5 Sure-Fire Signs of a Toxic Friendship

Alex Boswell

And What to Do If You’re In One


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Toxicity in any relationship can be harsh. Sometimes you find that you’re putting up with a lot for the sake of their feelings, or you might not even realise they're a bad person because the signs can be subtle.

I had a long term friendship with someone, and we’re talking about 7 or 8 years, that was so toxic that in hindsight I can’t believe I didn’t get out of it sooner. Now that’s not to say that friends aren’t allowed to be human and make mistakes. We all do; it’s our job to own up to them, apologise and then move forward with a better perspective. Though when people keep making the same mistakes without acknowledging them or accepting that there is an issue with their behaviour, that’s when things can get a bit testy.

Sometimes the signs are apparent that your friend is a toxic person, though there are some more subtle signals related to your reactions to this person that indicates a toxic relationship. Without further ado, here are five signs that told me that my friend was a toxic one.

#1 Ghosting

Ghosting is something that often comes up in the modern dating game, you organise for a date with a new potential partner, and then you never hear from them again. Though you can say the same kind of thing for friendship on a cycle. I found that we would organise an event, say a night out or going to the movies, but then communication would go dead a few hours before the plan is supposed to happen and I had to abandon it. It’s different if the other person has a legit reason every now and then, but if it happens on nearly every occasion this kind of thing can lead to a lot of stress and wasted time. This is my personal peeve, I hate it. If you find this happens to you too, it’s a red flag that the other person doesn’t respect or value your time.

#2 You’re always making excuses for them

Excuses are one of the more subtle ones I mentioned earlier. In my case, I found I was consistently making excuses for my friend’s irrationality or downright rude behaviour, parroting their reasons to other people. If they were having a rough time, which seemed to be all the time, I would say something like “oh, this thing is happening in their life at the moment, that's why they’re behaving this way.” It took me a while to understand that being crappy to other people is a choice, and having a tough situation isn’t an excuse for that.

# 3 You don’t trust them

It can be a little strange to think about, after all, why would you be friends with someone you don’t trust, right? A foundation of mutual trust is what builds healthy relationships. Sometimes though that can diminish over time, and then you suddenly realise that if you needed to trust someone with say, advice on an important decision or to look after a possession, you wouldn’t go to this person anymore. Maybe you can’t verbalise why this is the case; perhaps it’s an accumulation of the things listed in this story or even an event in your friendship that tore the trust apart. Either way, if you have a gut feeling that you don’t trust them, chances are there’s some toxic stuff going down there.

#4 They don’t bring out the best in you

Another way of putting this is you don’t like who you become when you are around them. The friend that I had was what I call an ‘enabler’. When I was trying to kick some bad habits, they would always be the one to push me back into those habits, on purpose. I think this was because they didn’t like other people doing better for themselves in front of them. Though this can also be applied to general demeanour too, this person was always negative. They never had anything good to say about whatever they were talking about, and that kind of negativity can seep into your daily life, causing unnecessary suffering.

#5 You don’t like being around them

Not enjoying someone’s company is kind of an extension to the previous point and it might seem obvious when I say it like that, but again, it can be elusive. For me, it was a sigh of relief (after a few years) when this person would cancel on me. I felt better knowing I wasn’t going to have to be around this person for hours that day or night because I could focus on doing things that I wanted to do for myself instead of being an emotional punchbag for this person. If you had a person in mind in your life while you’ve been reading, do you do a happy dance when they cancel on you too? This is almost a sure-fire sign that things aren’t going so well and you should reconsider whether this person adds any value to your life.

So what do you do when you have a toxic friendship?

After a few years, and some substantial interventions that went nowhere, I realised that this is just a toxic person that would never learn to change their behaviour no matter what. In circumstances like this one, it’s very likely not worth holding onto the relationship with this person.

It was around this time that I’d started getting into the idea of minimalism, and yes, I also binged the hell out of ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’. Therefore, I was already in the mindset of ‘letting go’, which included relationships in my life like the one I’ve described here.

There are two ways that I know of that are effective in cutting ties with these kinds of people:

  • The Collaborative Approach. This approach is for those who you feel would be fairly reasonable in the situation, and understand the hint (this was the approach I took for the friend I’ve been talking about). You address the problem with the person, set boundaries and suggest that if their behaviour doesn’t improve, your friendship won’t continue. If they don’t improve, you’ve given yourself permission to edge this person out of your life by taking steps back and hopefully the other person recognises this is happening and does the same. This one is probably the most comfortable option.

  • The Confrontational Approach. If the above approach doesn’t work, say the other person doesn’t understand what is happening or they get offended about it, this is when you take the confrontational approach (I’ve had this kind of conversation with someone too). A lot of people find this uncomfortable, but it’s a bit like ripping off the bandaid. In essence, you have to be straight up with them and let them know that you don’t want them in your life anymore. Though you can say it with empathy if you’re going to, for example: “hey so you’ve probably noticed that I’ve not been hanging out with you much recently. I think I’m going down a different path, and I don’t see us being able to keep this friendship moving forward.”

Either way, these conversations can be emotionally challenging for both people, it certainly was in my case, but stay true to your intentions. If you go into the conversation knowing what result you want, you have a better chance of ‘Marie Kondo-ing’ these people from your life. Doing this allows more room in your life for people who genuinely care about you. I feel so much better now coming out the other side of it, and I know other people in similar situations have too.

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Writing about human experiences and life lessons everyone should know about, but don't.

Los Angeles, CA

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