9 ways to spot a fake friend, according to psychology

Ever found yourself questioning the authenticity of a friendship? Sometimes, it’s tricky to tell if someone in our circle is being real or putting on a show. 

So, let’s chat about how to figure out if someone’s a fake friend. Below, I’ve got 9 practical tips that come from everyday experiences and a bit of psychology.

From spotting inconsistent behaviors to sniffing out hidden agendas, I’m here to help you tell the real bonds from the fake ones. 

Ready to dive into the art of spotting a fake friend? Let’s do this!

1) They’re always taking, never giving

“Fake friends take far more than they give, while promising they’re true friends,” says psychologist Aimee Daramus.

“They may tell you how much they care, but they’re only really there for the fun parts of being a friend.”

In a solid friendship, it’s a two-way street. You support each other in times of need and share the highs and lows without keeping score.

But if your friend’s always on the take – grabbing your time, energy, or stuff – without giving back, it’s time to ask yourself if the bond you share is the real deal.

Do they only reach out when they need something? Are they always eager to share their problems but never available to listen to yours? If so, you might be dealing with a fake friend.

2) They’re not there when you need them

This one hits close to home for me. I remember a time when I was going through a really tough phase in my life. I’d just had a major setback at work and was feeling quite down.

Naturally, I reached out to my friend, or at least someone I thought was my friend. We’d spent a lot of time together, had lots of laughs, and I thought we were pretty close.

But when I needed her the most, she was nowhere to be found. She always seemed to have an excuse – she was too busy, she had her own problems, she’d call me back later – but that call never came.

In hindsight, it’s clear that she wasn’t really there for me, even though I had always been there for her. It was a tough pill to swallow but a necessary one.

Psychology tells us that one of the key signs of a fake friend is their unavailability or indifference during your times of need. A true friend will stand by you, no matter what. If someone consistently fails to show up for you, it’s a clear sign they might not be as genuine as they seem.

3) They’re full of empty promises

It’s true: Not all broken promises are intentional. But when too many promises are broken, it’s hard to not question the sincerity of those promises.

A fake friend has a knack for making grand promises – they’ll always be there for you, they’ll help you with that project, they’ll stand up for you – but when it comes down to it, they often fall short. In their company, a persistent doubt lingers: Is it a promise or is it a lie?

This discrepancy between what they say and what they do is a classic sign of a fake friend. It shows a lack of respect for your feelings and your time, and it can be incredibly hurtful.

Authentic friendships are built on trust and reliability. If someone consistently fails to follow through on their promises, it’s a red flag that they might not be the friend they claim to be.

4) They spread negativity

Have you ever noticed how some people just seem to bring a cloud of negativity wherever they go? It feels as if they have a knack for pointing out the downside of every situation, or they’re always ready with a complaint or a critical remark.

This kind of constant negativity can be exhausting. And it’s often a sign of a fake friend.

Here’s the thing: True friends lift each other up. They celebrate each other’s successes, offer words of encouragement during tough times, and generally contribute to a positive atmosphere.

A fake friend, on the other hand, seems to thrive on negativity. They might put you down, criticize you relentlessly, or make you feel bad about yourself.

5) They gossip about others

We’ve all been there – sharing a piece of juicy gossip feels oh-so-good in the moment. But when it becomes a habit, especially at the expense of others, it’s a clear sign of a fake friend.

When someone constantly gossips about others to you, it’s only a matter of time before they start gossiping about you too. This behaviour is harmful and shows a lack of respect for people’s privacy.

True friends value and respect each other’s trust. They don’t use shared secrets as currency for social gain or to spread rumors.

6) They’re competitive, not supportive

Competition can be healthy. It can push us to be better, to strive for more. But when it comes to friendship, constant competition might do more harm than good.

The truth is – friendship isn’t a competition. It’s a bond of mutual respect and admiration. If someone is always trying to one-up you instead of being supportive, it might be time to rethink that friendship.

True friends celebrate each other’s successes. They don’t see your accomplishments as a threat but as a cause for celebration.

A false friend, however, might react differently. They may downplay your achievements, make passive-aggressive comments or even try to outdo you. This can leave you feeling unsupported and undervalued.

7) They don’t respect your boundaries

I remember a time when I was dealing with a lot of personal issues. I made it clear to my friends that I needed some space to figure things out, but one person in particular just wouldn’t respect that.

She would constantly call, text, and even show up at my door uninvited. It felt intrusive and uncomfortable, like my feelings and needs didn’t matter.

In any healthy friendship, respect for personal boundaries is crucial. We all have different comfort levels, different needs for space and privacy, and these need to be respected.

A fake friend, however, may ignore these boundaries. They might push you into situations you’re not comfortable with, or disregard your feelings and preferences.

8) They make you feel bad about yourself

Fake friends with insecurities often behave in ways that aim to bring you down and make you feel bad about yourself. Why is that? Their goal is to divert attention from their own weaknesses.

What else? By making you feel inadequate, they can gain control and power in the relationship. They consistently instill self-doubt in you, hoping they can manipulate the dynamics of the relationship and make you reliant on their approval.  

Additionally, a fake friend driven by jealousy or a competitive nature may attempt to diminish your self-esteem when they witness your success. Their feelings of inadequacy lead them to undermine your confidence, a tactic they use to restore their own sense of superiority within the relationship.  

9) They’re not happy for your success

This is perhaps one of the most telling signs of a fake friend.  

A fake friend tends to feel threatened or envious of your success. Instead of genuinely celebrating your achievements, they might harbor negative feelings because they wish they had the same accomplishments. Their jealousy can prevent them from expressing true happiness for you.

What’s more – some fake friends view life as a constant competition. Your success may trigger their competitive instincts rather than evoke genuine happiness. Instead of celebrating your achievements, they might see it as a challenge to outdo you or feel the need to one-up your accomplishments, detracting from the joyous nature of your success.

Final thoughts: It’s all about respect and empathy

At its core, friendship is a bond built on mutual respect, understanding, and empathy. These elements are crucial for any healthy relationship.

A fake friend often lacks these essential qualities. They might disregard your feelings, disrespect your boundaries, or fail to show empathy when you’re going through a tough time.

Reflecting on these signs can help you identify fake friends in your life. But more importantly, it can help you appreciate the genuine friendships you have – those that enrich your life, uplift you, and stand the test of time.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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