How to spot if you're in a toxic friendship

Illustrated by Laura Breiling for Yahoo Lifestyle
Illustrated by Laura Breiling for Yahoo Lifestyle

Walking away from a toxic friendship can be painful, confusing, and arguably more difficult than severing ties with a romantic partner. It’s possible that you have a person in your life that you believe may be a toxic friend — but maybe that’s just their personality? Maybe it’s your problem? Maybe you’re overreacting? But then again, maybe you’re not.

“The best measure of a healthy versus a toxic friendship is how you feel in their presence,” therapist Dr. Sarah Schewitz tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Does this friend bring out the best in you, or the worst? A toxic friend tends to make you feel bad or negative when you are around them. You might feel bad because of how they are treating you or how they are treating others, or you might feel bad because they bring out a side of you that you aren’t particularly proud of.” To aid in the painful, and sometimes necessary, process of a friendship breakup, here are a few ways to spot whether your friend really is toxic, and how to artfully part ways.

Your friend is toxic if they make you feel insecure about yourself.

A healthy definition of a budding, lasting friendship is your ability to be 100 percent authentic around your new pal. From complaining about having a food baby after a Friday night sushi feast, to asking for reassurance when a new manager at work is giving you trouble, friends are there to help you wade through whatever storms you’re battling, no matter how rational or irrational they might be. Their purpose is to build your self-esteem. This means that if a friend is crushing your spirit, it may be time to raise an eyebrow — or a red flag.

“A toxic pal makes you feel insecure or not good enough in his or her presence. He or she might say outright negative things to or about you, but more often, toxic friends take little stabs that cut you down, without being severe enough to start a big confrontation,” Schweitz explains. “These subtle insults eat away at your confidence, but are discreet enough that he or she could deny it or say you are overreacting if you confront him or her about it.”

Your friend is toxic if they can’t be happy for you.

Did you finally manage to run a mile without stopping? That’s cause for a “Yay!” bitmoji. Did that amazing first date ask you out for a second date? Time for a glass of something strong to celebrate. Although every type of relationship fosters some sort of competitive spirit that keeps you playful, if your friends can’t muster up excitement over both the little and big moments in your life, psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, PhD, says they likely don’t have your best interest at heart. “One indicator that your friend is toxic is that when things are going well for you, he or she can rarely be happy about it. Whether something good happens to you or you have achieved positive results due to your own efforts, a toxic friend may have a negative reaction — by being jealous, resentful, critical, or dismissive,” she says.

Your friend is toxic if they drag you into drama.

Secrets that you and a friend are willing to share are part of what builds your trust in one another. When you’re able to maintain a level of confidence in your pal, you are able to open up. But if your friend seems to always be in the middle of drama, or spilling the beans on another buddy’s problems, Schewitz says you can guess that they’re likely to be doing the same thing behind your back. As she explains, “Toxic friends are usually full of drama. Either their own or someone else’s. Or they create drama for someone else by gossiping and pinning two people against each other. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed every time you talk to a friend, he or she is probably a toxic friend.”

A friend is toxic if they only focus on themselves.

Much like a marriage or a corporate partnership, every twosome weathers shifts. Supporting one another through various ebbs and flows is what cements your connection, but if your friend can never put their own priorities aside to focus on your needs, they’re creating a poison in your life that you need to purge, Dr. Thomas says. “A toxic friend typically wants to primarily talk about oneself and/or do what he or she wants to do. They often don’t want to hear about your feelings and needs or even compromise that much. Consequently, it is difficult to have a friendship that isn’t one-sided when it is with a toxic person,” she explains.

So you have a toxic friend. Now what?

If you haven’t been close friends for a long time, but you’ve had a dramatic, short-lived experience, Schewitz says it’s better to fade away than to suddenly pull the plug. “Don’t answer her calls as often, stop texting her back right away, and act like you are busy when he or she asks to hang out,” she says.

However, if you’ve been buddy-buddy for several years, separating will be much more difficult and painful for both parties. Once you’ve gradually shifted away and he or she is taking note of the distance, it’s time to stop biting your tongue and speak your piece. Schewitz recommends the following script: “I am sure you’ve noticed I’ve been pulling back from our friendship a bit lately, and I want to explain why that is. I feel like our values are shifting and that we might be moving in different directions in life. I’m really committed to surrounding myself with positive, uplifting, and encouraging people that don’t have a lot of drama in their lives, so that I can be the best version of myself. This isn’t to say anything you are doing is bad or wrong, and I don’t mean to be judgmental towards you. I just know what I need in my life to move forward, and we don’t seem to be traveling in the same lane anymore.” Your life will be the better for it.

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