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Is your friendship toxic? Here’s how to spot the warning signs

If you have a friend who is always crossing important emotional boundaries, this might be worth a read.
Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke, Katie Lowes as Rachel, Julia Garner as Anna Delvery, Alexis Floyd as Neff Davis in episode 105 of Inventing Anna.
Laverne Cox as Kacy Duke, Katie Lowes as Rachel, Julia Garner as Anna Delvery, Alexis Floyd as Neff Davis in episode 105 of Inventing Anna.Courtesy of Netflix

Some say friendships can feel even more grounding and impactful than intimate or romantic relationships — which is why a friendship that's toxic can become detrimental to your mental health.

You may have seen some examples of toxic friendships in movies or TV shows — for example, Anna Delvey and her "friends" in "Inventing Anna," Blair and Serena's dynamic in "Gossip Girl," even (dare we say it) Ferris and Cameron in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." But could you spot the signs of a toxic friendship in your own life?

Karina Aybar-Jacobs, a licensed therapist and coach, says that if you're in a toxic friendship you may feel depleted, guilty or perhaps feel a sense of inadequacy — even if you can list ways that you have been a good friend to that person.

When you have a deep connection with someone it's not always easy to spot warning signs — but here's a list of things you may be experiencing if your friendship with someone is turning sour.


1. They disrespect your boundaries.

Communicating boundaries to anyone can be extremely challenging — but it's even harder if it's with a friend who continually dismisses them, explained Aybar-Jacobs. "Even if you've told them that you have prior commitments or can't be available, they'll still ask for your availability and make you feel guilty for not showing up for them at the time they want."

2. They always need something from you.

Aybar-Jacobs said that a toxic friend will always need you at their beck and call, but may not reciprocate. "They'll ask for favors or ask you to be there, and will guilt trip you if you're not readily available," she said.

They may also keep stock of the things they do for you and use it against you, so they can say things like "I did this for you, why didn't you do this for me?" Aybar-Jacobs explained.

3. They don't take accountability.

Aybar-Jacobs stressed that this is the "hallmark of a toxic friendship — typically, a friend who doesn't take accountability for the way they treat you will apologize in a way that doesn't acknowledge that their behavior was hurting you. For instance, they may get you a coffee or buy you something instead of apologizing for their behavior and actively vowing to change it.

4. They may weaponize their struggles.

Everyone goes through hardships of many forms in day-to-day life. But, a toxic friend may overstep in asking you to be there for them while going through something tough — and then may start weaponizing their struggles as a means to manipulate you into doing things for them or spending time with them.

"Once you recognize a pattern of them weaponizing their emotional or mental state to make you feel guilty, even though you know you've shown up for them, you can try to offer concrete examples to them of how you can help and set your own boundaries... but it's not your responsibility to hand-hold that person," she said.

Anna Delvey is a prime example of a toxic friend, as she continually disrespects boundaries and lies to her friends.
Anna Delvey is a prime example of a toxic friend, as she continually disrespects boundaries and lies to her friends.Aaron Epstein / Netflix

5. They make you feel guilty for spending time with other people.

Aybar-Jacobs said that a toxic friend, more than likely, will get jealous and possessive if you're hanging out with other friends. They might tell you that they don't feel like you're ever there for them if you hang out with other friends — even though you know that you've shown up for that person, thus dismissing any effort you've put into the relationship.

6. They dismiss your values.

Peer pressure isn't just an issue that affects younger people — sometimes adults, especially toxic friends, will pressure you into saying or doing something you don't want because it may benefit them.

"Let's say they're trying to pressure you into doing something that's out of character ... like drinking more than you want to, or dating someone you wouldn't date normally, or opening up about something you don't feel ready to share. A toxic friend will find a way to minimize those values," said Aybar-Jacobs.

What should I do if I'm in a toxic friendship?

If you feel like you're in a toxic friendship, Aybar-Jacobs advised that this is a good opportunity to work on building confidence in setting boundaries.

"If a relationship gets to a point where you start questioning your identity, you're not honoring your values, you're constantly feeling depleted ... it's time to reevaluate the friendship, and it's OK to walk away from a friendship like that," she says.

Sometimes, we might want to put some work into examining if we can mend the relationship or change the dynamic. Aybar-Jacobs said, if you value your relationship with that person, it's important to be honest about how you feel without being too accusatory — in other words, making sure you're approaching the conversation with respect for both parties' feelings.

"Even if you've told them that you have prior commitments or can't be available, they'll still ask for your availability and make you feel guilty for not showing up for them at the time they want."

She said a good way to approach a conversation like this is to say something along the lines of: "Hey, I wanted to talk to you because I really value our relationship — and when you do X, it makes me feel like Z... I wanted to bring it up so we can move forward with this and make sure we're showing up for each other in a healthy way."

If after approaching the conversation in a validating and empathetic way, the person gets defensive and refuses to take any accountability, then that's an opportunity for you to decide whether you want to keep that friend around, Aybar-Jacobs said.

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