Toxic friendships: What are they and how to manage them

August 20, 2020

Personal Growth, Relationships

On my blog, I talk a lot about toxic relationships. However, some friendships could also be toxic due to the dynamics they contain. These types of friendships generally impact our self-esteem and make us feel that something unfair is happening. At the same time, they make us feel like it’s our fault. In this post, I want to discuss why these types of friendships occur and what we can do if we find ourselves in one.

Toxic friendship relationships are those in which one of the parties seeks to benefit, and in return, consistently diminishes, belittles, or hurts the other person. The friendship feels unbalanced and that it is the responsibility of only one of the parties to maintain it. Some of the behaviors that are seen in this type of friendship are the following:

  • This person only contacts you when they need something from you, or at their convenience.
  • There is no respect for your boundaries.
  • Friendship feels like a competition. The other person does not allow you to have a moment of recognition, but always seeks to be the center of attention.
  • You are afraid that if you confront the person, they will abandon you and try to damage your relationship with other people in your life.
  • This person criticizes, belittles, or insults you throughout the interactions. This can be in a “subtle” way (for example: consistently criticizing your weight or the clothes you wear) to more obvious ways like using obscene words during arguments.

At the same time, it’s essential to recognize that friendship doesn’t always feel like this.


Friendships, even when they may have toxic elements, are not always entirely negative. They must contribute something in our life for which we want to keep them. It may be that this person, at some point in our life, supported us with a situation and a critical project. It may also be that the friendship started healthily and has changed over time; this loyalty to nostalgia may be what keeps us in this relationship. Another case that can occur is that there are moments of fun that happen with this person. There are people who, by being the center of attention, create a fun and adrenaline-filled environment. Sometimes, these moments may represent the life that we want, and that is why we stay close. Finally, we can keep a person by our side because we are afraid of what may happen to them. If we are not by their side, we can create a sense of responsibility for the well-being of the other person. That is why we do not dare to leave them.

Friendships are invaluable relationships, and many people would say they are even more so than couples. Therefore, it is not as easy to leave them as we might believe.


Having said this, I also invite you to think that your well-being is a priority and that friendships should help develop it and not diminish it. I’m going to share some things you can keep in mind when managing a toxic friendship:


  • Evaluate how the balance is between giving and receiving in friendship. Do you find that the other person invests in this bond just like you? Sure, there are always differences in how people give of themselves in relationships. Some people find it easier to communicate than others, as some find it easier to remember birthdays and important dates. These differences are healthy and even necessary to help relationships grow. However, suppose you understand that you are only the person who gives and you rarely receive. In that case, it is an invitation to reflect on the state of friendship.


  • Observe how limits and constructive criticism are handled in the relationship. These conversations are not always easy to have, but how they are handled can say a lot about the relationship. If you feel that you cannot talk about what is happening to you, or that the person is going to “punish” you or leave you for these conversations or limits; then you could reflect on how this dynamic impacts you.


  • Recognize what you can and cannot control. There are times when you want the other person to change or not to have to set boundaries on the friendship. However, this desire to control could keep you in relationships that no longer benefit you. What you can control are your boundaries and what you want for your life. And even when your emotions and reactions are not always under your control, you can learn to understand them and take care of yourself in the way you need and create well-being.


  • Invest in other relationships in your life that bring you joy, and give new friends the opportunity. Instead of just focusing on what you don’t have, you can allow yourself to pay attention to what is already around you. Allow yourself to write a list of the people who appreciate you, and create space to connect with them. You can also allow yourself to meet new communities. Virtuality has opened a door for many support groups, reading clubs, virtual classes, and communities that can be part of our support network.


Many elements can make a friendship toxic; each case has it’s own particularities and has its own story of why this dynamic occurs.


Suppose we have already allowed ourselves to try to improve the situation, and nothing has changed. In that case, it may be time to consider what the next step towards our well-being is. Each process is different, and it is reasonable to experience grief over a friendship that ends. At the same time, it is an opportunity to strengthen other relationships around you and repair the relationship you have with yourself. Your well-being always comes first, and you deserve to have friends who support you as you create a life that supports your authenticity and happiness.

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