15 signs of toxic friends - unhappy middle aged woman

Toxic Friends: 15 Signs of Toxic Friendships

Toxic friends are not good for your mental health or physical well-being. They make you feel worse about yourself and can sabotage your life‌.

So what are common signs of toxic friends and how can you avoid them?

How do you tell the difference between a toxic friend and a good friend who’s just having a bad day or going through a rough time?

That’s what I share in this blog. You may also want to check out my blog: How to Make Friends in Your Midlife Years and Beyond.

Toxic friends caveat

While I use the term ‘toxic friends’ in this blog, I worry it’s a term that’s being overused, and inappropriately, for difficult situations with friends.

For example, people can be good friends yet have one or two negative behaviours, or have acted in a certain way on a one-off occasion.  Let’s face it, none of us are perfect. As human beings, we all make mistakes. Yet, in today’s society, it’s become more popular to label them as toxic friends for even the smallest of negative behaviours. 

Whereas, there are people who have patterns of consistent harmful behaviours. Many people call these toxic friends. I prefer to think of these as unhealthy friendships.  

Once you’ve read this you may also want to check out my blog: Do You Expect Too Much From Your Friends?

Toxic friends (unhealthy friendships) versus nourishing friends

Whenever I ask people what qualities they look for in people they want as friends, they typically say kind, thoughtful, fun, non-judgmental, interesting, like-minded or other positive human qualities. 

No one has ever told me they were looking for friends who are bitchy, negative, abusive, aggressive, possessive, rude, or toxic. 

When we find ourselves in toxic friendships, we’ve ignored the red flags for too long. 

Knowing the signs of toxic friendships versus healthy nourishing friends will help you be more selective of the friendships you pursue, avoid, and pull back from. 

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15 Signs of toxic friends (unhealthy friendships)

Unhealthy toxic friendships are those with people who consistently behave in ways that are harmful to you, as can be seen in the table below:

Toxic Unhealthy Friends

Good Nourishing Friends

  • Want what’s best for them, over what’s best for you. It’s all about them. It’s a one-way friendship that’s all about them. They are a taker. 
  • Have a healthy balance of wanting what’s best for themselves, you, and others. It feels like a healthy two-way relationship with give and take on both sides. 
  • Put you down and keep you there – so they feel better.
  • Lift you up – often even when they aren’t feeling great themselves
  • Use you, abuse, and are mean to you.
  • Are kind to you and respect your needs
  • Are needy, possessive and jealous of you—your life and other friendships.
  • Have other friends and healthy ways to get their needs met.
  • Rarely show they care about you or send you mixed messages.
  • Do things that show they care and value your friendship.
  • Blame others. They say ‘It’s not my fault.’
  • Take full responsibility for their actions.
  • Think they are right and rarely apologise.
  • Say they are sorry when they make mistakes.
  • Dim your light and hold you back.
  • Celebrate your successes.
  • Squash your dreams.
  • Believe in you and bring out the best in you. 
  • Drain your energy. You dread spending time with them or picking up their calls. 
  • Are energising to be around. You love seeing and speaking to them. They make your day. 
  • Regularly upset or hurt you and cause you unnecessary stress, anxiety, or worry.
  • Make you feel better about yourself or good about the friendship.
  • Are often negative, critical, or lie. It’s hard to trust them. 
  • Are encouraging. supportive, respectful, and trustworthy. 
  • Bitch, moan and gossip about people (and probably you behind your back).
  • Enjoy good conversations, but not at the expense of others.
  • Have fixed views and rarely consider other perspectives.
  • Open-minded, see things from different perspectives.
  • Belittle and minimise the challenges you face – things are worse for them.
  • Help you navigate your way through life’s challenges.
  • Try to change you.
  • Accept, like, and love you as you are.

Good friends

Conversely, nourishing friends are people who are consistently good for you, want the best in you, and enrich your life. They’re not just there for the good times, they’re there to support you through the more challenging times too.

True friends act with positive intentions and hold a vision for your highest interest. Yes, sometimes good friends make mistakes. But they have the compassion and confidence to apologise when they get things wrong. 

Can good friends be challenging?

We all have times when life is hard and we feel down, stressed, or don’t act ‌as we intend to do. It’s natural to have good and bad days or times in life. 

The distinction between unhealthy friendships and a good friend having a bad time is that a nourishing friend takes responsibility for managing their emotions and tries to find solutions to their problems. They don’t let their challenges define them or blame others for their ‘bad luck’. 

Supporting a friend through a bad time is part of being a good friend. However, that’s very different from being friends with someone who thrives on playing the victim, drama, putting you down, and constantly blaming others, for the reasons they are unhappy. 

How do you avoid being in a toxic friendship?

If you want to avoid finding yourself in toxic friendships, be selective about the friends you make. Get clear on the qualities you are looking for in friends and be on the alert for negative behaviours or red flags there could be trouble ahead. 

Setting boundaries and being clear on the behaviours you expect from all your friends is also good practice. You hopefully won’t need to discuss this as you make friends; you effectively do this through your actions towards them. For example, through being kind and thoughtful towards others, you’re communicating such qualities are important to you. 

Doing this will increase the likelihood of you being surrounded by wonderful nourishing friends who energise you and are good for you rather than toxic friends.

Likewise, when someone crosses these boundaries, e.g. by being nasty or abusive towards you, if you say or do nothing, you’re effectively telling them it’s OK for them to treat you this way. Over time, continuing to allow this to happen can feed an unhealthy relationship. 

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Treat building friendships like dating

When you like someone, you arrange to see them again and continue to do so as long as you both are getting something from the relationship. It’s worth investing more time and energy into building a relationship if you’ve met someone who aligns with what you’re looking for. 

In the process of finding nurturing friendships, you’re likely to meet people and start to build relationships with people you think could become good friends, only to realise later they are not nourishing friends. This is not a failure on your part. In the same way, it’s culturally acceptable to walk away from romantic relationships that don’t make you happy. It’s also totally acceptable to break up with or walk away from friendships with people you don’t resonate with or are unhealthy‌. Spending time in unhealthy friendships is not good for you. 

I encourage you to be intentional about the friendships you rekindle, make, and nurture–at every stage of the process we explore in this book. 

How do you get out of a toxic friendship?

If you find yourself in a toxic friendship it’s probably because you’ve been unintentional about your choice of friend, you’ve not known what signs to watch for, or have allowed your friend to mistreat you. You could also have become more self-assured, and confident, or have outgrown the other person. 

Friendships are a two-way dynamic. The part you play also influences how you are treated in the friendship. 

Sometimes, all it takes to turn around the occasional negative behaviour towards you is to be assertive when someone behaves in a way that’s not acceptable to you. You do this by reaffirming boundaries and explaining why it’s not acceptable to speak to you or treat you in a certain way. Occasionally, such discussions can even strengthen relationships. 

I know I’ve been in relationships with people who treat me in a way they don’t treat others. On the positive side, it’s because I set clear boundaries with people in the early stages of a friendship by communicating unacceptable behaviours. However, as someone who always likes to see the best in people, I’m aware it takes me longer to assert myself with previously close friends, for fear of upsetting them. 

Factors to consider before ending a toxic friendship

  • The part they play in your life – friendships are complex and cutting off a friend isn’t always the best way forward. If you think about the time and effort put into making relationships with life partners work, why would you not do the same with long-term friends? First, consider the balance between ways they enrich your life versus their negative behaviours and the impact ending the friendship would have on other relationships. Thereafter, if you feel emotional turmoil outweighs the benefits of staying friends, it may be time to walk away, even if it breaks your heart. 

  • How long you’ve been friends – it’s easier to let go of relationships with people when you are in the early stages of a friendship. Relatively few people you meet in life are destined to become good friends. Building friendships takes time and effort. So pulling back by being less proactive, while still being kind and polite is sometimes all it takes to end a new friendship. However, if you’ve been friends with someone for years, there are a lot more things to consider including the most respectful way to communicate why you need to end the friendship. 

  • The extent of negative behaviours towards you – if it’s been a one-off negative behaviour or situation in what is otherwise a good friendship, the respectful starting point is to have an honest conversation, coming from a place of love, kindness, and compassion. Given we all have completely different experiences in life, it’s natural to have tricky moments with good friends. However, if the person consistently behaves in ways that aren’t good for you, or you feel emotionally abused or in danger, it could be time to end the friendship. 

  • The support you have – if the friend concerned is also an emotional crutch for you, it may be worth exploring how to put alternative support in place. In the absence of other friends, consider speaking to a counsellor, therapist, or life coach who can help you with this and work out the best way forward. 

Never dim your light

When others are not in such a good emotional or mental place as ourselves, a way of connecting and fitting in is to dim our light. Maybe you pretend things aren’t going as well as they are with a friend you know who is struggling. 

Just recently, a friend apologised for speaking about her children and grandchildren with me, as she’s aware I’m unintentionally childless and didn’t want to upset me. While her intentions were well-meaning, I never want any of my friends to play down what’s happening with their family. My response was to tell her she must never feel she can’t speak to me about her family. Of course, if that was all she talked about or if I thought she was doing it to deliberately hurt me, that could damage our friendship. Thankfully we have a good friendship, which I feel was made even better in the knowledge we can have honest conversations with each other.  

Likewise, I know I’ve dimmed my light in the past by downplaying things going well in my life for fear of upsetting others who are less fortunate than me. Of course, there are times when it’s wise to hold back information and wait until a better time to share something. But continually dimming your light for the sake of others isn’t healthy. A good friend will celebrate when things are going well for you, even when things are not going as well for them. 


  • When you’re aware of the signs of toxic friendships, you can be more discerning about the friends you make. 

  • How to get out of toxic friendships depends on how long you’ve been friends, the extent of harmful behaviours, the part they play in your life, and the support structures you have in place. 

  • The part you play also influences the quality of friendship. Letting people treat you badly is fuel for unhealthy relationships. On the other hand, setting clear boundaries, and standing up for yourself, is more likely to yield good friendships. 

  • Considering friendships similar to life partners can be useful: so you can proactively nurture good friendships and end relationships that are detrimental to your well-being, before they become toxic. 

What’s next?

You deserve to be surrounded by wonderful friends who will love and respect you as much as you do them. If you don’t like the way friends are treating you, it’s time to speak up and do something. Hopefully, reading this blog has given you some ideas on how to do this. 

For further tips and resources on this topic sign up for my Nourishing Friends Blog <HERE>. 

Ready to invest in learning how to make more friends now, check out my Nourishing Friends Course. This practical course shows you how to make new friends and consciously nurture nourishing relationships that will bring you joy for years to come. Find out more <HERE>.

Want help working out the best way forward or coping better with challenging friends? I also offer one-to-one support. Check out my services <HERE> or contact me

With love and gratitude,

Life Coach, Business Mentor, and Author for Midlife Women

Empowering you to enjoy a life of purpose, adventure, and fun in your midlife years and beyond. 

Nourishing Friends Course

P.S. Have you checked out my books <HERE> yet?

Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to make it easier for women in their midlife years and retirement to live their truth, do something that matters, and make the most of life. 

Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success and Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes have favourably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. Personally, Alisoun loves spending time with friends, exploring the world, and living by the beach in Scotland.

Alisoun has written the following free resources:&lt;/strong>

  • 101+ Ways to Create a Joyful Life of Meaning, Vitality, & Impact (download this HERE).
  • Ebook: 52 Ways to Raise Funds for Charities and Social Causes Through Your Business (download this here)

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