Though your love life may take up much of your time and energy, platonic relationships also play a significant role in overall happiness and emotional wellbeing. A toxic friendship is draining and distressing. For many of us, friendships are a primary relationship, and we interact with friends more than we do with family members or even romantic partners. Friendships often span long periods of our lives and it’s common to have friendships dating back to your childhood, high school or college years.
Just as with any type of relationship, a friendship requires mutual respect and effort. A healthy friendship is filled with kindness, support and companionship. While you may experience the occasional rough patch or disagreement, you should generally feel a sense of comfort, ease and contentment in your friendships. If you notice that you’re feeling anxious around a friend, stop and ask yourself why. These feelings of discomfort shouldn’t be ignored and are usually your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
Here are five of the most common signs of an unhealthy or toxic friendship.
1. Competition in a Toxic Friendship
A bit of healthy competition can go a long way in helping you to reach your goals. For example, friends who workout together can push each other to remain motivated on a fitness journey. Competition becomes unhealthy when a friend is always trying to “one-up” you or minimize your achievements. A toxic friend is always trying to “win” and will compare aspects of your life to theirs. Examples include competing for the attention of a potential romantic partner or trying to prove that they are more financially stable or professionally successful.
Friends should support each other and there should be no feelings of unhealthy competition between friends. If you get the sense that your friend is threatened by your success, this could be the sign of an unhealthy dynamic or toxic friendship.
2. Bullying or Teasing
While “roasting” or good-natured teasing between friends can be fun, it should not go as far as bullying. If your friend’s teasing is mean-spirited or if they touch on a topic that’s known to be extra sensitive, this is a definite red flag. Your friend should not cause you to feel embarrassed in front of others and their “jokes” should not hurt your feelings.
It’s possible that your friend may not be aware of the effect they are having on you. Have a conversation about it. If your friend tells you to “lighten up” or says you’re being too sensitive, this is a relationship that you may want to reconsider. A good friend would never intentionally harm you or ignore a request to stop saying hurtful things.
3. Disrespecting Boundaries
Friends should respect your boundaries and should not cause you to feel uncomfortable or violated. This can show up in many ways. It can be as simple as repeatedly trying to convince you to do something you’ve said you don’t want to do. Maybe they’re always bringing up a topic that they know is triggering or upsetting for you. Invasions of privacy such as reading your journal or going through your phone are unacceptable. Time-based boundaries are disrespected when a friend keeps calling you during times you’ve told them you are unavailable due to work or family obligations. Emotional boundaries are disrespected when someone keeps pushing you to talk about something you are not comfortable discussing.
When your boundaries are disrespected, it can trigger feelings of anxiety and frustration. If this kind of behavior continues even after clearly communicating your needs, you may wish to detach from this person.
4. Peer Pressure in a toxic friendship
A good friend will not try to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. This can take the form of pressuring you to go to an event when you’ve said you’d rather stay home. Maybe they’ve tried to convince you to drink, smoke or try drugs when that’s not really your thing. Friends should respect your preferences and decisions and should not try to impose their will on you.
On the other hand, positive peer pressure can be a very healthy and helpful aspect of a friendship. Friends can push each other to study hard, exercise, get out of debt or save money. It’s always a good sign when friends inspire you to make positive or healthy changes in your life.
Jealousy is a normal human emotion and doesn’t automatically indicate a toxic or unhealthy friendship. The red flag is in the way the jealousy is handled. Let’s say your friend just landed an amazing new job, while you’ve been job hunting for months without success. It’s completely understandable that you may feel a twinge of jealousy or envy, though you’re happy for your friend. In a healthy friendship, you should be able to say “I’m super happy about your new job, but I’m bummed with how my job search is going.” Your friend should be able to emotionally support you through your job hunt, while you celebrate their new job. Jealousy and envy become unhealthy when they turn into resentment, sabotage or belittlement.
The other side of this coin is that friends should not try to make you jealous. A good friend would not deliberately brag about their new job because they want you to feel badly about your job hunt. A friend should exercise sensitivity in moments like these. There should be a healthy balance between sharing their good news and commiserating with you.
Have you been feeling unfulfilled, uncomfortable or disrespected in your friendships? Do you want to learn how to set boundaries and build more meaningful connections? By working with a therapist, you’ll have an objective and professional third party helping you to evaluate your relationships. If you choose to end a friendship, it’s a good idea to have professional support as you navigate the aftermath. Contact us today to schedule your first session.