How To Deal With Toxic Friends & Relationships

How To Deal With Toxic Friends & Relationships



Ever feel like your friends bring more drama than comfort? Wonder if you’re friends or frenemies? Or maybe you always feel drained after hanging out with that one certain person.

We all know about red flags in dating, but have you ever thought about red flags in you friendships? Clearly, many of us have not.

But toxic friends can be a huge drain on your energy, leaving you feeling confused, lonely, disrespected, and even guilty.

Yup I’ve been there.

Over the years, I’ve definitely had to ditch some toxic relationships. So I can also tell you, it wasn’t ever easy. But guess what? In the end, it always turned out to be the best decision for my own mental health and energy.

I know this is tricky territory, even if deep down you know you’re doing the right thing! So here’s a handy guide to help walk you through all the steps of dealing with a toxic friendship.


What Is A Toxic Friend?


To be clear, there’s no such thing as a person who’s actually toxic. Toxic is not a diagnosis and there’s zero point in ever calling someone toxic to their face.

But with that said, you can definitely have toxic (unhealthy) dynamics with people.

There are also many different ways to be toxic. Think: someone who only comes to you when they need something. Someone who can’t clap for you when things go your way. Someone who gives you backhanded compliments or treats you as less than equal in any way.

Bad days vs Bad vibes


Friendship can be complicated. Everyone has their own priorities and stuff happening in their lives. They also might occasionally do or say something that is rude or disrespectful. We’re human and it happens! Who isn’t guilty of these things once in a while?

However, there’s a big difference between the good friend who had a bad day (or week) vs the person who constantly disrespects you, or talks down to you, etc.


What Are Some Signs That You’re In A Toxic Friendship or Relationship?


So just in case you’re wondering, here are some of the key signs that your friend might be toxic:


They Ignore Your Boundaries


Setting boundaries is tough, especially if you’re already a people-pleaser or anxious attachment style. But things get even more difficult when you have friends who don’t respect your boundaries or the word “no”.

These are the “friends” pressuring you to stay for “just one more drink” after your cut-off time or making you feel bad for prioritizing something that isn’t about them.


They’re Controlling



They try to dictate your life choices, making sure your success doesn’t overshadow theirs. That might mean they have something to say about who you hang out with, how you spend your time, or even about how you dress.


They Take But Don’t Give


Some toxic friends rely on you for emotional support and favors, but rarely offer the same in return. For example, expecting you to make a big fuss over their birthday and then ghosting you on yours.

This can also take the form of them doing all the talking, but not making time to listen to you or straight up tuning out when you do.


They’re Pushy Or Controlling


Some toxic people will make it hard for you to say no. When you say you don’t want to do something, they pressure you to do it anyway. Or maybe they keep a mental scoreboard of your relationship, using your past actions against you in order to guilt you into doing what they want.


They Peer Pressure You


Peer pressure isn’t just for teenagers. A toxic friend might pressure you to act against your values, like drinking more than you’re comfortable with, dating someone you don’t like, or oversharing personal information.


They Give You Backhanded Compliments



Few things feel worse than a supposed friend who is slowly chipping away at your self-esteem with backhanded compliments, or even straight up insults semi-disguised as “jokes”.

In my eyes, you don’t need to approve of all my actions or outfits etc. But you can keep the negative stuff to yourself, thankyouverymuch.


They Can’t Clap For You


The toxic friend quite noticeably has little to say when something goes well for you. Whether that’s jealousy or a sign of their narcissism is debatable. But either way, let’s just say, this look isn’t cute.

(Obviously, this also applies to the people who sh*t talk you behind your back, especially for your achievements. ⛳️⛳️)


They Don’t Apologize



We’re all human and make mistakes from time to time. But the toxic friend will have a hard time taking responsibility for their actions. As such, they almost never apologize. Even if they do, expect gifts, extravagant words, or distractions instead of any genuine remorse or promises to change.


Their Struggle Becomes a Weapon



Everyone faces challenges, but a toxic friend might use theirs in sneaky ways. Maybe you can never talk about yourself because their issues always take priority. Or maybe they guilt you into spending time with them or doing things for them by constantly highlighting their problems.


They’re Jealous of Your Other Friends


This friend might get possessive or jealous if you spend time with others. They might dismiss your efforts to be there for them and make you feel like you’re neglecting them.


They Give “Help” that Isn’t Helpful


Sometimes doing something nice for you comes with invisible expectations or strings attached. Favors and gifts can become a way a to subtly control you.

In a toxic friendship, your attempts to help might be disregarded, yet they’ll still expect your support. Consider referring them to a professional or involving other friends for assistance in such cases.


How A Toxic Relationship Can Affect You


Friends are supposed to lift you up, not bring you down. But what happens when a friendship becomes toxic? Here’s how these unhealthy connections can impact your life:

Feel Drained/Lack Of Emotional Connection/Support



True friends make you feel connected and valued. Toxic friends leave you feeling ignored and isolated. You reach out, but plans fall through, and your messages go unanswered unless they need something. It’s a one-sided street that leaves you feeling lonely.

They Stress You Out



Friends are meant to be a stress reliever, not a stressor. Toxic friends might say or do things that leave you feeling tense, irritable, and reliving negative interactions long after they happen.

You Don’t Feel Supported



Friends are supposed to be there for you, through thick and thin. Toxic friends don’t offer a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. They minimize your problems or disappear when you need them most.

Confidence Crash



Constant negativity takes a toll. When someone puts you down, you might start to believe them. Your self-esteem plummets as you doubt your strengths and capabilities.

Blaming Yourself



Toxic friends can be masters of manipulation. You might start blaming yourself for their bad behavior, thinking you deserve their negativity. This can lead to a cycle of self-doubt and trying to “earn” their approval.

Walking on Eggshells



Toxic friends often manipulate others. You might feel like you can never say or do the right thing. Their unpredictable reactions, from icy silence to outbursts, leave you constantly on guard. This constant tension spills over into other areas of your life.

Domino Effect



A toxic friendship can poison your other relationships. Feeling bad about yourself can make it hard to trust others. You might withdraw from healthy connections, further isolating yourself.

Remember, you deserve healthy friendships! Don’t let toxic friends steal your joy. There are amazing people out there waiting to connect with the real you.

Here’s why you shouldn’t feel bad about ditching toxic friends:

They make you doubt yourself

True friends celebrate your wins and support you through tough times. Toxic friends? They disappear when you need them most and love backhanded compliments that leave you wondering what they really mean.

They’re all drama, no support

Gossiping, lying, and negativity? Yikes! Surround yourself with people who uplift you, not drag you down.

They guilt trip you

Feeling obligated to lie or pretend to be someone you’re not? Toxic friends play mind games that can damage your self-esteem.


How To Deal With A Toxic Friend or Relationship


Okay so what now? Once you’ve identified a toxic dynamic, you have two choices: keep them and set boundaries or dump them and move on.


Talk To Them


Sometimes we make assumptions about how other people will perceive us. So don’t assume that your words will fall on deaf ears.

If you want to repair the relationship, approach your friend respectfully. You could say somthing like: “I value our friendship, but when you do [toxic behavior], I feel [negative emotion]. Let’s talk about how we can change this.”


Set Your Boundaries


If there’s a specific boundary or issue that needs to be addressed, bring it up. Say what you need to say without drama and be prepared to act on it. Remember, their reaction to your boundary or their future actions say a lot about them and how they think about you.


Watch For Change


Sometimes people want to change but will need a little practice. Other times, they don’t want to change at all. Remember, none of that is a reflection of you.

If they remain defensive and avoid accountability after a kind conversation, it’s time to decide if this friend deserves a spot in your life.


Stick To Your Guns & Move On


Ending a friendship doesn’t have to be dramatic. It doesn’t have to involve gossiping, name-calling or telling everyone and their mother what happened. It’s about protecting your peace–and you can do that without sharing everything with the world.


How To Break Up With A Toxic Friend


So you’ve tried setting boundaries or having The Talk and nothing is changing. It might be time for a permanent break.

The first thing to remember is that you can’t change someone else’s behavior. We’re not responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings, or actions. We have to learn how to make peace with who that person is or start to move on.

If you have people-pleasing tendencies, you might have the urge to give them one more chance–over and over again. But at a certain point, you have to read the writing on the wall and commit to your decision. It’s hard, but sometimes it’s the only option.

Remember that your desire for them to change and their desire to change are two separate forces. Change is difficult and scary for most people. Many people won’t be able to accommodate change and that has nothing at all to do with you.

Some more friend break-up tips:



Don’t try to get an apology or to get the last word. Most of the time these tactics simply don’t work out. Sometimes we never get that closure we crave and that’s okay.

Don’t make it dramatic. We don’t need to call people names or make other people pick sides. You can simply move your energy somewhere else.

Accept that not all relationships are meant to last. It’s estimated that adults move through friendships about every 10 years or so. Some of what we perceive to be “toxic” is just us growing up and learning that we are different people.

Forgive them and make peace with the situation in your heart. You don’t have to keep everyone around forever. But please don’t hold onto anger or resentment. That only hurts you in the end.

Stay in your power. You are your own parent, bouncer, and conscience. Always try to move in alignment with your values, morals, and highest good.

Stay out of their thoughts. It can be very tempting to spend a lot of time thinking about what the other person thinks about you. But I promise, this is an exercise in futility! They have their own thoughts about you anyway, no matter what you do.

Some friendships just aren’t meant to last. Sometimes you just have to move on and it’s nothing to do with being toxic. Sometimes we have things in common at one point in life but then we move on. Sometimes we have competing interests and priorities. Nothing about this is a bad thing! You can always look back fondly on the time you shared without feeling weird or bad about it.


Toxic Relationships & Inner Healing


In any toxic situation, we are called to remember our own power. What do you want to think? Feel? Do? What can you learn from this experience?

Relationships are often a mirror of ourselves. However, that’s not to blame you for the toxic behavior! Other people’s behavior is their responsibility. But many times in my life I’ve looked back to wonder “How exactly did this person end up in my life?” Figuring that out has always given me life lessons and things to work on.

In particular, if you are an anxious attachment style, people-pleaser or empath, friendships might be even more difficult for you. Your natural inclination to put everyone else first can be a difficult instinct to ignore. However, getting over this really is about growing your self-worth, and being able to set boundaries. It’s about calling back your energy to yourself and realizing that you are just as deserving of your own energy as everyone else.

When you truly value yourself, you won’t be able to tolerate the negativity or toxic behaviors. It becomes so much easier to stand up for yourself and to notice those red flag behaviors before we let those people spend years in our orbit.

In short, self-healing lets you break the toxic relationship pattern. For more on that, check out our guide on creating a secure attachment style.


Some more tips:


Here’s how to stop the cycle:

  • Prioritize Yourself – Every people-pleaser/empath needs to make a new habit of valuing themselves above everyone else. It feels strange at first, but see how doing otherwise is self-abandonment.
  • Stop Playing The Fixer – Remember people love you for being you–not for what you can do for them. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to fix everyone else because you subconsciously fear rejection.
  • Work On Your Communication People-pleasers/empaths also need a lot of practice advocating for themselves. But your voice is important! Start using it.
  • Forgive Yourself – We’re all works in progress! Forgive yourself from your past mistakes and try to take your new lessons with you moving forward.




Want more?

Ready to work through your communication and attachment issues with the help of a therapist? But can’t quite afford to pay the full price? Try out BetterHelp for convenient, affordable therapy you can start at home.




Always remember that your relationships in part measure how you feel about yourself. Do you really want people around who are overly negative, disrespect you, or are not-so-secretly jealous of you? Not everyone deserves a seat at your table–and that’s okay! There are plenty of people who are supportive and positive out there in the world! It’s much better to focus on finding some more of those.

Good luck!



Jenn Stevens The Self-Worth Project

PS Looking for more? You might also want to check out this post about how to create secure attachment, or signs of an anxious attachment style.


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How To Deal With Toxic Friends & Relationships

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