8 friendship red flags you should never ignore, according to psychology

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We need friends, even science says so.

But sometimes, you can’t help but wonder if YOUR friends are indeed good for you.

It’s not like they’re bad people, it’s just that being with them feels a little…off.

Well, it must be your gut trying to tell you something.

Let’s turn to psychology and examine your friendships, once and for all.

Here are 8 friendship red flags you should never ignore, according to psychology.

1) It kinda feels like you’re in a cult

You’re not a member of a cult but you’ve watched enough Netflix documentaries about them to know what they’re like.

And being with your friends makes you feel you’re in one!

Although there’s no poison or assault or money involved, it feels like you always have to prove your loyalty to them.

You feel pressured to do certain things (even the ones that are clearly bad for you). 

You start to develop a hive mentality that being different feels like you’re betraying them.

Most of all, it’s as if you have to prioritize them all the time.

Cult preys on the vulnerable. Members are manipulated by fear and guilt until they have no way out.

And according to psychology, being in a cult (or a cult-like friendship) will result in long-lasting psychological effects like identity confusion, decision-making dependency, fear of commitment, and more.

So if your friend group feels like a cult (think Mean Girls), protect yourself. 

Yes, be friends with them but set boundaries and let them know you have a life and mind of your own. And if they make you feel like a bad friend for doing so, do a slow fade.

2) You’re walking on eggshells

They’re nice to you and all…but for some reason, you can’t relax when around them.

And it’s not because you’re naturally anxious—no, not really. 

It’s because you have a feeling they’d get offended easily and throw a fit.

When you’re with them, do you feel like you have to be extra careful of your words and actions and even facial expressions?

Do you feel like the bad guy even if you’re not doing anything wrong?

Do you have to be the bigger person—always.

According to psychology, walking on eggshells can mean you’re with toxic, emotionally abusive people who lack emotional maturity.

And even if you’re the toughest person in the world, if you’re exposed to this behavior often, it can turn you into an anxious people-pleaser who thinks they’re always doing something wrong.

Trust me—you do not want this for yourself.

3) They don’t cheer when you win

I had a very close friend who’s always present when I’m down. She’d rush to my side and listen to my troubles. 

But when I’m happy and proud of myself? She’s “busy”.

She didn’t even attend the screening of my film. And when I got an award for it, not even a phone call. Just a thumbs up on my message.

Later, she confessed that she got bitter that my life’s going well and she’s still stuck in the same place.

But while envy is normal, I realized that it comes with other toxic traits.

She became overly competitive, she subtly pulled me down, and I learned that she gossiped about me to other people.

I should have acknowledged that red flag when I noticed it.

So…do you have a friend who you think secretly hates it when you win? It’s time to keep your distance.

Yes, be friendly with them, but think twice about trusting them. They might not have your best interests at heart.

4) Backhanded compliments galore

“Finally, you don’t suck at something!”

“You’re really lucky. You’re not the most talented and yet you’re going places because you know the right people!”

“You look good in that dress. Now if only you had clearer skin.”

You just don’t know if you should be happy or insulted. And if you always feel this way towards a friend, then you shouldn’t ignore it.

“Typically, a backhanded compliment tells you that the person who is giving you the backhanded compliment has some hidden jealousy, aggression, or competitiveness with you”, says relationship expert Nicole Moore.

If you know they’re a good friend, then talk to them about how their comments are affecting you. If they really care about your friendship, they’ll try to change their ways.

Again, genuine friends will always make sure we feel supported. Always, always.

They’re the guardians of our self-esteem, especially if they know we’re struggling with self-confidence.

5) They toy with your mind

Do you sometimes feel like they’re gaslighting you?

Or that you’re being duped?

Or that there are invisible strings pulling you to do certain things?

Then this could mean you have manipulative friends. 

According to psychology, having a relationship with manipulative people can feel like you have no autonomy because they want control over you—they want your complete focus and loyalty!

And to achieve this, they use manipulative techniques which could not only be detrimental to your wellbeing, but could actually have a direct impact on the direction of your life.

So, do you have a friend who:

  • Guilt-trips you into doing something
  • Says bad things about your other friends (and even your family)
  • Charms you into doing favors for them
  • Gaslights you by saying “You’re too sensitive” or “You’re delusional.”

Watch out. They might not be the kind of friends you’d want to keep for life.

6) They take and take, but rarely give

They’ll ask you favors left and right. But then when it’s your turn to ask them? Crickets.

They come up with excuses like “Oh, I’m broke right now, too.” but a day later, they’re out shopping.

Or they’d say “I want to help you but I’m just so busy” but then you see that they’re just on Tiktok all afternoon.

Well, it’s clear— your friendship is one-sided. And according to psychology, this isn’t how genuine friendship should look like.

However, psychologist Jill Weber warns us to not end friendships based on just a few incidents. “Be careful not to label a friend’s specific time of need as “one-sided because it might be unfair.” 

So don’t end your friendship just with one instance of “one-sidedness”.

But if you notice that you’re the one ALWAYS reaching out, ALWAYS making an effort, ALWAYS making sacrifices, then your friendship is definitely one-sided.

And this isn’t okay.

Remember: Friendship is built on reciprocity—of giving and getting, of listening and talking, or leading and following.

If you feel like you’re doing 80% and they’re just giving you 20%, feel free to cut them out of your life.

7) They don’t just tease you, they actually bully you

There’s a thin line between teasing and bullying.

According to psychology, it’s TEASING when:

  • You still have an equal power dynamic
  • It’s done in a playful and affectionate manner
  • Not repeated (it’s only short and temporary)
  • The receiver is not hurt or distressed

And it’s BULLYING when:

  • The receiver becomes hurt and embarrassed
  • Repeated and can cross into multiple environments
  • Done with aggression

So if you realize that your friends are doing more of the latter, you’re being bullied and it’s definitely a big red flag.

If they keep at it and you stay with them, your self-esteem and overall happiness would slowly be destroyed. You don’t want that. 

If they have redeeming traits, then you might want to have a heart-to-heart talk with them about their bullying. But if things won’t change, it’s time to choose yourself by staying away from them.

8) You actually don’t like (and respect) each other

I know it might sound impossible…but trust me, it’s more common than you think.

I, for one, have only very few friends that I actually LIKE.

The people that come into our lives are due to proximity—they’re the ones physically close to us. They’re our classmates, our colleagues, our neighbors.

What does this mean?

It means there’s a possibility that we’re not actually compatible with them…we just became friends out of necessity.

And while you don’t have to be 100% compatible with each of your friends, it could lead to a toxic relationship if your tastes, opinions, and values clash often.

Yes, it’s possible to still like someone we’re not compatible with. But there are just times when our dislike for them makes us disrespect them.

Family psychologist Robert Taibbi has come up with 7 questions to help you figure out if you’re compatible with someone.

Answer those questions and if you realize that you’re actually not that compatible, then just make sure that you still respect each other despite these differences.

If one day you realize that you’ve become disrespectful to each other, maybe it’s time to find people who are more like you.

Final thoughts

There’s no such thing as a perfect friendship.

It’s normal to have a few red flags as long as your friendship gives you more joy than suffering. 

So before you shout “Friendship Over!”, work on your friendship first. Compromise, improve, set realistic expectations…do what you have to do to keep your friends.

But if you notice ALL of these red flags in your friend group, then that’s just too many red flags. You might want to reassess why you’re friends with them in the first place.

Perhaps you’re just pressured to have friends because you want to fit in.

Perhaps you actually liked them but you’ve outgrown them. Now, you’re just too different people.

Then do a slow fade and start befriending other people. Who knows things will become better when you become close again in five or seven years.

The good thing about adult friendships is that you can have as many as you like.

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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