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Is Your Friendship Becoming Toxic and Unhealthy?

Updated on October 10, 2016
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Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.

How do you know if your friendship with someone is strong and healthy? Find out how to identify---and avoid---some of the toxic behaviors that can cause a friendship to fall apart. Learn how to build a healthy, strong relationship with your best pal and keep your friendship from fading away.

Don't wait until it's too late to save your friendship.

Are you and your friend on the same path? Or are you drifting apart?
Are you and your friend on the same path? Or are you drifting apart?

If you want to know how to be a good friend to someone, it helps to know what types of behaviors are toxic and destructive. The signs and symptoms of a toxic friendship are similar to the to the signs of a bad relationship. You and your friend may not be physically confrontational with each other---in which case you do have a toxic friendship—but you may still be treating each other in ways that are emotionally destructive.

Here are some signs that you might be in an unhealthy friendship. Do any of these signs of a toxic friendship sound familiar?

Negativity hangs over the two of you whenever you hang out. Whether you’re the negative one, or your friend is the negative one, or you’re both negative, a strong friendship can not live happily under a dark cloud.

What does negativity in your friendship look like? It doesn’t mean that you are constantly complaining about each other. (Although that’s not very healthy either.) It means that one, or both of you, is always complaining about something. Hanging out with someone who is constantly complaining is tiresome. Everyone has bad days, and it’s nice to be able to turn to a trusted friend to vent for awhile. But constantly whining about how awful everything is to your friend and not being mindful of how much negativity you dump on her is a toxic behavior.

Your friendship involves a lot of clinginess and petty jealousy. One of the best signs of a strong, healthy friendship is that you both feel secure---there’s never any need to be jealous of your friend hanging out with someone else occasionally. If one of you has to take a time out to take care of family and work priorities for a while, that's cool too. Good friends know how to give each other space so that each person can develop as independent individuals with myriad interests and activities.

You talk poorly about each other to other people. In other words, you talk about each other behind your backs. One of the best things about a strong, healthy friendship is trust and loyalty. When you casually share your friend’s secrets with other people, how can she trust you? When you put down her family, her choices, her boyfriend---things that are important to her---you are being disloyal. That’s an incredibly destructive behavior!

You fan the flames. You feed into your friend’s anger about an issue rather than supporting her to get to a calmer place. For example, if your friend is angry about a bad boss she has to work with, are you helping her find solutions so that she can cope with the situation, or are you just adding to the negative energy she’s already got going on? It’s one thing to be empathetic and to validate a friend’s feelings, especially when she is feeling stressed out and needs a safe space to vent. But if all you do is cheer on her feelings of frustration, you aren’t truly being a supportive friend. Your friend is relying on you for an honest opinion, a fresh perspective that she can’t get because she’s so wrapped up in her bad work situation. To be a good friend to someone, you’ve got to be supportive, and yet always honest and sincere.

You’ve stopped paying attention to each other. Missing important dates, forgetting to check in and ask about how your friend is doing after a big event, or simply not listening to what your friend is saying—these are things that will eventually erode your friendship.

If you want to know how to truly be a good friend to someone, start by making an effort to notice what matters to that person right now. Ask follow-up questions on things that she shares with you. For example, if your friend shared with you that she was going to ask for a raise next week, make sure you remember to ask her how her work week was later. She may have some good news she wants to share. Or she may need a friend to lean on if she gets turned down. Being a good friend is also about having a good memory!

The purpose of this article on the signs of a toxic friendship isn't to assign blame or help you find fault with yourself or your friend. Instead, by understanding some of the bad habits that can contribute to a friendship turning sour, you can learn how to be a truly good friend to someone. Your life will be happier, richer, and more joyful when you mindfully cultivate healthy, strong friendships with others.

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.

— Helen Keller
A healthy friendship...
A toxic friendship...
makes you feel good about yourself.
is bad for your self-esteem.
is energizing.
makes you feel tired.
makes the good things in your life even better.
puts a damper on the good things happening in your life.
brings out the best in you.
keeps you stuck in one place.
is supportive.
is competitive.
is freeing and liberating.
is cloistering.

If you can understand the warning signs that your friendship is starting to become toxic and unhealthy, you can take steps to improve things between you and your friend. Or you can decide if the relationship is just too toxic to try and save.

© 2015 Sadie Holloway

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