Are Your “Friends” Toxic?

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Whether you’re a fresher or doing your masters, you’re likely to meet or will meet, a toxic person. They could be a friend you’ve known since your school days, or you might have only met them last week down the pub. Toxic friends come in all degrees and here’s our guide to helping you work out the toxic people in your life.

First, what even is a toxic friend? When we use the word toxic, it refers to something unhealthy and unequal. They’re the kind of people who drain the energy from anyone around them. They are described as master manipulators, skilled liars and great actors.

The red flags you need to be aware of to spot a toxic friend:

1.    Argumentative

Do you feel like you can’t say the right thing? Are you always in the wrong? Toxic friends will often insult or purposefully cause conflict. They might get irrationally upset if you don’t respond to their texts straight away or expect you to agree with their every wish. This can undermine you and put you in a vulnerable and defensive position, as you constantly have to validate yourself to someone who will never approve.

2.    One-upping

 Are you feeling under the weather? Well, you can’t have it that bad because they’re D Y I N G. Toxic people tend to have narcissistic traits, resulting in a compulsion for them to be worse/better off than you. If they make you feel less of a person for the things you do or accomplish, they aren’t your friend, and it’s a clear sign of toxic behaviour.

3.    Isolation

They demand your attention and move you away from other friends. Not only does this make you feel alone, but it also puts you in a vulnerable position of having to rely on the toxic person for comfort and feeding into the cycle of loneliness further. A genuine friend wouldn’t take you away from other friends or guilt you into spending time with only them.

4.    Encourage unhealthy traits

Having a drink with friends is perfectly fine, but if these friends force you into drinking or doing something you’re not comfortable with, that’s a clear sign of a toxic relationship. Toxic people may go as far as to use threats or gaslighting to coerce others into doing what they desire. It’s putting you at a loss for their entertainment.

An expression I think sums up a toxic friendship is “watering a dead plant” – the plant doesn’t improve, and you waste water. While it’s easy to make excuses for toxic people, that they’re ‘having a bad day’ or they’re ‘not always like this’, these aren’t fair to you or the other person.

Repeatedly making excuses means they don’t have to accept any fault in their character and gives them a pass to continue their unhealthy behaviours. For you, it means that you’re remaining in this negative cycle and not able to progress beyond it.

Breaking free from a toxic friend can be extremely difficult. One of the fundamental problems will be stopping sentimentality getting the best of you. A friend you’ve had for several years will have good times associated with them, but you have to weigh up those good memories with the bad ones, and the genuine possibility of more bad ones.  A ‘day-one friend’ doesn’t make them inexcusable of being toxic and bad for your mental or physical health.

Where possible, delete all contact with them. Just like a bad break up, having photos of them or their number saved in your phone means you’re more tempted to restart contact and could end up with you being back at square one. While it isn’t impossible for people to change, and maybe your friend can improve their faults, staying in contact won’t give either of you the space to heal and change.

I’ve been there; I know it’s hard.

My toxic friend insulted me in every way you can imagine; my clothes are terrible, my laugh was ugly, my interests were boring. I made excuses at first because he made me laugh. Then before I knew it, we’d been friends seven years, and my excuse became that; we’d been friends for seven years. There had been great times, sure, but mostly, I was left with a deep fear of being myself in front of anyone and desperately seeking his approval.

If anything in this article has a struck a chord with you, or you believe you’re currently in a toxic relationship of any kind, remember that there is always help and that it does get easier.

It’s been two years since I went cold turkey and cut him out of my life entirely. In that time, I’ve made new friends and had better experiences. I’ve healed and become more assured of who I am as a person, and most importantly, made friends with myself.

By Courtney Flint-Taff