How to tell if your friendship is toxic, what to do to fix it, and how to know if you’re the problem.
How to Tell If Your Friendship is Unhealthy
Sometimes, it’s easy to tell when a friend has made you compromise yourself. Other times though, it’s hard to recognize that a big relationship in your life isn’t good for you. In my experience, I’ve been able to tell by how the person I’m friends with makes me feel about myself. Do I like myself when I’m with this person? Am I being true to the person I am? Do I act different when I’m with this person? Does this person make me feel insecure or judged? It can be difficult to ask yourself those questions and come to terms with the answers if you love the friend in question. But like romantic relationships, sometimes love is not enough of a reason to maintain a friendship.
A toxic friendship will often control your life in ways that are not as obvious as the way a toxic relationship would, so they will often go under the radar. For example, your friend may get mad at you for not replying to their texts (within reason), or get angry when you have something come up and have to cancel plans, or make plans with another friend. Taking care of yourself sometimes means visiting an old friend, spending a night in with a glass of wine by yourself, or shutting your phone off for a night and catching up on some reading. It can come off as charming that a friend likes you so much that they want you all your time to themselves, but don’t forget that you need to take care of yourself first.
Opposite of that though, sometimes a toxic friend doesn’t take up any of your time at all. We have all had a flaky friend, but when does it become too much? An important marker of a good friend is reliability. If you are going through something tough, like a breakup or the loss of a loved one, you should be able to count on your friend to be there for support. If you are in need of a shoulder to cry on and your friend is no where to be found, it can be a red flag; especially if it has happened more than once. Sometimes this may be a sign that you and your life are not a priority to that friend anymore. You are important and your friend should never cause you to question that. It can be tough to tell why a friend is being distant though, because taking a step back can also mean they are going through something themselves. If your friend isn’t normally distant but has become flaky, make sure their distance isn’t because they are going through something themselves before you think of planning your friend breakup.
If you often hear things like “Ew, you’re wearing that?” Or “You want to go there? That place is for losers!” From your friend, it can be a clear sign that they are judgemental. A friend who judges you relentlessly is disrespecting your values, taste, and other aspects that make you, you! Friendships are founded on mutual respect, and if your friend doesn’t respect the person that you are it’s probably time to show them the door. It’s important to have people in our lives who challenge us as they can be extremely helpful. Your friends should want to criticize you and help you to become your best self, but there is a fine line between constructive criticism and imposing their values and wants onto you. Be open to the criticism your friend is giving you, but know when it’s going too far. Feeling comfortable in your skin is an extremely important thing, especially around your close friends.
Are you partying more than what’s healthy? Are you interacting with people who you shouldn’t be? A big sign of a toxic friendship is if you have recently started doing things you wouldn’t normally. In the past, I have had friends who have gotten me into drinking significantly more than I should have, more often than I should have. If your friend is getting you to do things you wouldn’t normally do if they weren’t present, maybe it is time to take a step back. Some friends will encourage you to do things you wouldn’t normally do that are positive as well, like working out or eating healthier, so just make sure what your friend is encouraging you to do isn’t compromising who you are.
Finally, if you are really unsure of your friendship, ask other people in your circle. Avoid talking badly about your friend of course, but ask people in your life if they have noticed any changes since the addition of that friend into your life. Sometimes when we care about someone, we can become blind to the effect they have on us and our lives. The people around us though will not be blind to those effects, so if you’re worried about a friendship, ask your close family members or other friends if they have noticed any concerning changes since you’ve become friends with the person in question.
How to Fix a Friendship That’s Toxic
Sometimes, a friend may have a negative effect on your life without ever knowing it. If your friend is going through a hard time as previously stated, it can make them distant. 95% of the time, your friend is not trying to hurt you by being clingy, distant or getting you to hit the bar with them three nights a week. When you realize that any of those things are not healthy for you though, it’s up to you if you’d like to proceed with the friendship or not. Some of my favourite friendships have been toxic, so I know first hand that it can be extremely hard to cut them off cold turkey. If you decide you’d like to keep your friend around but aren’t comfortable with some of the dynamics of the friendship, the easiest thing you can do is talk to your friend about the way you’ve been feeling. Like I said, most of the time your friend is not trying to hurt you and they may not have even noticed that the way they’ve been acting isn’t good for your friendship. Be sure to address your friend in a way that isn’t throwing their mistakes in their face, but in a way that makes it clear that you want the best for both of you and your friendship. If they know that you care about the friendship you two have and want it to be the healthiest it can be, they will most likely agree to work on things with you.
This can be complicated because you can’t ask people to change who they are, so be sure what you’ve asked is reasonable, i.e. Please respect my alone time and other friendships, can we hangout without drinking as often? You can’t expect mountains to move overnight, so again be sure your criticisms/requests are reasonable and that you’re giving things time to work out. Once you have given things time to change but everything has remained the same, it may be time to consider taking a step back from the friendship. When you tell someone what you need from them and they don’t make any effort to take any of it into consideration, it can make you feel unimportant and like they don’t care about you in the way you need them to. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it does mean they do care a lot less, and I can definitely say from experience that trying to maintain a friendship with someone who has stopped caring is like beating a dead horse. It can be hard to let go of something that was once a huge part of your life, but it will do you more harm than good keep something toxic, even with all the good memories it may have attached to it. If you have gotten to this point, have that conversation with your friend. Explain that the friendship has gotten past a point of repair for you, that you wish them the best, and move forward. After you’ve grieved the loss, it will feel like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. And yes, it’s okay to miss someone even if they were toxic. Just remember that missing someone doesn’t mean that they should have a place in your life again.
What if I’m the Problem?
Sometimes, we are the toxic friend we’re worried about having. If you’re being too dependent on your friend, or could stand to be more accepting and supportive, you could be the reason your friendship is crumbling before your eyes. It takes a large deal of self-acceptance to be able to take a step back and edit yourself, so I promise if you’re at the point where you’re able to see your own faults, you are not a bad person. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and neglect friendships that are important to us. If you have recognized this within yourself, the first thing you should do is ask yourself why you’ve been acting this way.
If it’s because it’s been a busy period at work or you’ve had to give more to other parts of your life, explain that to your friend. Admitting that you have messed up takes a great deal of humility, and swallowing your pride for someone can show that you care. If the friendship is something you’d like to keep in your life, work on the things you’re doing to make the friendship toxic. If you’ve been relying on your friend too heavily, consider seeking a different outlet, and don’t forget that your friends didn’t enter your life to be your personal Dr. Phil. It’s important to remind friends ever so often that even though sometimes life pulls you in opposite directions, you still love and care for them. Don’t forget that even though you didn’t mean to, your toxic behaviour may have hurt your friend and they may need space before they jump back into hanging out with you again. Once you’ve given things time and have gotten to a better place with your friend, offer to take them to their favourite coffee shop or plan a wine night for you two to catch up.
If you’ve noticed you’ve been neglecting friendships and it’s not because of work or other normal issues, it may be time to ask yourself if you’re in a position to be the friend you want to be. Sometimes, when we’re dealing with personal issues, like mental or physical illnesses, it can make it hard for us to focus on anyone outside of ourselves. Like I stated previously in this post, we have to take care of ourselves first. Sometimes taking care of yourself means that you need to take a step back from friendships to focus on recovering so that you can be in a place where you’re ready to be a friend again. If this is the case for you, be honest with your friend about what you’ve been going through. It’s not bad, and is often helpful to take a break from friendships when they’ve gotten to this point. If you need to, and if it’s okay with your friend, plan to revisit the friendship when you’re in a better position to the be the friend you want to be.