How To Tell Healthy Friendships From Toxic Ones (That'll Bring You DOWN)

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Ask yourself these 12 questions.

When someone mentions unhealthy or toxic friends, who in your life comes to mind?

Most of us have known high-maintenance people who demand a lot of time and energy, leaving the exhausting residue of drama and chaos in their wake.

You know who they are.

Even though these people may claim to be your caring, devoted friends, they somehow leave you feeling drained, agitated, angry, or resentful when you interact with them. You might even feel wound-up just reading or thinking about them!

True friends — and healthy friendships — don’t come with this cost.

Those are the people who leave you feeling happy, safe, and genuinely valued.

They give at least as much as they take, often even more. They listen. They care.

They accept you for who you are and have patience with who you are trying to become. 

And just in case you’re not sure about the quality of a particular friendship, we have this handy list of questions, to help you compare:

1. Is your friendship one-sided or give-and-take?

Healthy friendships are not one-sided. Both people benefit from knowing each other.

In unhealthy friendships, one person always seems to give a lot more than the other.

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2. Can you expect respect from your friends?

Healthy friendships are based on mutual respect.

In unhealthy friendships, people ridicule one another, gossip or spread rumors, or act mean to one another.

3. Can you grow and change together?

Unhealthy friendships are threatened when one person grows or changes.

4. Is your friendship marked by possessiveness?

Unhealthy friendships are threatened by other people.

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5. Does your friendship nourish and add to your life?

Unhealthy friendships leave you feeling empty and drained.

6. Do your BFFs accept you and love you for who you are?

Unhealthy friendships require you to act the way someone else wants you to be in order to be accepted.

7. Are you allowed to have a wide range of feelings?

Unhealthy friendships only have room for certain feelings. People in these relationships can be impatient or annoyed if you are sad or anxious, or if you need emotional support.

8. Are your differences respected?

Unhealthy friendships demand conformity.

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9. Do you consider one another’s opinions and advice in your friendship?

In unhealthy friendships, one person always seems hungry for advice, which demands time and energy (and is usually ignored).

10. Do you feel safe and secure together?

In unhealthy friendships, trusts are broken, secrets are shared, and confidences are betrayed.

11. Are both of you committed to your friendship?

In unhealthy friendships, only one is.

12. Is power or status a factor in your friendship?

Unhealthy friendships look to take advantage of another person’s social standing in order to improve their own.

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Still not sure which type of friendship describes the important people in your life?

Check out this list to see if these experiences with toxic friends sound familiar:

  • You’re constantly giving and rarely feel heard.
  • You have often wondered if you are mostly valued for something like your popularity, appearance, degree or job status, or something besides who you are as a person.
  • You’ve tried to support a friend who asks for help but is actually looking for attention instead.
  • There seems to be a lot of expectations and rules that go with being this person’s friends.
  • The connection with this friend feels tenuous and conditional, as though this person will disappear from your life if you do not meet these expectations or follow those rules.
  • Your friend is catty and critical about other people you care about or other people in your group. You suspect this person is probably saying similar things about you.
  • Your friend expects you to be available whenever you are needed.
  • Your friend finds your needs trivial, tiresome, or inconvenient.

Heads up: These patterns apply to family and romantic relationships, too. Substitute the word “friend” for the person in your relationship, and you can learn a lot.

How to take care of yourself:

It can be very hard to walk away from a friendship in which you have devoted a good bit of time, energy, and your self.

But sometimes things change, and what may have seemed attractive and satisfying at first can morph into something more toxic and destructive over time. Or, maybe, it’s been that way all along, and the things that first attracted you to this person have simply lost their dazzle.

Pay attention to how you feel when you interact with this friend. Everybody has bad days, but those are different from patterns of ongoing mistreatment that leave you feeling unappreciated, angry, and drained much of the time. 

If you don’t make friends easily or grew up believing you were unworthy of respect and reciprocity, parting ways can be even more of a challenge. Remember: letting go of a toxic person can create space for a friend who is more deserving of you.

Take care of yourself. This may involve exploring the beliefs that allowed you to remain in an unhealthy relationship for a long time. Know that sometimes distance and even a complete disconnect can be a big step toward peace of mind and self-respect.

How to be a healthy friend:

Many people don’t have great role models for healthy friendships, and if you find your own behaviors leaning toward the “unhealthy” characteristics, start taking steps to change them. This can take time, and often, some support from a caring, nonjudgmental practitioner.

Use the patterns described above to decrease the stress and unhappiness in your relationships and to become the kind of friend that people are lucky to have.

Dr. Jane Bluestein is an author, artist, and life-long educator who helps people build healthy, positive, win-win relationships. Her latest book is The Perfection Deception: Why Trying to be Perfect is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage. Visit her website for several hundred articles, handouts, book excerpts, interviews, and other good stuff.

*Adapted from and inspired by material in High School’s Not Forever by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. and Eric Katz, M.S.A.C., 63-64, and The Perfection Deception by Dr. Jane Bluestein, 231-232.

This article was originally published at PerfectionDeception.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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