I met my former best friend in my freshman year of high school. As high school progressed and I started to mature, I started noticing little things in our friendship that bothered me. I realized that I was never able to talk about what was going on in my life and have her listen; everything was always about her. We rarely fought but when we did, it was vicious and she’d never apologize. No one else’s feelings were on her radar.
I remained friends with her for several more years, but I came to the decision last year to end the friendship for good. Our friendship had devolved into an unhealthy, toxic mess. I could never share any of aspects of my life with her and expect her to listen or care, even if it was something small or something funny that had happened that week. I’m actually not even sure if she knew my current boyfriend’s name.
Looking back, I now realize the friendship had been unhealthy for a long time, and that I had remained friends with her due to our history together. I also realized I did not have the tools to properly identify an unhealthy friendship until about a couple of years ago.
We tend to think of only romantic, heterosexual relationships as the only relationships with the potential to be unhealthy, but even platonic relationships can turn sour. Here’s how you can identify, and subsequently end, an unhealthy friendship.
How to Identify an Unhealthy Friendship
Reflect on your friend’s behavior
Think about your friend’s behavior over the past few months or so. See if you can identify certain behavior patterns that are telltale signs of an unhealthy friendship. Here are a few examples:
- Does your friend only come to you when she needs to borrow money?
- Do you know about everything that’s happening in your friend’s life, but she doesn’t know what’s going on in yours?
- Does she become angry, jealous, or withdrawn when exciting new things happen to you?
- Does she often freak out when you don’t respond to calls or texts quickly enough for her taste?
- Does she often “jokingly” shame you for your food choices, clothing choices, etc?
These aren’t the only signs of an unhealthy friendship, but they are the ones that I have experienced most often.
Ask yourself if the friendship makes you feel fulfilled
How do you feel after spending time with your friend? Do you feel stressed out, anxious, or like your boundaries are being tested? Do you ever feel pressured into meeting up with people you don’t want to see, or going to a location/event that makes you uncomfortable?
Spending time with a friend should not feel like a prison sentence. If you consistently feel distressed after hanging out with a person you consider a friend, that’s your intuition telling you that something isn’t quite right. You should never have to “psych yourself up” to get ready to hang out with a friend. Meeting up with someone, especially someone you consider a friend, should feel natural, easy, and exciting.
If you’re an introvert, you might feel a sense of relief at being able to go home and do your own thing and recharge, which is normal. You even might feel like canceling plans just so you can have your alone time. But if you’re happy that you’re finally away from a specific person, that’s a red flag.
Trust your gut
Your intuition is always aware of more than you consciously realize. It’s easy to brush feelings off as us just overreacting, having a bad day, being “too sensitive” etc. but our gut definitely knows what’s up. Pay attention to your physical and emotional responses when you’re with your friend / talking to her. Even if you can’t put a name to your feelings, trust them.
Could you confront your friend?
Think about what would happen if you told your friend their behavior was toxic. How would they respond? A friend shouldn’t be complicit in their toxicity, but there is always the possibility they genuinely do not know their behavior is harmful.
Try to frame the topic so they are in first person; make the focus on how you are feeling. Here are some talking points:
- “I feel like every time we talk, you only ask to borrow money and that upsets me.”
- “I know you feel you’re just joking, but I don’t find comments on my food/clothing choices funny. Please stop making those types of jokes.”
- “Please wait for me to reply before sending another text; when my phone goes off a lot it distracts me from work.”
If you think you can’t sit down with your friend and have an honest conversation about how her actions make you feel, you’re in an unhealthy friendship. It isn’t cute or quirky for someone to have blatant disregard for a friend’s emotions.
Make sure there aren’t other factors involved.
Don’t rule out the possibility that your friend’s toxic attitude could be a sign that she legitimately needs help. There is a fine line between ending an unhealthy friendship and turning your back on a friend who is going through a difficult time.
For instance, if she’s normally the first person to excitedly respond in the group text about meeting up for brunch, but lately she’s been skipping out, that’s not a sign that the friendship is doomed. If she is usually chatty and talkative but lately has been withdrawn and anti-social, that doesn’t mean your relationship turned toxic. We as a society need to be sure we’re checking up on our friends.
However, even taking mental health into consideration, it’s possible your friend may need help you personally are unable to provide. You are not responsible for managing your friend’s emotions. You are not responsible for financially supporting your friend.
If your friend demands support you cannot provide, or only comes around when she needs you to do something for her, you should absolutely reevaluate the friendship.
Is the friendship abusive?
There is a line between a friendship that’s unhealthy and one that’s straight up abusive. A friend should never, EVER under any circumstances repeatedly put you down, make you feel suicidal or have thoughts of hurting yourself, stalk you, physically hurt you, harass you, or otherwise manipulate you in any way. This is not something that happens only in romantic relationships; platonic relationships can absolutely be abusive.
How to End an Unhealthy Friendship
Completely Cut Contact
I am the type of person who doesn’t have trouble letting go once I decide I’m done. I chose this option with my former friend for a few reasons: we barely talked, barely hung out, and the friendship had become one-sided. If we had been closer, I wouldn’t have taken this approach. I just stopped responding to her, because every time we talked she’d ask for money, only talk about herself, or want some other favor from me. It was just too draining for me to continue trying to support someone who didn’t seem interested.
If you have identified the friendship as abusive, cut contact immediately if you feel safe doing so.
Fade Out Contact
If you are not comfortable cutting off contact, you can gradually talk to the person less and less. If you’re used to talking to that person daily, talk to them every other day. Don’t share as much of your life with them as you usually do; instead, focus that energy on nurturing other friendships that are healthier.
If you see that friend often due to being part of a large friend group, a team, a club etc. you may want to be especially careful about how you end the friendship. You don’t want to make it obvious or blatantly treat them differently (I’ve made this mistake in the past; it’s not fun for anyone involved) but you don’t need to pretend to be super close, either. Be cordial and civil, but try not to go out of your way to make idle conversation.
The Aftermath of Identifying an Unhealthy Friendship
With social media everywhere, it’s easy to get caught up in seeing what your former friend is doing. I am a big fan of the block button, but I will say that I didn’t block my friend on social media. Most accounts have options where you don’t have to see someone’s posts without actually blocking them.
- On Instagram, you can mute someone’s posts and/or story.
- On Twitter, you can mute their account.
- On Facebook, you can “unfollow” their posts so they don’t show up in your feed.
If you’re the type of person who really, really likes to check up on people daily, gradually ween yourself off. For example, start by checking your friend’s page every other day. Then maybe three times a week, then two… eventually that social media anxiety should go away. If it doesn’t, I strongly suggest blocking them temporarily.
What if you have mutual friends?
Be careful with how you talk about your former friend to your other friends. Do not gossip, start rumors, spill secrets etc. no matter what. Ultimately, you need to allow others to come up with their own conclusions about the person in question.
If your friendship was abusive and you’re in a friend group, consider telling your other friends if you feel safe doing so.
I hope this was helpful for you if you’re struggling with identifying an unhealthy friendship. I hope this blog post gives you the strength you need to end any relationship that is no longer fulfilling you or making you unhappy.
Have you ever been in an unhealthy friendship? Tell me about it in the comments!
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