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How to Protect Yourself From Exploitative Friendships

Updated on June 8, 2013

Definition of an Exploitative Friendship

An exploitative friendship is a relationship between two people were one of the members uses the other for self gain. The person who exploits are more concerned with getting their own needs met and have little to no regard to the overall well-being of their friend. The one who exploits usually has an unfair advantage.

An exploitative friendship may take many forms. The 'friend' does not even consider what is best for you, unless it benefits them in some way. This 'friend' usually places no value on open, fair and honest exchanges. An exploitative friend is a self centered friend.

Examples of People Who are at Risk for Exploitation in a Friendship

  • Being younger and seeing your friend as a mentor or champion
  • You are in a dual role with your friend, they are also your teacher, boss, older family member, clergy, lawyer, trust fund holder, doctor, caregiver or therapist
  • Being impaired because of alcohol or drug use and taken advantage of
  • Being physically dependent on others
  • Being mentally or emotionally dependant on others
  • Being isolated from others and dependent on friend for self-esteem
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Needing to be needed
  • Being co-dependant on others

Forms of Exploitation in Friendships

  • Sexual- using another person for unilateral sexual gratification
  • Physical- using excess physical force to get a need met
  • Social- using another person's social status to advance socially
  • Financial- using another person's finances, or goods without compensation
  • Labor- using another person's labor without offering them an adequate compensation

Are you in an exploitative relationship?

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Protecting Yourself From Exploitative Friendships

If you feel you are always the friend who does all the giving you might be in an exploitative friendship. Friendships have a respectful balance of support and receiving care. Protecting yourself from an expletive friend begins with self-awareness.

People who exploit other's are often unaware of how much they use others for their self gain. They often feel they are 'special' and therefor deserving of the extra benefits of others. They believe the rules do not always apply to them.

Exploitative friends are often charming, likeable and can say the right things at the right time. However, they are not as sincere as people would like to believe, but are extremely convincing.

They can be indifferent or oblivious to the devastation they may cause to others. They will make grandiose promises but will not be able to keep them.

Exploitative friends are looking for others who buy into their lies and give them what they need. They tend to switch friends, jobs and romantic partners often.


Be honest with yourself on how this 'friend' behaves. He or she may have some good qualities and make you feel special around them. However, if this 'friend' also makes you feel used, only needed when they need you then this is not a positive relationship. Be aware of all the aspects of the relationship.

Are you constantly adjusting who you are to meet their needs? Are you having to change how you look, think, and what your interests are?

Are you the one always doing the reaching out and following up?

Give and Take in Friendships

Friendships have a natural flow of give and take. Notice how much you are giving in a relationship that is raising red flags for you. Are you the friend who is always calling to meet up? Are you the friend who is paying the dinner bill, because your 'friend' does not have any money? Are you the friend who will be there for him day or night, but you are unsure if they will reciprocate if you are ever in need?

Set Boundaries

It is important to set apportirate boundaries. A 'friend' who exploits is always pushing on those boudnaris. Sometimes it seems innocent at first to give in, because it doesn't seem like a big deal. However, if your 'friend' seems to need special privileges most of the time, then chances are this is someone who exploits others.

Do Not Take It Personally

If you are being exploited by a friend, do not take it personally. It does not mean you are an idiot, it just means your 'friend' is self centered. You are probably the person who gives everyone a fair chance until they prove you wrong. If your gut keeps telling you it just seems a little off, then it probably is. If you keep wishing you wanted more from your friend, then there might be an explosive quality of this relationship.

Build Relationships With Other People

Often times people stay in friendships and partnerships they know are wrong for them because they fear being alone. Start to build a support system with other people who will not take advantage of you. You might want to start with a counselor, who can be supportive as you struggle with this relationship.

Build a support system through your community, church, work, and similar interests. Maybe it is time to take up a new class and meet new people.

Listen to The Voice Within

If your 'friend' is asking for something, and deep down inside you are struggling with saying yes, then listen to the part of you that is resisting. If your 'friend' is asking for something, and you do not want to tell your other friends or family what you are about to give them, ask yourself why?

For example, an exploative friend may ask you at work to clock out for them at 6:00 pm. They are actually going to leave at 4:00 pm but they do not want their time to be docked so they asked you to clock them out later. You know how easy it is to clock in and out for your friend, because all you need is their password to do so. However, you also know if you are caught you can be rembermanded and even lose your job. You do not want to disappoint your friend, who convinces you it is not a big deal and nobody will notice.

Inside you struggle with not wanting to disappoint your friend who believes this is no big deal, with the accountability that this is wrong and you can lose your job. If you decide to clock out your friend but promise yourself you will never tell anybody at work or your family what you are doing, chances are your conscious is telling you something. This is a friend exploiting you.

© Copyright Carly Sullens 2013. All Rights Reserved.


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    • profile image

      Danointed 4 weeks ago

      thanks so much Carly! you just helped me with an 'A'

    • lifelovemystery profile image

      Michelle Orelup 4 years ago from Houston, TX

      I worked with a girl that would end up as 'best friends' with different people - as she needed them on different projects. If you saw them together, you would have an impression that she really liked the other person.

      But then she would come back to her desk and complain non-stop about the other person. She is exhausting and I ended up limiting my conversations with her because I was pretty certain that she was 'all negative' about me when I wasn't around.

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 4 years ago

      This article is the best! I wish for this to be turned into a phamplet or something for this new generation. I think some of the past generation could use the ideas of how not to get oneself into these type of empty relationships.

      I know from experience the many people who have treated me in some of the ways you listed. I didn't really consider them a *friend*, I pretty much instinctly knew what they were about.

      I agree, we should look after our emotional well being and think of ourself in a healthy regard, not to be a doormat for others. Your article so deserves a vote up +++ and tweeted.

      Thank you for sharing this important information. :-)


    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      My biggest concern in any friendship is one where a person is negative. I try to steer them towards positive outlooks, but in the end you must put some boundaries in place to protect yourself. As you say, it is important that you build friendships with other people to balance your social life. Great post and very useful.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 4 years ago

      I think this is avery important subject that you have expressed so well. Sadly, I believe that relationships like this are all too common.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Great discussion. It is a horrible feeling to have a person who exploits you. I suppose everyone has that kind of relationship at some point in life. Hopefully people learn when they are young to identify these so called friends and avoid them.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Always, always listen to the voice within. Very well said. I must share this hub specially with my daughter for awareness purposes. What a very frustrating behavior yet it exist and one that we should all be warned about friendship.

      Thanks. Voting up and sharing.

    • NornsMercy profile image

      Chace 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Exploitative relationships frustrate me, especially if it's someone I care about being exploited by someone else. I'm pretty okay at cutting out the bad from my life but sometimes I want to scream at people, "Get outta there! They're just using you!" If only they would read this hub.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

      This is an excellent article with good examples of how people with an unhealthy sense of entitlement behave. Once you recognize this behavior for what it is, it becomes very unattractive.