8 subtle signs of a toxic friend (that are easy to miss)

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Is your friendship with a person a little… toxic? It’s not so easy to recognize the signs when you’re in the heart of it, but you can’t get over the feeling that you don’t deserve to be treated this way by a supposed “friend”.

It might be time to start looking out for the warning signs so you can get out of this toxic friendship, or else you run the risk of staying in it for years with no end in sight.

Here are 8 warning signs that you’re in a toxic friendship:

1) You Always Feel Guilty Around Them

Do you ever get that feeling that, for whatever reason, you’re just never really completely comfortable around this so-called “friend”?

You want to be at ease, you want to be relaxed, but when you and this person are in the same room, you always feel a certain sense of guilt.

Guilt over what, exactly? It could be a dozen different things.

Maybe they’ve made you feel guilty for not giving them enough attention during their “time of need”, or maybe they’ve guilted you for not knowing something that was somehow special to them.

This is something I experienced first hand in my college years – one of my best friends was someone who couldn’t stop making me think that everything I did was wrong.

There was no way I could make them happy, because they would always come up with a new and surprising reason to explain why I was a bad friend.

And the implication is – since I’m such a bad friend, then I need to try harder to be a good friend.

But that’s the thing: you can never be good enough.

At the end of the day, a toxic friend is someone who knows that the best way to keep a person close to them isn’t by being nice (because they’re either incapable of being nice or they just don’t want to do it), but by guilting that person into staying.

2) You Feel You Could Be Better Without Them

It’s a thought you don’t really want to entertain, because you feel like a complete jerk just for thinking of it.

But every now and then in the back of your mind, you get this strange feeling: you don’t need to deal with this person anymore, and in fact, you’d probably be better off if you weren’t.

You can’t really put a pin on why you feel this way, though, because it’s never actually just one thing.

It’s a bunch of different things – they make you feel bad, they take away your time, they keep you from doing things you’d rather be doing because you have to give them so much attention.

And no matter what you do, it’s never enough.

And yet… you just can’t let go.

Why? Who knows.

Toxic people usually cling onto the nicest people, because they know the nicest people are the easiest to keep.

3) Your Other Friends Don’t Like Them

The thing about any toxic relationship is that no matter how blind you might be to how toxic it is, everyone around you isn’t.

And the longer you stay in a toxic friendship, the more confused everyone else gets.

I once had a toxic friend that everyone else around me hated, and they were very vocal about their feelings about this person.

But no matter how many times they tried to intervene to get me out of this friendship, I just couldn’t hear what they were saying.

Not only would my toxic friend manipulate me into believing that everyone around me was just being too negative, but my own mind was also telling me that I could see the good in this person that no one else could.

And when you think about it that way, you could say that it’s my own silly savior’s complex that kept me in that friendship for as long as it did.

4) You Don’t Tell Them About Your Wins Because They’re Never Happy For You

Think about the last time you got a big win – a new job, a perfect score on a test, a great relationship, or a raise at work.

Now think about who were the first people you were dying to tell. Was this toxic friend one of those first few people you were itching to share the good news with?

If they’re really toxic, then the answer is probably no.

Why? Because you know in your heart that they just couldn’t care less.

They would give you the bare minimum reaction to make you think they care, but as soon as the moment passes, the topic of the day would be back to whatever their latest drama is.

Or even worse, there are some toxic friends who, when you tell them about some good news, their ego can’t handle it and instead of celebrating your win, they just try to outshine it with their own news, even if it comes nowhere near your achievement.

5) They Try To Change You Constantly

I once had a friend who made me feel like everything about me was something to be questioned.

The clothes I wore, the way I moved, and even my own accent: everything was under scrutiny.

And for the longest time I thought that they were right, because I held this person in high esteem and I wanted their approval.

I turned away from what came naturally to me; the natural instincts and identity that made up who I was, just to make this person happy.

But eventually I realized: no matter how I changed, there was always something new about me to criticize.

That was when I realized that this person wasn’t giving me advice to try to help improve me; they were simply criticizing me because it was their hobby.

Remember this: a friend is someone who accepts you for who you are, not someone who tries to change dozens of different things about you.

6) They Live In the Past (And Try To Keep You There, Too)

Toxic people are usually broken people – they have something that they can’t get over, and in most cases, they’re usually past their prime.

A lot of toxic friendships are old friendships that you just can’t shake off, like your best friend from high school who you outgrew in every way, but you still keep in touch because you don’t have enough of a reason to drop them out of your life.

So this toxic friend will constantly try to bring up the past.

And I say this from personal experience: I just recently broke away from a toxic friendship with a person who used to be one of my best high school mates.

The problem, however, is that while I had moved on in my life in several ways, they were still the same old person they were almost two decades ago, when they were the top dog in high school and I was just another nerd.

This friend couldn’t accept that our roles had changed – that I was now the one with a higher status and he was the one with nothing to show for his life.

So to put me down, he would constantly belittle me and bring up past stories from high school, as if I was still that kid even today.

7) It’s A One-Sided Friendship

The easiest way to tell if you have a toxic friend is whether or not they are willing to do the same things for you that you do for them.

Think about all the things you would happily do for them, without question – would you help them move to a new place? Would you let them borrow money? Would you be for them, physically, in their time of need?

Now ask yourself – everything that you would do for that person, could you see them doing those things for you? And if they did it, would they make you feel guilty for every second they spent serving you, letting you know that these actions would put you in their debt?

8) They Forget What You’re Going Through

A less subtle sign that your friend is a toxic friend is how much emotional support they’re willing to put into what you’re experiencing.

A good friend is someone who takes your pain seriously – as soon as you tell them that you’re going through something, they’re willing to set aside whatever they’re doing and give you the emotional support you need.

But a bad, toxic friend is someone who will barely think twice about whatever dilemma you may be experiencing.

They’ll offer you a passing remark about your situation, and then think the issue is done.

And they’re not doing this to be mean at all.

The issue is that they simply don’t think of you as an equal friend; they don’t think of this relationship as one that needs their contribution and effort.

You’re just someone for them to use, not someone to burden them with your emotional needs.

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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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