Toxic friends are a difficult problem.
After all, they are, well… friends!
But on the other hand, they are toxic.
They bring toxicity to your life and hack your psyche.
And you are not even sure if they wish you well or hell.
It’s a toxic friendship that ends up consuming you and making your life worse.
I wrote two books about dealing with toxic people in general.
In this article, however, I want to talk mainly about toxic friends. More specifically, how to deal with toxic friends?
Over the years, I realized that different toxic people require different solutions. You don’t handle a toxic coworker the same way you handle a toxic partner. And it’s totally a different game to handle a toxic stranger.
While the basics are the same, everything else is not.
That’s why I am writing this article. And it’s maybe why I will write articles about other types of relationships (handling toxic family members, strangers, coworkers,…etc).
And let’s face it, friendships are where we can get some comfort and get saner.
It’s like a safe place for you from all the toxicity in other areas of life. So, if it’s toxic as well, that’s not good. And we need to solve that.
Let’s start with a very simple question.
What are the signs of a toxic friend?
To keep this short, below are 7 signs of a toxic friend.
Or generally, those are 7 basic signs of a toxic friendship.
The more signs you find, the more likely that that person is toxic.
Do keep in mind, however, that the signs should be consistent and reflect that person’s behavior in different situations.
Because we all slip up and screw up. You wouldn’t want someone to define you in your worst moments based on your worst behavior, would you?
Let’s dive in.
#1 Someone you can’t tell good and bad news to
I got this one from Jordan Peterson.
This idea is very simple.
A real friend is someone you can tell bad news to. And they will listen.
They won’t make fun of your pain, and they will respect it. It’s not that they would make drama because of it. They simply can and do hold space for it.
And they won’t seem delighted to hear that things aren’t going well for you.
But a real friend is someone you can also tell your good news to! And they will be delighted and help you celebrate, as Jordan Peterson puts it.
Because they are friends who want the best for the best part of you.
If they aren’t, you shouldn’t be around them. Think about it, why would you?
So, pay attention to how people respond to your good and bad news.
If it feels draining and disappointing to tell them bad, and especially good, news, they are probably not really your friends.
#2 Someone you feel, when interacting with them, that something is wrong with you
Well, this one is obvious!
Some people in your social circle are supposedly your friends. For whatever reason.
But when you interact with them, you feel bad about yourself.
Something about the interaction makes you feel as though something is wrong with you.
They are not your friends. Stop torturing yourself. Listen to the voice that keeps telling you something is wrong. Believe it.
#3 A chronic gaslighter
Gaslighting isn’t only a manipulation technique and an abuse tactic. It’s also a way to avoid accountability.
Someone who uses gaslighting is someone who does not want to be held accountable. They don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, words, mistakes, and shitty behaviors.
Nothing screams “TOXIC PERSON” more than this.
Look beyond the chronic lying and gaslighting. (Note: chronic lying and gaslighting are inseparable).
At the core, there’s this desire to get away with what they shouldn’t get away with. What they should be held responsible for. On top of that, they have the audacity to think they can get away and should!
Gaslighters make toxic friends and shitty people in general.
#4 Someone who is aiming down deliberately
I also got this idea partly from Jordan Peterson.
First of all, you shouldn’t help those who don’t want to be helped and those who are not helping themselves.
Those people are aiming down deliberately. Their lives are in shambles. And you want to help, but they’re not collaborating. But by trying to help them, you’re actually making it worse and making your life worse.
Don’t help them. If someone isn’t helping themselves and is deliberately making things worse, stop helping them.
You’re not obliged to help them. Plus, there’s no virtue in doing so.
Rejecting their demoralizing behavior is the best thing you can do. For both of you!
Read more about that here.
But for now, one of the signs to look for is the type of friends who are screwing up their lives and aren’t willing to change.
They are usually the friends who will bring you down should you try to do something useful with your life. They want to stay at the bottom and bring you down with them to feel better about their shitty situation instead of changing it.
You’re better than that.
#5 Someone who can’t say ‘no’ to you
This is similar to the previous one.
But it’s a bit subtle and many of us don’t like it.
Someone who cannot say no to you is not only inauthentic but also is called an enabler.
You don’t want someone who agrees with everything you do. What are you? A flawless badass? You’re going to be making some mistakes and need someone to call you on your bullshit when you do.
If you’re acting delinquently and a friend actually agrees and keeps clapping to you, be aware!
They are either happy/indifferent to see you aim down because they are resentful or don’t care about you. Or they are just enablers who cannot stand up to you and tell you the truth.
Either way, that’s harmful to you.
In conclusion, you want someone who wants the best for you even if they are willing to call you on your bullshit. Even if they are willing to challenge you.
So, if someone can’t say no to you, it’s not a sign of love or kindness. It’s a terrible sign. Of course, I am talking about friends in your immediate circle and not people you barely know. And I surely don’t mean you should befriend those who are too critical of you.
#6 Toxic friends don’t respect your boundaries
Well, come on!
I don’t even need to explain any further.
Lack of disrespect is always a toxic sign. And someone who disrespects your boundaries is someone who doesn’t respect you. Period!
#7 Someone who you generally wouldn’t recommend to your brother/sister/daughter/son,…etc.
Here’s a simple rule to gauge if someone is toxic or not.
Would you recommend this person to your brother/sister/daughter/son or anyone you love and are responsible for?
If not, then why?
The answer for that is what will bring out what’s toxic exactly about them.
Plus, we tend to recommend people who are of real value to the people we care about. You earn being recommended and you also earn not being recommended.
You wouldn’t recommend a drug dealer to your son. And you wouldn’t recommend a liar and a scumbag to your daughter.
So think about that person, and if you wouldn’t recommend them, it must be because you know deep down there’s something wrong with their influence.
If, reading through these brief signs, you started thinking, “hmm, it seems I am actually the toxic one. Damn! Am I a toxic friend?” then read on.
At the end of this article, I will provide a few tips on what to do if you’re the toxic one.
For now, let’s see…
How to deal with toxic friends
You simply have to let them go.
As simple as that.
I wish there was a better way.
Here’s the rule:
If a friend is toxic and is bringing you down, you must let them go. And then you must make yourself a better person.
That’s better for you and it’s better for them. Don’t be the toxic friend who can’t say no. Don’t become an enabler.
Plus, having your life together will polarize them. It’ll give them the choice to either level up and join you or stay where they are.
With that being said, let’s see what it means, practically speaking, to let them go.
#1 Keep them at bay, in the outer circles
However, if that’s not possible for any reason, you can set boundaries to keep them away from you.
Think about your social circle. It’s actually a combination of circles around you just like this.
The people in the first circle are the closest to you.
And the people in the last circle are people you know superficially.
And depending on how close the circle is to the center, you treat the people in those circles differently. The people in the “inner circle” are the closest to you; they have probably seen who you truly are and they deserve it. Now, the people in the outer circles are ones you barely know.
This model of thinking about interpersonal relationships can help us conceptualize and explain and understand many things about friendship.
But in our context, you need to push those toxic friends a few circles back. If you cannot totally cut them off, push them back to the last circle they can be pushed to.
You basically still communicate with them, but you don’t engage emotionally. Treat them as you would treat the people in the circle they are in now. That means less engagement as you have pushed them back a few circles.
And of course, you focus on people in the inner circle and nourish your relationships with them. I am assuming those people are emotionally mature and want the best for the best part of you.
So, all in all, even if you can’t cut them off totally, you can set boundaries and keep them at bay. In other words, keep them in the outer circles and treat them accordingly. And focus on the quality of your inner circles.
#2 Tolerate the discomfort of being judged, rejected, and maybe alienated by them
In real life, you don’t just cut off people or set boundaries and expect people to be like, “Ok, that’s cool. I respect that!”
You’re likely to face resistance.
You will be judged and probably rejected by them. They will start acting differently around you and treat you differently. They may show you disapproval or even disrespect. In the best cases, there will be some awkward moments between you.
Tolerate that and withstand that.
Set the boundary and then defend it. It’s a decision you make and stand behind.
[Picture: quote from Instagram. embed it.]
You can, of course, micromanage the interactions between you by being diplomatic and respectful but assertive and clear about your boundaries. That way, you can make those moments and interactions as less awkward as possible.
But will there be discomfort and resistance and awkwardness? You bet! However, withstanding that discomfort and asserting your boundaries is worth it. It’s rewarding in the long run. You’re basically intoxicating your life. Remember that.
#3 Outgrow your toxic relationship with them by sorting yourself out
Some problems don’t go away.
They are simply problems without obvious, practical solutions. Meaning, there’s no practical or specific thing you can do to make the source of the problem vanish.
It’s here to stay.
Like, if your family is toxic, that is that! If your workplace is filled with narcissistic assholes, you’re not going to make their narcissism go away or not affect the workplace.
Of course, those are just examples. These types of problems are much broader and many situations fit this definition.
The way you deal with these types of problems is by outgrowing them.
What does that mean?
If you stay focused on those problems, they will grow bigger because there’s no solution for them. And you will shrink in comparison to them. That’s not a good idea. You will feed them and weaken yourself at the same time by fighting a losing battle.
But if you outgrow them, you become bigger than them. They don’t go away. They probably stay the same size they are. It’s just that you grow bigger in size compared to them.
You grow bigger to the point of not being fazed by them anymore. Why aren’t you affected by them anymore? Because you have grown bigger, not because they are actually solved.
And that’s what I mean when I say, “outgrow”.
Practically speaking, it means growing as a person. And that looks different for everyone. It means different things for different people. Think about what makes you a stronger, more confident, well-put-together person.
It could mean becoming stronger mentally, physically, or spiritually. It could mean reaching a certain level of success or developing a specific skill set.
Or it could mean developing healthy and secure relationships with mature people.
In a nutshell, it’s becoming the person you know deep down you could and should become.
What do you have to do and who do you need to become in order to outgrow the toxicity in your life?
#4 Being alone is better than being with toxic people, so don’t be afraid of that
This is a reminder that you are better off alone than with toxic people.
Loneliness is not a trivial issue. It’s a serious problem and a painful experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
However, trying to solve a problem by adding another problem to your life doesn’t strike me as the wisest thing to do.
So, tackle the issue of loneliness in a smarter way. Surround yourself with people who wish you well and who want the best for you.
Plus, you won’t cure loneliness by being around toxic people and friends. You will be lonely and depressed. Defend your solitude by defending your boundaries.
Am I toxic? What to do?
Well, asking that question, in and of itself, is a good sign you want to improve.
People who stay toxic don’t bother asking such questions.
Or let me put it in better words. How do you recognize a good person? They are continually and genuinely trying to improve and become better people.
That’s partially why you shouldn’t judge people. You can’t know if they’re trying to become better and are struggling or not.
With that in mind, let’s move on to the next point, which is extremely important.
In psychology, there’s this idea of the shadow. Basically, as human beings, we have a shadow. And it contains all the dark parts of our personalities in addition to all the parts we don’t like to admit about ourselves.
All the evil deeds done by one man can be done by any other man. Why? Because this shadow exists in all of us.
That maniac serial killer and rapist? There’s a part of him inside of you. That lying hypocrite who talks about people behind their backs? You could be just like him, especially if you despise him. The cheater who breaks hearts and shatters dreams? Don’t be so sure there isn’t a part of you that craves a lustful and dangerous adventure.
This is not to justify any of these behaviors. They are wrong and evil. But what makes you think that what’s wrong and evil can’t grip you?
Everyone has a toxic and even an evil side. The more they deny its existence, the stronger it becomes.
Your mission right now is first to accept the existence of this shadow.
Befriend it, and integrate it.
Befriending it will also lead you to discover your hurt self. This is critical.
You know, that quote that says if you don’t heal what hurt you, you will bleed on people who didn’t cut you.
As cliche as those quotes may sound, they are true.
Don’t use that as an excuse or a justification, of course. Heal it. You are not the younger version of yourself. You’re stronger and can handle things differently and intelligently if you allow yourself to.
But you also have to integrate that shadow part. Integrating it will actually give you more power and wisdom.
You cannot get rid of it. And maybe you shouldn’t as it could be useful at times, surprisingly enough!
Here’s what it looks like.
If you let the shadow take over, you become toxic.
If you integrate it, you become wise and strong.
Is that a simple journey?
Breaking free from the darkness isn’t a walk in the park.
So, start. And start small. Identify your toxic behavior and see exactly how they hurt those around you. And see yourself in the future should you keep being this way. Where would you be? Who would you be with? What chances would you miss?
Make that motivate you. And make use of this insight you got: “Oh, maybe I am a toxic person!” That can be the question that starts an upward spiral that leads you to better places.
And remember. Always remember. And I mean this from the deepest point of my heart because I said it a lot to myself:
Just forgive Yourself.
Written by a fellow human being who is probably as toxic as you but is doing his best.