8 Not-So-Obvious Signs You Have Toxic Friends

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Karen Schneider, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM®27
Experienced Project/Program Manager

Friendships are an important part of life. These are relationships that nurture you and help you find support outside your family and work relationships. While a career community is important for your career advancement, a strong network of friends can offer immeasurable support and joy.

Therefore, no matter how busy I might be with work and other obligations, I work just as hard at maintaining my relationships with my friends because they each bring something special to my life. A good friend is hard to find, but a true friend is even more difficult to lose. And then there are the friends that make you wonder how you ever became close in the first place.

What Does It Mean to Have a Toxic Relationship?

The reality is that many friendships are not filled with the same depth and emotion you might have with your bestie. Some are just surface level, and that's fine (depending how much of your time you wish to offer them). However, what happens when someone drains you more than she energizes you?
It can be hard to see what's best for you when you're invested in a relationship of any kind, even just a platonic friendship. Too many of us put up with too much because the pain that certain relationships bring us scares us less than the pain of letting go of people we love. We also tend to deny toxic relationships because most of us are exposed to so many of them that habits of toxic relationships actually feel normal. But the fact is that they are most certainly not normal; they're detrimental to our health and development as individuals.

Seven Obvious Signs You're in a Toxic Friendship

If you find yourself feeling disgruntled and unhappy with a friend's behavior more often than not, you may be in a toxic friendship. Not sure if your other half is guilty? Here are some obvious signs:
  1. They have crossed a major boundary for you, with no apologies. 
  2. Instead of communicating that something is wrong, they make passive-aggressive comments.
  3. They are jealous of you/your other friendships.
  4. They insult you or are mean to you.
  5. They are passive aggressive toward you.
  6. They act jealous of you.
  7. You can't seem to do anything right by them.

Eight Subtle Signs You May Be in a Toxic Friendship

Okay, so those signs seem really obvious, and you'd never be friends with someone that treated you badly, right? The thing is that sometimes new acquaintances slide into friendships before you realize who those people truly are, and nice people worry (ironically) about hurting the other person's feelings. The above should be very easy to remove from your life. But there are more signs that are sometimes harder to notice, especially if the guilty party is someone you love.

1. They aren't there to celebrate your success.

When you think back on your last few achievements, you remember they weren't there — or, didn't have much interest or understanding about how much your goals mean to you. In fact, they might even be resentful of your success or doubt how you've earned your achievements.

2. They only care about themselves.

Whenever they have a problem, they expect your support...but when you need them, they are nowhere to be found or make excuses as to why they can't be there for you.

3. They're not interested in details of your life.

When the conversation shifts to you, and you start detailing something — anything — that is important to you, whether it be about your job or your relationship, they are distracted and soon shift the conversation to something else.

4. They don't share details of their life with you.

Probably just as telling, and just as hurtful, is when a former confidante decides to exclude you from their narrative. A good friend is eager to share details about their lives, hear feedback and get advice — because they depend on you as a friend, too.

5. Your mother doesn't like them.

Mother always knows best, and they have your best interest at heart. In fact, this doesn't only have to be your mother. If any other person close to you doesn't like this friendship and can offer you reasons as to why (that don't stem from jealousy), then chances are that you've just been blind to those reasons.

6. They criticize you but not constructively.

A good friend will certainly critique you because they want to better you and help build you up. But a bad friend will criticize you just to make themselves feel better. The difference is whether or not they offer help or advice, or if they just shame you.

7. They don't prioritize you.

Everyone is busy these days and we all have a million things to squeeze into 24 hours in a day. But we make time for the people about whom we care. We make time for our friends and family and prioritize them when we can. If this person never prioritizes you, it's because they don't care about you as much as they care about the rest of the things going on in their lives.

8. They keep score.

In a toxic relationship, people hold grudges. Your "friend" will keep score of the number of times you've disappointed them and throw them all in your face when they do something to upset you. Rather than accepting responsibility and apologizing, they'll say, "Yeah, well how about the time you did this?" or "You've done that to me before." In healthy relationships, you can be honest with each other about what offends or negatively affects you and address it before it turns into the game of tit for tat. You can't use past wrongdoings in order to try and justify current righteousness. It doesn't work that way.

What to Do About a Toxic Friendship

The worst part of realizing that you have a toxic friend is that she may be someone to whom you were once much closer but from whom you have drifted. Breakups with friends — especially best friends — are just as painful, if not more so than romantic relationships at times. We have more expectations that a friendship will last forever, and it can hurt to know that it's no longer serving you in a healthy way.
Making excuses for this type of friend over a period of time can lead you to grow resentful, and it might only damage the friendship further. The best thing to do when confronted with this situation is to sit down your friend and openly discuss all issues you both have; if both of you wish to continue the friendship, there will be effort and progress. The response to this gesture will tell you if it's time to move on and do what's best for you. Life — and friendship — are both precious gifts, and no one deserves to waste it on relationships that don't energize and feed their soul.
Point blank: You don't need toxic people or the negativity in your life. And a good friend wouldn't be in a toxic relationship or any kind of unhealthy friendship with you. You don't need to feel bad about breaking off an unhealthy friendship, because self-absorbed people like that so-called friend won't care either; you do need to find yourself people who care and want to spend time with you, support you and lift you up.
But here's the catch — if a relationship is heading south, it might also be because you are the toxic friend in the relationship. If you don't recognize any of these signs in your friend, but your relationship has been dwindling, perhaps it's best that you take a hard look in the mirror and determine if it's you doing the damage. Are you a supportive friend, or a jealous one? Are you a talker and a listener?
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She is currently a contributor to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business Insider and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.