When it comes to the people we love, like our friends and family, most of us are willing to be more forgiving and understanding with them than we are with others. We try not to judge them too harshly on account of their worst traits or mistakes, and instead, hope that our love, friendship, and understanding will change them for the better.
But how do we know when to draw the line? That someone has gone too far or that we’ve forgiven them for too much? At what point can we say that a friendship has turned toxic?
Well, if this is something that’s been nagging at you for a while now, here are 6 psychology-backed signs from experts that you’re in a toxic friend group:
Lack of Trust and Support
According to psychologist Dr. Ben Michaelis, toxic friend groups cultivate an environment of distrust and sabotage. Instead of supporting each other like good friends should, they instead gossip about one another, backstab each other, and betray each other’s confidence. These toxic friends use their secrets against one another, silently judge or mock each other, and will often gang up on someone instead of trying to help or understand them.
While it’s true that honesty plays an important part in cultivating healthy and lasting relationships, the intention behind this honesty is important, too, says psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo. Because that’s what separates constructive criticism (telling someone what they need to hear) from harsh judgment (blunt honesty meant just to hurt them). So if your so-called friends often belittle you and make you feel inferior with their back-handed compliments and thinly-veiled passive-aggressive comments, then the relationship has most likely turned toxic.
Although Sun Tzu famously said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” be wary of people who don’t know how to tell the difference anymore. According to therapist Dr. Janet Brito, unhealthy competition is rampant in toxic friend groups. Toxic friends will constantly compare themselves to one another and belittle or try to one-up each other’s achievements. Instead of celebrating and being happy for your success like a good friend should, their tendency is to feel threatened instead. They may retaliate by finding some way to put themselves back on top, either by finding some way they may be better than you or rubbing your past failures and short-comings in your face.
Manipulation and Control
Does it seem like your friends are constantly playing mind games on you or each other? Do you ever get the feeling that they want to manipulate or control you? According to Dr. Lombardo, toxic friend groups often try to control or manipulate one another. They may try to exert their influence by coercing you into doing something you don’t want to do by guilt tripping you, shaming or intimidating you into silence, or having everyone else turn against you when you disagree with them. And if you’re not on the receiving end of it, you’re an accomplice, and you don’t like yourself very much when you do it.
Negativity and Drama
Toxic people thrive on conflict and negativity, says relationship therapist Nicole Arzt. So being in a toxic friend group can feel a lot like going on an emotional rollercoaster. There’s always a lot of drama going on and every molehill gets turned into a mountain. These people tend to focus too much on the negative and their misery loves company. It’s emotionally draining to even be around them and their constant complaining and arguing.
Lack of Boundaries
Respecting one another’s boundaries is key to a healthy and lasting relationship. So when your so-called friends constantly disregard yours, it’s a definite red flag. Toxic friendships are often one-sided, says therapist Karina Aybar-Jacobs, and they want to get so much more than they give. They demand that you be there for them whenever they need it, but can’t be bothered to reciprocate. They may also become unreasonably possessive of you (“You can’t have other friends!”), invade your privacy (“Where were you? Why didn’t you tell us?”), and want to spend more time with you than you’re comfortable with (“You should cancel that thing to hang out with us” or “Why do you even need to be alone, anyway? Don’t you want to be friends anymore?”).
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? If this video has made you realize that you may be stuck in a toxic friend group, it would be good for you to re-evaluate your relationships and consider seeking healthier connections. Although repairing a toxic friend group is possible, everyone needs to do their part and put in the effort. Otherwise, you’re better off prioritizing your own well-being and surrounding yourself with more positive friends who uplift and support you.
So, what are your thoughts on this video? Let us know in the comments below. And remember Psych2Goers: you matter!
- Arzt, N. (2021, Aug 26). Toxic Friends: 13 Signs of a Toxic Friendship. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/toxic-friends/
- Felton, K. (2023, May 2). What Are the Signs of Toxic Friends? Health. https://www.health.com/relationships/toxic-friend-group
- Heitler, S. (2016, Mar 25). 8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201603/8-signs-toxic-friendship
- Merinuk, M. (2022, Feb 19). Are you in a toxic friendship? 7 signs to look out for. Today. https://www.today.com/health/behavior/toxic-friendship-warning-signs-rcna16665