How To Instantly Spot A Seriously Toxic Friend

Someone who acts like this isn't a friend to you.

Woman does not recognize that she is in a toxic friendship with a frenemy. AntonioGuillem | Canva

I believe healthy female friendships are the best relationships for self-development, building self-esteem, and confidence — and a great practice field for improving our communication skills for all relationships in love and life. However, when it's a toxic friendship, all of those benefits can quickly reverse, leaving us questioning everything we thought we were making progress with, including mental, emotional, physical, and career health. A true gal pal is someone you feel comfortable confiding in, and who appreciates you for who you are — not just for the things you do for her. She has your back and you have hers. You share core values, like honesty, integrity, and gratitude; these are things you truly want and expect in a friend, and what you provide to her as well.


Your relationship is healthy and drama-free. Neither takes advantage of the other and you both feel appreciated and valued in the friendship. Although your core values are similar, some of your opinions may differ dramatically and this makes for great conversation and new perspectives. You can feel comfortable telling her your raw feelings about what's going on in your life and listening to her, providing support and helpful suggestions. Good female friends grow to be better people and live their lives with higher self-esteem and greater confidence, strengthening their romantic relationships and family ties as well. The benefits of a healthy women's friendship are numerous.


RELATED: The One Toxic 'Friend' In Your Life You Need To Get Rid Of Immediately

Frenemies, on the other hand, are toxic and detrimental friendships that usually develop over time, usually after the toxic person becomes a trusted friend. They are enemies masquerading as friends and can wear down your self-esteem, leaving you doubting yourself in areas where you previously exuded confidence.

 This toxicity can stall or put your self-development in reverse, instilling doubt and fear that you have any value, or are appreciated at all. This is a frenemy's purpose; her low self-esteem is bolstered by her perception of control over you.

We see and judge people based on a reflection. In other words, they reflect on us what we think of ourselves and how we feel about ourselves compared to them. We all judge; it is human nature and comes from our need to protect ourselves at a primal level. Our first and most basic judgment about others is, "Is this person a danger to my existence?" We can learn to be less judgmental so that our second thought is polite, but the first one is always judgment and dates back to the beginning of man. When we see another woman, we judge and compare automatically. She is a reflection of us. Is she thinner, more successful, happier, or wearing better clothes?


When we're not where we think we should be in life, love, health, or career, and we see a woman who looks like she has it together (whether she does or not isn't the issue), we feel a tinge of discomfort because of our insecurity or low self-esteem in that area. All women have some degree of low self-esteem (how we see, think about, and feel about ourselves), and raising it can be a lifetime journey. Insecure women feel threatened by confident women, but they won't admit it because low self-esteem does not lend itself to being open and honest. Instead, they may stay completely quiet and beat themselves up internally for not being good enough, or lash out in toxic behavior.

If so, they may have the mindset of, "I may not feel as together as you look but I can drop you down to my level with one unkind word, and then I will have company in my misery." 

A woman with healthier self-esteem, who's on a self-development track, would rather model the example of the together-looking woman, and visualize herself in that position, feeling what it would be like. I want to give you a real-life scenario to help you visualize what happens when we see someone who we are, by human nature (the universal law of relativity), comparing ourselves to and may feel jealousy toward. I was with a gal pal at a pool party and we saw a woman wearing a great outfit. My friend said, "Look at that cute skirt. Look how stupid she is." I said, "It is adorable! I'm going to ask her where she got it!" I walked up to her (to my soon-to-be-ex gal pal's amazement) and said, "Hi, I'm Kelly and that is the cutest skirt ever! Where'd you get it?"

First, my ex-gal pal who insulted her had low self-esteem. She saw someone who looked better than she thought she looked, which put her into attack mode. She didn't feel like she had her life together and that was reflected back to her by someone she felt looked like they did have it together. S


he attacked verbally and because the target of her drama didn't hear her, she belittled herself and looked stupid to everyone who overheard her. The negative energy alone (universal laws of vibration and attraction) will bring more negative situations her way. Second, although like all women at some point, I've struggled with low self-esteem, I have done my due diligence in self-discovery and self-development to improve it and gain more confidence. My comment was healthy and complimentary, helping to increase the other woman's confidence and her self-image while potentially making a new friend.

RELATED: 10 Toxic Friends You Need To Immediately Remove From Your Life

I love to simplify things, and in my former career teaching personal safety and self-defense, I simplified why people attack (verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically). I called it The Attacker Mindset. 


The description is understandable and comes in handy as I assist my life coaching clients in gaining clarity in their relationships. It fits in perfectly here as we talk about frenemies because all attacks originate in this subconscious mindset. The Attacker Mindset is feeling out of control of your own life and choosing to control someone or something else to feel powerful again. Attacks may be verbal, mental, emotional, physical, or a combination of two or more.

An important distinction is that mental attacks inspire you to question your thinking, whereas emotional attacks hurt your feelings or cause you to feel differently. Just remember: mental is thought and emotional is feeling. Haven't we all shoved our little brother when we were kids or manipulated someone to get what we wanted? Most likely, yes. We were in the attacker mindset. We've all been there and will probably be there many more times in our lives. Therefore, in addition to preventing attacks on us, this understanding can help us recognize it in ourselves when it rears its ugly head and allows us to make a better choice. 

Consider this: a woman you consider to be a friend is feeling bad about herself or insecure one day. She sees that you are a good target because she has earned your trust and knows what's important to you. Better yet, she knows what upsets you and which buttons to push. Let's say you have been unhappy with your weight and are sensitive about how you look in your clothes lately. 

You expect a friend to support and encourage you but this one says, "Wow, did you gain a few pounds? I thought you were on that new diet; must not be working, huh?" Or maybe she says, "Go ahead; have fries instead of a salad. That new meal plan you're on doesn't seem to be working anyway. Why torture yourself?"


In this situation, the frenemy has delivered a verbal, mental, and emotional attack all at once. Here's what happens: you feel bad about yourself, she has company in her misery since she already felt bad about herself, and by pushing your pain button, she has now controlled you by causing you to feel bad and doubt yourself and your ability to weigh what you want or feel good about your appearance. Mission accomplished! She used you as her target to get her power fix. She feels more in control because she controlled you — although she is still out of control of her own life and will need another power fix when she starts to feel bad again. It could be days or weeks, but can often happen again in just minutes or hours.

She may even attempt to console you by saying she was just kidding or something that doesn't even register with you, now that you're in your negative, vulnerable state of mind and emotion. This action is made to confuse you, so you remain her friend. You may be thinking you must have misunderstood her because someone who cares about you wouldn't be so mean. That feeds right into her plan to target you again in the future for another power fix. She probably doesn't have true friends because she's too insecure to treat them well, although if they, too, are insecure, she may be the best friend they have. Then the attacks may even go both ways.

RELATED: 3 Signs Your Toxic Friendships Are The Real Cause Of Your Relationship Problems

Now that we know why a frenemy is so toxic, it's understandable why we feel uncomfortable around them. If you feel unusually vulnerable after telling a friend your true feelings about something of importance to you, pay attention to whether she may be feeling out of control of one or more areas of her life.


Although we all go through this, the uncomfortable feeling you have is important to pay attention to. Not all friends who feel out of control or insecure will attack. If they are emotionally healthy, they will strive to better themselves instead. Frenemies can be drama queens. They create a dramatic play, requiring actors and an audience so they draw more people in, often embarrassing or insulting you (their friend) in the process.

A frenemy needs attention and validation, and her constant need for approval is exhausting. She is toxic and may either guilt you into hanging around by saying you're her only friend or telling you how many other friends she has (she doesn't, really) so you feel that if you don't like her, maybe there's something wrong with you. 

The bright side of this behavior she exhibits is this: when you stop participating, watching, or allowing her to drag you into her drama, she'll move on to someone else who will provide that power fix. Although, unfortunately, another target is chosen, the most you may be able to do is bring some awareness to her about what she does.


But a woman in attacker mode is not likely to snap into authenticity and ask for help changing. And if she does, be careful not to get sucked into another of her ploys to mistreat you. The benefits of having frenemies are many. You now know how to identify a toxic friend and understand why they attack. You know how it feels to have your values trampled on and can catch it earlier in the future to stand strong in what you want and believe is appropriate for you. In addition to getting very clear on what you look for in a friend, you are in a more positive state and will attract more positive-minded people into your life and love life.

Your family ties may improve as you no longer put up with the attacker mindset, and you catch yourself on your vulnerable days before you plot an attack of your own — however small and seemingly unconscious it may appear. You'll be sure not to be a frenemy yourself. Here's what to watch for blaming (victim mindset), accusations, withdrawing, sulking, constantly being unsettled, procrastination, pretending they don't understand or remember requests or important dates or events, behaving below common standards, gossiping, delivering the silent treatment, poor me attitude (martyr mindset), unhappy in their life, work or relationships, overly and often publicly critical, never satisfied, condescending... the list goes on.

Releasing frenemies can be easier than you may have thought, but now you have learned what makes them tick. Now that you realize they are not your friend, you can either make yourself unavailable to them by having other plans or telling them you feel the need to move on to more positive-minded friends. Keep in mind that they see you as an easy, already-primed target for their power fixes and they may attempt to talk you out of it or pacify you with promises and excuses for their bad behavior. Stick to your guns and refuse to play their game. You are no longer an actor in their dramatic play. You can quit and open up space for a new more appropriate, true friend to enter your life.

RELATED: 4 Ways To Deal With A Toxic Friendship (And How To Know When You Should Walk Away)


Kelly Rudolph is a Certified Life Coach and Hypnotherapist who helps her clients manage stress and experience personal growth through greater confidence.