7 Toxic Ways Your Friends Are Holding You Back

Shannon Hilson

Can’t figure out why success keeps eluding you? The people closest to you may be the problem.

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For most, the very word “friend” brings to mind people who always have your back no matter what. These are people who know you unlike anyone else and are there for you through thick and thin. Romantic relationships and even jobs may come and go, but friends are forever. Or at least that’s how things would be if life were fair.

Sadly though, life is often the furthest thing from fair, and nothing makes it harder to succeed than a social circle that doesn’t help you be your best. If a growing suspicion secretly plagues you that your friends are hurting your forward progress in life more than they’re helping it, there’s likely a good reason for it. The following are a few warning signs to be on the lookout for.

1. They need you too much and too often.

We’re trained from the time we’re little to think being a good friend also means being generous to a fault. It requires us to show up for a friend and be there when they need you, no matter what, and no questions asked, even if it means setting your own needs aside. And it’s great to be there for someone you genuinely do consider a friend but keep in mind that healthy friendships are two-way streets. You shouldn’t always feel like you’re giving until it hurts without ever getting anything back.

Anyone can go through a tough time and need to lean on those around them for support. Watch out for people who always seem to be losing at life, though. If you have a friend who’s constantly down on their luck, always seems to need money, and never has the time or the resources to be there for others, it might be time to reflect on your friendship. If things have always been this way, it may be time to make some friends who understand the concept of give-and-take.

2. They don’t cheer when you win.

I had a friend a while back who claimed to be rooting for me when it came to all the things I wanted to accomplish with my life. However, she was also conspicuously quiet whenever I’d actually share a win with my social circle. Then one day, when she’d had a little too much to drink, she told me outright that all she can think about when I score a win is how few successes she has to be proud of these days. “When you do well, all I feel is bad about myself.”

She and I aren’t friends anymore, as you can imagine, and her little revelation made me wonder why we ever were. Real friends are rooting for you to win, and they’re your loudest cheerleaders when you do. They’re not secretly hoping you don’t make it to the finish line, nor are they concerned with how your successes might make them look in comparison. Pay attention to who’s sincerely happy for you when you knock one out of the park and who isn’t. Prioritize accordingly.

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3. They don’t bring out the best in you.

Even the most independent souls out there are heavily influenced by those they spend the most time with. Real friends have a way of bringing out your best qualities. They show you positive new ways of looking at the world and help you expand your horizons. They inspire you to be your very best and find incredible new ways to be better still. When you’re around people like this, you feel motivated and grateful for the unique perspective they bring to your life.

Fake friends and toxic people do the exact opposite of that. They encourage and enable bad habits you might have instead of helping you past them. Instead of being the sunshine that helps chase the gloom away, they’re the clouds that are always raining on your parade. When I still had people like this in my life, I often found myself thinking I plain don’t like who I am when they’re around. If that’s how you feel about your friends, it’s time to make a change.

4. They violate the boundaries you set.

Emotionally healthy human beings respect their friends and care about their comfort. They understand that others are their own people and that they need different things. When a friend sets a healthy boundary, a well-adjusted person instinctively honors it from a place of genuine caring and compassion. They don’t immediately start testing it or looking for a way around it.

Sadly, I’ve had many friends over the years that were avid boundary testers, not to mention a few toxic family members that were the same way. When I asked that these people respect my desire to do well at work by not calling me during business hours, they’d immediately come up with an “emergency” that required them to call me anyway. I’d ask that they not drop by my home unannounced, but they’d continue to do it anyway. They’d act however they wanted, other people’s wellbeing be damned.

Sometimes people violate boundaries unknowingly, but those people actively try to do better when asked to. Toxic people make excuses for their behavior or disparage you for having the distinct boundaries that you do. Life’s hard enough without people like that in your life.

5. They don’t support you in making positive changes.

Upwardly mobile people are continually looking for ways to be better, do better, and become better than they are. For that reason, they eventually feel compelled to do away with bad habits that are holding them back so they can make room in their lives for fruitful, positive ways of living instead.

A good friend will always support you in your efforts to change for the better. They won’t sabotage your efforts if you’re trying to exercise more or eat healthier. They won’t give you a hard time about wanting to quit smoking, cut back on your spending, or go back to school so you can finish your degree. If anything, they’ll look for ways to keep you encouraged and make sure the way forward is as easy to travel as possible for you. They may even be inspired enough by what you’re doing to change with you.

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6. They complain non-stop.

Chronic complainers are extremely hard to be around, so if you have one in your social circle, you’re likely already aware. They’re always the victim and never seem to run out of new sob stories to tell. These are people you can count on to find something wrong with absolutely everything, and nothing seems to put a stop to their negativity.

This particular brand of negativity is contagious. Spend much time around people like this, and you may start to notice your own outlook changing in ways you don’t like. You stop looking on the bright side the way you usually would. You quit feeling grateful and appreciative of all the little things that made life so pleasant before. Before you know it, you’re wondering what the point of anything is, just like your negative friends who feel the same way.

7. They make you hesitant to be yourself.

It’s natural and normal to keep certain parts of your personality in check around specific individuals. You’re, of course, not going to be the same exact person around your boss or your ultra-reserved grandmother that you would be around a beloved sibling or a spouse. However, good friends should — without exception — be the kind of people you can indeed be your most authentic self around.

If you have friends who make you feel like you can’t express your personality honestly while they’re around, it’s time to ask yourself some serious questions. Life’s too short to spend it surrounded by people who don’t understand you and can’t appreciate you for who you really are. How can you find your groove in life and realize your full potential when you can’t even live your truth around those you say you’re closest to?

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You are who you hang with.

According to motivational speaker and entrepreneur, Jim Rohn, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Take a moment to consider who those five people might be in your life. How does that make you feel? Are these people you’d like to be more like, or do you cringe at the very thought?

If you’re anything like I used to be, you probably think you’re much too smart and independent to let other people change you, but that’s not how peer groups work. The people you spend your time with have a direct impact on how you behave, how you think, and how you ultimately interact with the world around you. In time, their influence will begin to change who you are as a person. Whether those changes are positive or negative depends on who you’re allowing to take up space in your life.

Change your social circle. Change your life.

The day I took a long, hard look at the people I was spending my time with was the day I began to understand why I’d always had such a hard time succeeding at anything. Many of these folks were highly negative people. Not only were they chronic failures themselves, but they always had an excuse ready as to why the constant chaos in their lives wasn’t their fault.

If they didn’t blame bad luck or bad genes, they blamed other people for the giant trainwrecks they’d become over the years. They were always looking to others to bail them out instead of taking responsibility for themselves. They were also hellbent on keeping others around them from being any different.

A few years ago, I launched a concentrated effort to clean up my social circles. I let go of people who hadn’t been growing with me over the years, as well as those I felt were actively trying to stand in the way of me growing any further. I made new friends who were creative, curious, and balanced instead. I deleted social media contacts whose feeds depressed me, angered me, or made me feel hopeless about the world I was living in. I replaced them with go-getters and empowered people who inspired me every day just by being who they were.

And my life and outlook began to change almost immediately. My quality of life quickly followed. Suddenly staying the course to success and doing whatever it took to make my dreams come true seemed easy. That’s because our friends and acquaintances have so much more power over us than we think they do. They can make it easy to be our best and reach our full potential, or they can make it hard. It’s up to us to choose those people with care.

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Professional copywriter, blogger, critic, and journalist. Evergreen content on self-improvement, fitness, food, relationships, dating, freelancing, and productivity. Occasional hot takes on news, trending topics, movies, music, and television.

Monterey, CA
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