10 signs someone isn’t actually your friend, according to psychology

The quality of our relationships in life is a big deal when it comes to our overall happiness.

That means we should only make time for the people who want the best for us and genuinely have our backs.

Yet spotting the fakes and users from the ride-or-die friendships isn’t always as easy as we’d like to think.

Sometimes people don’t care as much as we thought they did, and that’s a painful realization.

Protecting yourself — so you don’t waste your time and affection — means spotting the signs.

Here’s what psychology says we should look out for…

1) You only talk online but don’t see each other in person

I’m going to come straight out and give a caveat to this one because true friendships frequently blossom after meeting online.

But at some point, they need to move over into real life.

Unless there is a very good reason why you can’t meet up — like you live on opposite sides of the country — then chatting over Facebook and replying to Instagram stories isn’t a true friendship.

It’s part of this murky grey area because social media prompts us to collect countless so-called friends and followers, but how many do we have genuine relationships with?

According to psychologists we only have the mental capacity to balance a limited amount of social relationships.

It’s a theory known as the Dunbar number after the anthropologist who first coined the expression.

The reality is that friendships require effort.

They are about prioritizing the people who are important to us.

If you are willing to make that effort but they’re not, then it seems like they don’t see you as an actual friend.

You only exist on the fringe of their life, you’re not am active part of it.

2) They bad mouth you behind your back

Admittedly, you have to catch someone out to know this is happening.

Or do you?

Sometimes you may get a gut feeling that they talk shit about you the moment your back is turned.

If you do, it’s probably wise to listen to your intuition as psychology says this isn’t just guesswork, it’s our subconscious mind picking up on countless subtle cues they are giving off.

It means you clearly don’t trust them, so you have to ask yourself why.

Gossip happens, there’s no point pretending.

It’s also tempting to vent when a friend has annoyed us in some way.

That’s why most of us have said unkind things behind someone’s back before.

We often do it to get things off our chest.

But it’s the wrong way to go about things.

If a friend of yours behaves like that, it’s a sign of poor communication in your relationship, meaning your connection isn’t as strong as you think.

3) They subtly put you down and discourage you

Friends should be our cheerleaders.

Unfortunately, petty jealousy can make some so-called pals seem more like frenemies.

They’re competitive and can be quite critical in often sly ways.

It might be with backhanded compliments, sarcasm, or snide comments.  

When good things happen to you, they don’t celebrate your wins.

In fact, they seem sort of smug or secretly pleased when things go wrong.

4) They’re polite, but they don’t open up to you

To some people, friendships exist on a sliding scale. But I think this is one of the boundaries between acquaintances’ lies.

Because psychologists indicate that shallow conversations are a sign of a lack of intimacy.

Small talk certainly has its place, especially when we’re growing a new and more fragile connection.

But true friendships mean discussing with one another those deeper topics, issues, and life events.

If someone doesn’t seem to want to open up to you, the reason could be that they don’t want to get closer.

5) There’s a mismatch of effort and power

What this comes down to is that you give and the other person takes.

Whilst no friendship is a mathematical equation where you can split effort and power down the line 50-50, it should feel like a fairly balanced exchange.

When it’s not, problems arise.

For example, you idealize them, and they use you.

One-sided friendships where one person is putting way more energy into it than the other are not healthy or sustainable.

6) They’re a fair-weather friend

Having a good time together is undoubtedly one of the best parts of friendship.

It’s those moments you almost pee yourself with laughter or when you’re engrossed in the juicy details of their new romance.

But life can’t be non-stop fun, and psychology tells us that an important aspect of having quality relationships is feeling supported.

If they stick around when things are hunky dory but they’re nowhere to be seen when you’re going through a hard time, they’re not a real friend.

There may not be any malice involved in it, one of the reasons could be that they’re a bit too self-centered — which brings us to our next point.

7) When you hang out, everything is about them

This is another quality that creates an unbalanced friendship. In the long run, it’s difficult to be pals with selfish people.

As psychology professor Amanda Rose points out hogging the limelight is often born out of insecurity but ends up backfiring on them: “They are looking for attention, affirmation, validation, and support, but their behavior pushes people away so they get none of that.”

If your friend has a habit of making everything about themselves and only discussing their own life, you may end up feeling pretty used and like your life is irrelevant to them.

As we’ll see next, maybe you are right.

8) They disregard your feelings and boundaries

Boundaries often get pushed in subtle ways so we don’t notice it happening at the time.

Let me give you an example.

You tell your friend that you’re going to stay home tonight. You’re tired and you need to rest.

But rather than accept that, they try to talk you around. “Oh come on, don’t be boring, let’s go out for just one drink.”

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this sort of sneaky manipulation and pressure happens all the time in our relationships.

Some people have less empathy and consideration than others, and unsurprisingly, they make worse friends.

9) You can’t be your true self around them

If you have to put on airs and graces or feel like you need to be something you’re not — they ‘aint your friend.

Psychologists agree that authenticity is key to creating meaningful and fulfilling friendships. Without it, you’ll never feel seen or accepted for who you are.

Maybe they push you to do things you’d rather not, like we just mentioned above. Or they may even bring out sides of you that you’re not keen on.

My mom would call these people bad influences. I’m all about self-responsibility, but the truth is we do need to choose our friends wisely.

You certainly shouldn’t be hanging out with people who make you feel bad about yourself.

10) They cancel on you constantly

…usually as soon as they find something better to do.

You have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt on plenty of occasions. After all, things come up and you want to be a flexible and understanding friend.

As an introvert, I’m very patient about this as I know the sudden dread you can get realizing that you actually have to leave the house.

Yet what we’re talking about here is those people who are flaky and inconsistent, not just once or twice, but on repeat.

I’m not saying these are bad people, but they are arguably bad friends.

The bottom line is that they don’t value your time enough to make space for you when they have told you they will. It’s another sign you’re just not a priority.

Being more selective

I’ve always been an advocate of quality over quantity, especially when it comes to finding friends.

I’ve recently started approaching friendships much more like I do dating.

That means allowing myself to get to know someone better, but not being afraid to step away if it’s not a good fit.

Just like in romance, we’ve got to kiss a few frogs first before we find our besties.

Your time, energy, and love are too important to waste on just anyone, so there’s nothing wrong with being more selective and ditching those who don’t make the grade.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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