, backhanded compliments, competitive comparisons, and fake praise or encouragement.”
Only by changing your approach will your fake friends realize that they can’t mess with you ever again.
Are you mentally tough?
Resilience and mental toughness are key attributes to living your best life. They determine how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down, from battling an illness, to dealing with challenging emotions, to carrying on after a relationship has ended.
In The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Developing Mental Toughness, we outline exactly what it means to be mentally tough and equip you with 10 resilience-building tools that you can start using today.
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