While society thinks women grow up dreaming of a fairytale relationship and weddings, they’ve got it wrong. Our biggest dream as children is to grow up with a group of supportive best friends. The Cheetah Girls, Steel Magnolias, Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, Bride Wars, Mean Girls—at their core, they show us not only the importance of friendship but also just how fun life is with a group of best friends by your side. So when a toxic friend comes along and causes a riff, it’s easy to overlook it in the grand scheme.
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However, having a toxic friend in your circle is detrimental to both your mental health and the rest of the group. What’s worse: You might not even recognize that what a friend is doing is toxic in the first place. These common traits can easily hide within friend groups and get left unnoticed, even though they make your relationship feel less supportive and safe.
If you’re hoping to make new friends this year, leave these toxic traits so you can open yourself up to new opportunities and relationships. Whether you notice yourself exhibiting them or one of your friends immediately comes to mind, know that a friend can behave in toxic ways without necessarily being an overall toxic presence. If your otherwise great friend starts presenting some of these characteristics, have a conversation with them about how you’re feeling and see what’s up. Likely, it’s more about them than it is about you. And if you notice it in yourself, talk to your therapist or your loved ones and focus on healing the patterns that might be making you react to emotions in this way.
1. Safeguarding your emotions
When you feel like you can’t open up or talk about struggles you’re experiencing in your life, it can be toxic from both angles. If your friends make you feel like you can’t open up or that they’ll judge you, they’re not creating a safe space for you to express yourself. Similarly, if you’re unable to get vulnerable while all of your friends come to you for advice constantly, they might worry that your friendship is one-sided.
Friends are supposed to be the people who are always there for you without any judgments. So when you feel like you have to put a brave face on and smile through issues you’re going through, you’re not experiencing your friendship to its full potential.
2. Toxic positivity
Toxic positivity is a very easy way to make someone feel like their concerns don’t matter. If you tell your friend that you’re having a bad day and their response is “Look on the bright side!” without acknowledging or validating your feelings, that’s toxic positivity. You can both listen and validate what someone is going through while also trying to make them have a more positive outlook. If your friend often has an oversimplified solution to an issue you’re going through, they’re showing that they want the conversation to go a certain way, when in actuality, you might just need to vent. If you feel like you can’t vent to your best friends, those relationships can feel fraught.
3. Unpredictable moods
Toxic friends are draining and exhausting to be around, often because their moods are hard to pin down. If your friend feels excited and happy one minute but is sucking the life out of the party the next, they’re likely bringing down the group too. When a group’s morale is dictated by one person’s emotions, hanging out can feel worrisome, constantly leaving you wondering when the flip will switch and you’ll stop having fun together.
4. They won’t take tough love
If your friend refuses to listen to constructive criticism and takes any negative feedback as an attack, it’s impossible for your friendship to grow. Surrounding yourself with “yes” people all the time isn’t a friendship; it makes your entire relationship feel one-sided, especially if your friend has no problem giving that same tough love to you.
It’s unrealistic to assume our only friends will be our very best friends; everyone has acquaintances, work wives, college friends, workout buddies—you name it. If your friend makes you feel bad for hanging out with other people, they’re likely feeling jealous and responding to it in a negative way.
It’s normal for your friends to feel a little FOMO when you’re out having the best time with your coworkers, but if they respond in a way that makes you feel bad for not inviting them to everything, that’s a recipe for feeling like you’re stuck.
If your friends prey on your insecurity and use it as a weakness, they’re likely making you feel worse. Friends are supposed to make you feel lifted and supported; you should feel happy and excited to be around them. You shouldn’t feel like, for example, they know you feel self-conscious about your relationship with your partner but they just used it against you to make a joke around the dinner table. When a friend does this, it’s generally their own insecurity coming out, but instead of lifting you both up, they decide to bring you down to make themselves feel better.
These moments feel awkward for the entire group. If you all don’t have a vested interest in making your friends feel secure, your friendship will never feel like a source of positivity.