I was 13 years old when I realized I needed new friends.
It sucked because I had a fierce loyalty to the boys I’d known since I was four, but they didn’t like the fact I was getting on well with new people. As 13-year-olds don’t know how to handle sensitive situations very well, you can imagine how it went.
I’m glad I did it. While we resolved our issues a few years later, I’m still close with the new friends I made. Still, I was lucky to have realized at such a young age.
Being stuck in a toxic friendship group can make you feel trapped but guilty at the same time. As these people are ‘supposed’ to be your friends, you may put down the warning signs to overthinking. For the sake of your mental health, take note of these warning signs, and get out.
Reasonable requests are ignored
Let’s say you’re living with some friends. You have exams in a few days, so you need to be well-rested for revision. They are far too loud in the early hours and ignore your kind message to keep it down, so you only get a few hours of sleep.
This happened to my friend Luke. Every time I spoke to him, he said he was functioning on three hours of sleep. Despite repeated requests, he began to feel isolated, as if the request was unreasonable and offensive. While not obvious, his friends pitted him in an “us vs. them” situation.
Real friends will appreciate that everyone has their own lives and will respect your wishes. Besides, it shouldn’t be challenging to listen to a simple request. If your ‘friend’ is making a bigger deal of it than is necessary, they are exhibiting purely selfish behavior, which you shouldn’t stand for.
Action tip: If you don’t want to confront the entire group, sit down with the most reasonable one. Someone is much more likely to listen when they’re alone than with the support of a group.
They treat you like an afterthought
A while back, Luke was venting his struggles to me. He discussed a time when his friends took a trip into town. They were basically out of the door, only deciding to invite him as he appeared out of his room.
It’s not nice when your friends don’t invite you somewhere, so I can imagine the blow to Luke’s confidence when he saw the surprise in their eyes as he asked them where they were going.
A dedicated group of friends will plan something with you in mind. If not, you’re left just floating around. You deserve a group of friends who invite you because they want you around, not because they have to.
A lot of people are fake and will do the bare minimum to avoid confrontation. People who you want around you will take you into account when making decisions.
Action tip: Next time you go somewhere, don’t invite your friend. See how they react. It may seem harsh, but you’re just giving them a taste of their own medicine.
They ‘forget’ the things you’ve done for them
You should consider not being friends with someone if they fail a straightforward test: If they aren’t there for you like you are for them, then they are not worth your time.
When I was at university, a few of my flatmates — people I considered friends — completely ostracised me for reasons I still don’t know. Then, when I looked to move in with other people for the following year, one of them shouted at me.
I told him to fuck off.
These people don’t like it when you recognize you’re better off without them. Conveniently, they forget the nice things you have done for them to try and make it seem like you owe them something. You don’t.
Action tip: When someone asks you to do something unreasonable, hit them with the truth. If they argue, don’t waver for the sake of avoiding confrontation — some people need to be told.
They aren’t happy for you when you achieve something good
As I mentioned before, they adopt an “us vs. them” mentality and develop competitive behavior.
A little healthy competition is good for everyone. If your friends are doing well for themselves, you’re likely to want to emulate their success. You drag each other up.
For instance, when I was fresh out of university, I became slightly jealous of my friend’s success. Many of them found a good job quickly, and I found this to be a hard pill to swallow.
The strength of your friendship boils down to how you interpret one question:
If they can do it, why can’t I?
On the one hand, if an overly jealous person (a poor friend) takes this to heart, they may rebuke you for your achievements because, in their eyes, you can’t be successful if they aren’t. So they might ask: “How would they possibly do it if I haven’t yet?”
On the other hand, a good friend would use it as motivation: “If they can do it, surely I can?” They’re happy for and look up to you. You can both be successful together.
Action tip: Actively reach out and congratulate a friend on their achievements. Note down who questions the validity of yours — they’re probably the people you don’t want to be around.
They always speak about themselves
Once again, Luke was telling me about a friend of his. (Can you tell he doesn’t like them?) Luke was discussing his mental health difficulties, so he was feeling quite vulnerable. One of his friends told him:
“I had the same thing as you and I was fine.”
On the face of it, that appears to be a nice comment. Look more in-depth, and it’s belittling Luke’s issues.
No one’s mental health is the same — we all deal with matters differently. You can’t say for absolute certainty you’ve gone through the same thing, and to say they’ll certainly be okay because you were is to denounce their uniqueness.
Moreover, it’s a cruel pivot. His friend spun the situation toward themselves, thus thrusting the limelight on their story. A true friend — someone you feel comfortable in confiding in — will listen unconditionally. They won’t make it about them, instead choosing to concentrate on you.
Being a good friend is a selfless act, but it shouldn’t feel like much effort if you genuinely care. A good friend will want to hear about your problems, no matter how long-winded or petty.
Action tip: Instead of opening up to a group, pick one friend you know you can count on. When meeting new people, keep your cards close to yourself initially. You don’t owe a new friend your life story, no matter how well you think you’re getting on.
Your friends, perhaps better than most family members, will be able to understand your problems. They’re likely the same age as you and can relate, so you must have ones you can truly count on.
Saying no to someone should be just as easy as saying yes, but it isn’t. I understand why, but it’s painful to see friends of mine, such as Luke, trapped in friendships with people that won’t listen.
If you were to take away one lesson from this article, I’d like it to be this: you don’t owe your loyalty to a bad friend. You owe it to someone who wants to be around you. Never feel bad for making new friends.