13 no bullsh*t tips on how to handle a friend who uses you (complete guide)

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You’ve got a friend who always seems to take advantage of you. What should you do?

It’s important to remember that friendships aren’t always meant to last forever. Some relationships are better left behind.

But before it gets to that stage, there are plenty of steps you can take to stand your ground and carve out a better friendship.

After all, friendships should always feel mutually beneficial and supportive.

So here’s how to handle a friend who uses you…

How do you tell if a friend just uses you?

You might notice some red flags in a particular friendship. Some could be more subtle signs a friend is using you, whilst in other situations, it can feel obvious.

Maybe they’re constantly asking for favors or expecting you to pay their way. Or maybe they’re constantly trying to get something from you.

If you think this is happening with a friend, here are some signs you are being used:

  • They ask you to help them out all the time. They don’t even have to explain why they need your help; they just expect it.
  • Your friendship revolves around them. They only really talk about themselves and what is happening in their own lives. It feels like they show little interest in what is going on in your life.
  • There is an expectation for you to always pay whenever you go out together.
  • You’re always getting them out of trouble or coming to their rescue. Maybe they run out of gas and call you to pick them up or perhaps they forgot their wallet at home and you offer to lend them money.
  • There is a lack of appreciation. They might not say sorry when they let you down or upset you. Perhaps they have an expectation that you will do things for them.
  • Other people tell you that they don’t treat you right.
  • You feel resentful about their behavior toward you.
  • They only call you, get in touch or want to hang out with you when it suits them, and never when it suits you.
  • They often let you down, break promises, and don’t show up for you.

How to handle a friend who uses you

1) Identify what is bothering you

To start with it can be helpful to identify exactly what behaviors and actions your friend displays that are making you feel used.

This not only makes things clearer in your mind, but can come in useful if you decide to have a heart to heart with your friend about how you feel.

Be honest with yourself. If you’re feeling hurt by your friend’s behavior, then acknowledge that. Don’t hide these feelings from yourself.

Before you make any decisions about how to deal with the situation, it also helps to be crystal clear about what you want.

Do you want to end the relationship? Do you want to stay friends? Do you want to try to work things out?

What does a happy resolution look like to you?

2) Become more comfortable with saying no

It’s a very simple word, but one that doesn’t always feel quite so easy to say.

In fact, a lot of us struggle with saying no to people. And when someone is particularly pushy, that can make it all the more challenging.

We don’t like to feel as though we are disappointing others. We often worry too much about what they may think of us.

Will they see us as selfish by declining to do something? Will they reject us if we don’t agree with them?

But far from being anything negative, saying no can actually be a great thing.

It shows respect for yourself, and it allows you to stand firm on what you believe is best for you. It also lets other people know where you draw the line.

So take some time to practice saying no. Start small if this is something you know you struggle with.

If you are instinctively a “yes” person, who finds yourself agreeing to things without giving it much thought, then begin by saying yes more slowly.

Rather than saying no, practice saying things like “I’ll need to think about that” or “I’d like some time to decide”. That way you create space around your decision.

If you do end up saying no, the person you are saying no will appreciate that you at least gave it consideration before reaching any conclusions.

3) Firm up your boundaries

All healthy relationships have rules, even if they are unspoken.

You’ll need to establish some ground rules between you and your friend. These are the personal boundaries you set about what is and what is not acceptable.

Our boundaries are essential in life. Without them we would become lost in chaos. But sometimes our boundaries aren’t clearly defined. This can lead to confusion and frustration.

When setting boundaries, it’s important to remember that they are there for your own good. Not everyone has to agree with them.

So how do you create boundaries?

Think about what you value most in life. What do you want to avoid? What kind of relationship do you want to maintain?

Then write down your values. In doing this, you are defining what is and isn’t okay.

For example: I want my friendships to be based on honesty. So I won’t lie to my friends and I won’t tolerate friends lying to me.

Once you’ve written down your values, you can start thinking about your friend. How could he/she be acting in ways that conflict with those values?

4) Tell them how you feel

If we want healthy relationships with anyone, we have to be prepared to openly communicate.

Whilst we may love chatting about all the good stuff, the challenging issues within our friendships are always going to feel more awkward to raise.

It’s totally natural to feel uncomfortable or nervous about telling a friend when they have upset, annoyed you, or overstepped the line.

But if they are a real friend, they will want to know so that you can resolve your issues.

Communicating effectively means taking responsibility for your feelings. Rather than bottling everything up inside, you should try to express why you’re feeling angry, sad or frustrated.

Just let them know why you’re feeling the way you are.

What to say to someone who uses you?

  • Use “I” words to explain how you are feeling. By saying to someone “I feel like”, it can stop them from getting defensive.

For example, saying “I feel like I take more of an interest in you than you do in me” is not a statement of fact. It is simply telling them how you feel.

On the other hand, proclaiming that “You don’t take an interest in me” sounds far more accusatory.

  • Avoid extremes such as “never” and “always”.

Similarly, when you suggest that something always or never happens, it fails to recognize the positive aspects of your friendship.

It suggests this is a constant and never changing aspect of your relationship together.

  • Once you explain how you feel, and give examples of why you feel this way — ask them what they think.

This shows that you are interested in hearing their side, and open to finding a way forward together.

5) Be less available

If you have friends who only contact you when it suits them it can be a good idea to be less available.

They may be taking you for granted. Being less available doesn’t mean being unkind. It simply means putting the same energy into the relationship as they put in.

If the friendship is feeling one-sided, then you may decide that you need to redress the balance a bit.

Sometimes the simplest and quickest way to do that is to reinvest that energy you have been giving to this particular friend and put it elsewhere.

You do not need to be at their beck and call.

You do not need to drop things and come running whenever they need or want you.

You might decide that it feels healthier to make less time for them or to help them out less with explanation.

6) If you need it, give yourself some space from the friendship

Perhaps you are feeling a bit confused about what to do next, or whether you want this friend to even remain in your life.

It’s ok to take some space from the friendship whilst you figure things out.

A bit of time can help you to evaluate how you are feeling and how important this friendship is.

You can tell your friend that you are working on yourself to explain your absence if you aren’t ready to talk about it.

Essentially, it is ok to prioritize yourself, and your wellbeing. If that means temporarily putting a bit of space between you and this friend, so be it.

7) Quit people pleasing

People-pleasing is a habit that plenty of us pick up from an early age.

Most of us feel a desire to be popular.

In fact, it is partly biological. We have a genetic programming to feel accepted by the group, as once upon a time our mere survival would have depended upon it.

Being socially excluded could have been a death sentence in caveman times.

But the modern-day hangup from wanting social acceptance is that we start to believe that our happiness depends on others’ approval.

That can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety as we put other people’s needs and desires ahead of our own.

We also tend to try too hard to please others, which only makes matters worse. Believe it or not, people-pleasing only leads to weaker relationships, not stronger ones.

When we’re trying to be liked, we often end up doing things that we wouldn’t normally do.

All relationships require give and take, but you need to recognize when you are usually the one who gives and someone else is the one who takes.

If so, then you might be falling into people-pleasing habits which stem from insecurities or low self-esteem.

8) Don’t take it personally

This article focuses on plenty of practical tips to help you deal with things when you’re being used by someone.

But it doesn’t mean you should take it personally.

You accepting or tolerating being used might highlight certain things you want to work on for yourself. But their behavior and actions are on them ultimately, not you.

Even if you find the things they are doing quite shocking, the truth is that they may not even be aware of it.

Your friend might be self-absorbed.

When people are lacking in self-awareness they may not notice their preoccupation with themselves.

It actually says more about them than it does you.

9) Be alert to manipulation

There are always going to be people we encounter in life who try to manipulate or take advantage of us.

The best thing you can do is to try to stay conscious and aware of occasions when someone may be manipulating you.

As well as the people who may try to use you for practical favors or money, there will also be friends who use you emotionally.

They may use tools like guilt trips or emotional blackmail to try to get what they want. They may try to make you feel guilty about something you’ve done or haven’t done.

But it’s important to recognize these tactics for what they are — an attempt to pressure and manipulate you into getting their own way.

10) Refuse to play the victim

Remember, you can’t control how others behave but you do have the power to choose how you respond to situations.

So instead of feeling helpless, know that it’s down to you to take charge of your life.

By refusing to allow anyone to treat you badly, you’ll be able to stop playing the role of the victim. And you’ll be less likely to become entangled in unhealthy friendships.

Instead of letting someone else dictate how you live your life, you can start living your life according to your values and principles.

Deciding to take self-responsibility isn’t about assigning or accepting blame. It’s more about being the hero of your own life.

That way you can say to yourself:

“I don’t like this situation, what can I do about it?” rather than feeling stuck, powerless,  helpless, and at the mercy of what others do.

11) Be as patient and kind as possible

Standing up for yourself doesn’t need to be done in a bullish or aggressive way. In fact, you can do it lovingly.

Being used by a friend is probably going to make you feel angry at times. You’ll likely experience frustration and resentment.

It’s important to remember that these feelings aren’t bad. They’re a natural reaction to the situation.

But the key thing to keep in mind though is that you don’t have to let those emotions control you.

You can choose to approach things with understanding, kindness and patience.

12) Remember that you deserve to be treated with respect

No one deserves to be taken advantage of.

It’s important to remember that you are worthy of respect and love. And if someone treats you disrespectfully, then it’s up to you to decide whether you want to continue being around him or her.

The decision to walk away from a friendship should never be taken lightly, but don’t let someone walk all over you. You deserve better than that.

If they:

…then it might be time to consider whether this person is a positive influence in your life.

Sometimes, the best solution is to move on.

If you’re constantly having to put up with someone who makes your life miserable, it might be time to cut ties.

After all, you deserve to live your life without the constant stress and anxiety of dealing with someone who hurts you.

13) Try to find other people who will treat you well

Luckily, there are lots of good people out there who won’t use you or abuse you.

Find these people and surround yourself with positive energy.

You’ll be surprised by how much happier you’ll be once you start looking for new friends who share your values.

Personally, I have started treating friendships almost in the same way I treat dates.

Rather than feeling an obligation to be friends with someone, I am far more selective.

I take my time to get to know them and genuinely evaluate whether we are a good fit for one another and whether we bring value to each other’s lives.

I liken it to dating because I think we are often more selective when it comes to people we date. So why not take the same approach to friendships?

To conclude: how to deal with people who use you

If someone is only using you for their own benefit, they’re not really being a friend at all.

They may be trying to manipulate or control you. Or they may just be generally out for themselves.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t let them get away with it. Tell them what you think about the way they’ve been treating you.

If you have a good relationship with the person, then you need to talk to them about their behavior if you want to save the friendship.

Don’t hold back on your feelings, but try to express yourself in a clear and reasonable way.

You might decide to keep your distance from them until things improve.

Ultimately if they won’t listen to what you have to say, then you will probably need to cut ties with them for the sake of your own wellbeing.

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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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