Have you ever had a friendship where you asked yourself, “why am I even friends with this person?”

Or maybe some of the following scenarios sound all too familiar to you:

• The friend you only do unhealthy activities (like partying) with- and if you suggest a different activity, they decline

• The friend that is always asking a bit too much of you (i.e. always asking for rides, money, favors, your time/attention)

• The friend that only calls when they need something and is never available for you in the same way

• The friend that you only spend time gossiping with; conversations are typically negative, and focus on making fun of or criticizing others

• The friend that, when you leave their company, you notice feeling drained, exhausted, or irritable

The truth is, these friends may very well be wonderful people. They may have been an important part of your life and been there for you through tough times, or you might have a lot of fun with them. So how do you decide if a friendship is toxic?

1. Reciprocity

A relationship is typically healthy if we get back what we give in terms of time, support, and effort. It is natural for there to be areas of give and take, but for the most part, healthy relationships involve a fairly even balance.

2. Energy

Friendships that are healthy tend to make us feel invigorated and happy when we spend time with that person. We are excited to see them, and feel disappointed if plans get cancelled. They make us feel good about ourselves, our needs feel met, and memories with those friends are mostly positive.

3. How they make us feel about ourselves

Healthy friendships should (most of the time) bring out some warm fuzzies. Signs that the friendship might be more on the toxic side is if we find ourselves stewing in limiting beliefs such as “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t fit in,” or “I don’t matter” when we are with these people. Take, for example, a friend who always blows you off at the last minute with no explanation. This can leave us feeling like we aren’t important or that we don’t matter. Yuck.

Why do we stay in toxic friendships?

Often, continuing relationships that are harmful or negative boils down to our own dysfunctional needs. The need to please others, for example, might sound something like: “we’ve been friends forever- we’ve been through so much. If I just stopped talking to them I would feel terrible and they would probably think I’m a bad person.”

Another common dysfunctional need behind ongoing toxic friendships is “I need to take care of others.” Perhaps you have a friend that is, for the lack of a better term, an emotional sink hole. They only call you to vent, and you feel your chest tighten when you see their name on your call display but you answer it anyway, even though you feel irritated and exhausted when you hang up.

So why did you pick up in the first place, and how did the relationship get to this point? “I need to be responsible for others” puts us in an uncomfortable position where we sacrifice our own needs to help others, and when we don’t drop everything and help them we feel like we are mean or bad or not a good enough friend (cue all the limiting beliefs). However, the reason why the need to take care of everyone is dysfunctional is because your friend doesn’t (and shouldn’t) rely solely on you to manage their stress and emotions. If we took on the worries of everyone around us, when would we ever have time to take care of ourselves?

What to do if you discover you have a toxic friendship:

Essentially, you have three alternatives:

1. Do nothing and carry on as you are. Expect nothing to change.

2. Set boundaries. This might look like a conversation with your friend around your needs, hopes for the friendship, and to let them know how you’ve been feeling. They may or may not respond to this positively, but if the friendship is important to you, this might be a great option. Who knows- maybe they had no idea the impact they were having on you and maybe they want the friendship to look different too!

3. Friendship breakup. Probably the most difficult option, but the one guaranteed to remove the toxicity from your life. Ending the friendship and moving on will not only help reduce the impact of limiting beliefs the relationship has created (or contributed to)- it will also prevent you from continuing to engage in the dysfunctional needs that probably weren’t doing you any favors (i.e. I need to please everyone).

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Kristi Landry
Kristi Landry
Kristi’s trained in: Anxiety, Depression, Grief and loss, Attachment/relationship issues, Stress, Identity issues, Art and Play therapy, Cognitive and Vocational assessments