Listen for negative or judgmental statements about you. Having your friend criticize you can be very painful. Your friends should support you, not drag you down. However, a toxic friend usually doesn’t want you to feel good because they aren’t happy with themselves. Notice if your friend is always putting you down, criticizing you, or gossiping about you.
For example, your friend might say things like, “I can’t believe you’re wearing that,” “Wow, you’re always making mistakes,” or “Maybe you’re just not meant to do this.”
Look for signs they’re jealous and competing with you. A good friend will celebrate your successes and help soften the blow of failure. However, a friend who’s toxic wants to feel better than you and will be jealous of your accomplishments, so they will try to one-up you. Notice if your friend seems to minimize your accomplishments and always tries to top you. This could be a sign they’re toxic.
Let’s say you won an award at work or school. Your friend might say, “That’s nothing. Last week I won a gift card for my hard work.”
Similarly, you might have a new relationship, so your friend suddenly starts talking about a new person they’ve started seeing.
Call them out if they cross your boundaries. You probably want to be there for your friends all of the time, but having healthy boundaries is important. Unfortunately, a toxic friend may push your boundaries. Notice if your friend seems to ignore your wants and needs, as this can be a sign they’re toxic.
As an example, you might tell your friend that you’re going to spend a few hours studying in the library, only to have them show up and distract you. When this happens, you might say, “I told you I need to study alone. It's not okay for you to interrupt me.”
Similarly, you might ask your friend not to message or call you after your bedtime, but they may ping you at all hours anyway. When you see them next, you might say, “I asked you not to message me late at night. I need my sleep, so please don't do it again.”
Keep a mood tracker of how you feel after spending time with them. Hanging out with your friends typically makes you feel good, but a toxic friend can leave you feeling drained, frustrated, or stressed. You may occasionally have a good time with them, but you'll likely notice that you usually feel bad after being around them. Track your moods after all of your interactions with them to see if they might be having a toxic effect on you.
For instance, you might track your mood on a calendar. You could draw a sad face for a bad mood, a happy face for a good mood, or a question mark for mixed feelings.
You could also write short statements in your tracker, like “feel drained and confused,” “ruined my good news,” or “made me feel bad about myself.”
Watch for signs they aren't trustworthy. You need to be able to trust your friends to keep your secrets and have your back when you need them. Unfortunately, a toxic friend will likely let you down. Consider if your friend shares things you told them to keep secret or gossips about you. Additionally, notice if they break their promises.
As an example, you might have told your friend that you have a crush on someone, but now the whole school knows. Similarly, you might hear from other friends that your toxic friend is talking bad about you behind your back.
Check if you feel manipulated or controlled by them. Since you likely want to be a good friend, there may be times when you change how you talk or act to avoid hurting your friend. However, a toxic friend will take advantage of this and may make you feel like you always have to act a certain way around them. If you don’t do what they want, they might get upset or treat you badly. Notice if you feel like you have to do what your friend wants so you won’t set them off.
For instance, you might keep your feelings to yourself so your friend doesn’t get mad. Similarly, you may go along with what your friend wants so they don’t cry or accuse you of being mean.
This can leave you feeling like you’re walking on eggshells.
Look for passive-aggressive comments and behaviors. Dealing with someone who is passive-aggressive can be really frustrating. Instead of being direct with you, a passive-aggressive person will try to manipulate you into doing what they want. Watch for the following things to see if your friend might be doing this:
They give you subtle hints about what they want instead of telling you. They might say, “I wish I had fun plans for Friday night,” hoping you’ll ask them to hang out.
They give you the silent treatment to get their way.
They might give you back-handed compliments that are really insults. They could say, “Your karaoke song was really good for someone who can’t sing.”
They might complain or act grumpy all of the time. For instance, you might bring them a coffee only to be told, “Thanks, but I don’t like lattes,” or “I wish it wasn’t cold already.”
They might make excuses for why they can’t do things you expect of them. For instance, you might expect them to help you study for your math test after you helped them write an essay. However, they might cancel on you and say, “I’m feeling sick and need to rest,” or “I can’t study tonight because I have my own homework to do.”
Determine if you’re doing all the work or feel used. You deserve a friend who makes time for you and gives as much as they take. However, a toxic friend may expect you to always be the first one to call or text, and they might rely on you to make all of your plans to hang out. In some cases, they might get upset with you if you aren't putting in the effort they expect. Track how often they initiate plans or communication to figure out if they're an equal partner in your relationship.
For instance, your friend might get upset if you don't text them enough even though they never text you first. Similarly, they might expect you to always say “yes” when they want to hang out but might usually say “no” if you need them.
Notice if most of your conversations are about them. You'll likely have moments when you turn to your friend about a problem you're having to get advice or support. However, you likely won't get that from a toxic friend. Instead, they'll want to dominate every conversation by talking about their needs and may dismiss what you have to say. Keep track of what you talk about to see if it all revolves around them.
As an example, you might be struggling with a tough project at work or school, but your friend keeps complaining about how much worse they have it.
Watch for needy behavior. Trying to be there for a toxic friend can leave you feeling exhausted. Everyone needs help sometimes, but you shouldn't have to constantly rescue your friend. Track how often your friend needs something from you versus how often they do something for you. Additionally, consider how often they've let you down in the past.
As an example, a toxic friend might have a problem every time you talk to them. Similarly, they may expect you to drop everything to help them.
When you have a problem, a toxic friend might be dismissive or try to one-up you. If you ask them to be there for you, they'll likely have an excuse why they can't.
Recognize if they often play the victim. Being around someone who thinks they’re always the victim can be really frustrating for you. Typically, people who are toxic play the victim so other people will feel sorry for them. When they’re telling you personal stories, listen to see if they present themselves as a victim, even if they don’t directly say it. Similarly, notice if they often complain about people hurting them.
For instance, your friend may complain that their teacher doesn’t like them and purposely gives them bad grades. Similarly, they might talk about how painful their past has been or the troubles they’ve dealt with in their past.
Pay attention to how they affect your other friendships. It's normal for you to have multiple friends, but someone who is toxic will probably get jealous of your other friends. They'll likely try to drive a wedge between you and your mutual friends so they have both of you on their side. Listen for critical statements about your other friends. Additionally, notice if they try to ruin your plans with others or start fights between you and other friends.
As an example, a toxic friend might get upset and accuse you of ignoring them when you make plans with someone else. They might even call you right before you're scheduled to hang out with someone else to ask for help with an “emergency.”
If you have mutual friends, a toxic friend might tell you that the mutual friend is talking bad about you so you get mad at them. It’s likely they’re also telling the other friend that you’re gossiping about them.
Refuse to participate in their ongoing drama. You probably want to have a calm, normal friendship, but a toxic friend will usually try to stir up drama. They might create fights with you or could start problems with other people. Either way, notice if you’re being drawn into their problems. If so, tell them you need space to focus on your own life.
For instance, your friend may have an argument with someone else and decide that your entire friend group has to have a grudge against this person. They may give you a hard time about talking to the person and could pressure you to be mean to them.
Similarly, your friend may get upset with you about something that didn’t happen. They may want you to spend lots of time making things up to them, even though you have other things to do.
Tell your friend how they’re making you feel using “I” statements. You probably feel really hurt by your friend’s behavior. While this might sound crazy, it’s possible your friend doesn’t even realize they’re hurting your feelings. Talking to them may help you improve your friendship. Explain how you feel using “I” statements so they don’t get defensive. Then, specify how you want them to treat you.
Say, “I feel like we only talk about what’s going on in your life,” or “I’m hurt when you say I’m not a good friend because I really care about you.”
Set boundaries with your friend to protect yourself. Good boundaries help you protect your time and energy. Additionally, they make it easier to recognize when someone is treating you badly. Make a list of the types of behaviors you expect from your friends, then write down anything you want your friend to stop doing. Share these expectations with your friends so they know how you want to be treated.
Your boundaries may be things like, “I want my friends to support me when I have a problem,” “I want my friends to celebrate my accomplishments with me,” and “I want my friends to keep my secrets.”
Behaviors you don’t want might include, “I don’t want my friends to text me late at night,” or “I don’t want my friends to criticise my clothes.” When you talk to your friends about these boundaries, you might say, “I really need my rest, so it’s not okay to text me after 10:00 p.m.,” or “I know we have different tastes in clothes, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my outfits.”
Don’t tell your toxic friend anything personal until things improve. You probably want to tell your friends everything, so keeping personal details to yourself might be hard. Unfortunately, someone who is toxic may try to use your personal information against you. This includes stuff like how things are going at work or school, stories about your relationships, and recent accomplishments. Instead, keep your conversations focused on superficial topics, like your favorite TV shows.
For instance, you might have had a fight with your partner. If you tell your toxic friend, they may gossip about it or might try to make you feel worse about the situation.
If you keep the focus on superficial topics, it might limit your friend’s ability to hurt or manipulate you.
Pursue your own needs instead of what your friend wants. You probably have goals and dreams that you want to accomplish. Sometimes, a toxic friend can make you focus only on what they want. However, it’s important that your needs are getting met, as well. Instead of trying to help your friend all of the time, give yourself what you need to feel happy.
As an example, let’s say you need to blow off steam on a Friday night, but your friend wants to vent about their troubles. You might tell your friend that you’re busy and spend the night having fun either alone or with other friends.
Similarly, you might be excited about a big accomplishment, but your friend is trying to drag you down. You might celebrate with other friends instead.
Point out inappropriate behavior when it happens. Even if your friend is trying really hard to repair your relationship, they may sometimes slip up. It can be really hard for someone who’s toxic to recognize when they’re hurting others. Help them learn what upsets you by talking about hurtful behavior when it happens. Tell them what they did that hurt you and, if appropriate, what they could have done instead.
For instance, let’s say you lost your job and need to vent, but your friend keeps complaining about their own job. You might say, “It’s hurting my feelings that you keep turning the conversation back to you. I really need support right now, so I’d appreciate it if you just let me vent right now. Then, we can talk about your problem.”
Similarly, you might have started dating someone new, and your friend keeps trying to top your stories. You might say, “As my friend, I want you to be happy for me. Right now it feels like you’re trying to make me think your love life is better than mine.”
Spend less time with them if the behavior continues. You may feel really hurt by your friend, but cutting them off can also be painful. However, it might be best for you to take a break from your friendship if your friend remains toxic. Since a toxic friend might have a big reaction to you pulling away, don’t worry about telling your friend that you want a break. Instead, make excuses about why you can’t hang out and reply to their texts with short, vague responses.
For example, you might tell them you already have plans when they invite you to hang out. Similarly, you could make plans with them when you only have a short period of free time.
If they text you to brag about something or about plans they have coming up, you might say, “Sounds like you’re having fun.” If they send a meme or bring up memories of good times, you might text back “lol” or “cool.” If they ask what you’re up to, you could text back, “Keeping busy.”
End the friendship if your friend isn’t willing to change. Cutting ties with a friend can be really difficult, but sometimes it’s the best thing for you. If you try to save your friendship but your friend continues to make you feel bad, consider breaking up with your friend instead. If you’re comfortable doing so, tell your friend that you can’t be friends with them anymore. Otherwise, slowly distance yourself over time and let the friendship gradually fade away.
You might tell your friend something along the lines of, “We’ve had some good times together, but I feel like we’ve grown apart. I don’t want to hold you back, so I think it’s best if we both focus on our other friendships.”