• Resolving Problems

Why am I attracted to toxic friends?

October 7, 2013 | By | 14 Replies Continue Reading
A reader wonders why she gets into relationships with toxic friends.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I have two friends who seem toxic. I always seem to be the sounding board for these two people. They come to me with every issue, every annoyance in their lives. But, when I’m going through something in my life, they are hardly if ever there for me. One of them told me, “I like speaking with you better than my therapist.” Ugh.

Recently, one friend invited me to visit his new home. When the day for the visit arrived, he never called, texted or confirmed we were still going to meet. When he invited me, he had just said when are you coming over? He had mentioned that he had made dinner or breakfast for other friends he had invited to his new home. But he just wanted me to “swing by.”

Anyway, the day came and went. A few days later he said, “Are you supposed to come over today?” I said, “No, I was supposed to come over Thursday.” He never apologized or rescheduled. It’s been a week now and we have had no communication. Today, he texted me. Not to apologize, but to vent about a mutual friend. I never responded to his text. This isn’t the first time I have had these issues with him.

I wanted to see if you could recommend an article or give me some wisdom on how to handle friends like the ones I mentioned. I have been estranged from my family because they are destructive and I know some of my friendship issues stem for this. I don’t want people not to like me or to be mad at me. So, I’m always giving my time, energy and ear to them. But, I am always left feeling unfulfilled and drained.

I would like to end the one friendship completely or just distance myself a bit. But, because my friend is so narcissistic I’m concerned he may be malicious in some way.

Any wisdom you can give would be much appreciated.  I just found your blog and feel thankful it is here for me.

Signed, Cheryl

ANSWER

Hi Cheryl,

While you are probably a good friend and a good listener, you don’t seem to be good at choosing friends. You are describing relationships that feel one-sided, unfulfilling and draining to you.

Your major concern right now seems to be with your male friend. You feel like he is narcissistic and doesn’t treat you with the same respect he affords other friends. Although you are upset and uncomfortable about that, you haven’t summoned the courage to let him know. Healthy friendships allow for honest communication when misunderstandings occur.

His somewhat insulting “swing by” invitation must have been pretty vague if you felt it needed to be confirmed. But if he didn’t call to confirm, you could have taken the initiative to call or text him. It sounds like you set this situation up as a “test case” of his unreliability, which he flunked.

You have two choices: You can try to open a dialogue if you think this friend can change his ways. If you think this isn’t likely, you should begin to distance yourself. The fact that you have to worry about him becoming malicious doesn’t bode well for his character or the viability of the friendship.

I honestly think that my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, would be a perfect read for you right now. It offers many helpful strategies for identifying and dealing with toxic friends.

My best, Irene

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Category: RESOLVING PROBLEMS, Toxic friends

Comments (14)

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  1. tina says:

    Thank you for posting this. I feel I am always too kind so I attract toxic people. Just went through this once again I thought my neighbor was my friend I found out she was talking about me badly behind my back and then she barely would speak to me not even a wave across the street when she was outside. Well then she would only contact me when she needed something. So over the weekend we were gone and my tiny plastic pool blew into her yard and made a small scratch on her van. I told her i would come over when we got home sunday to talk and I will take care of everything. Then she tells me she already called her insurance as well as the cops to file a report. I told her i would take care of any damage and to please hold onto the pool until I get. Not even 15 minutes later she tells me she put it back in my yard because they don’t want to deal with it and the cops told her to do that. So we’ll long story short told her i guess we aren’t friends. So i blocked her on Facebook and not even 30 minutes later she messaged me telling me I was acting childish blocking her. I told her i only keep people on my facebook who are my friends. Which means she was keeping tabs on me. So glad I no longer am her friend she has actually lost many recently now I know why

  2. Sarah says:

    Reading this post has been very helpful! I have a friend of over 25 years who is constantly complaining. She only talks about her troubles and rarely asks about my life. When she does, she criticizes my choices. Often her words are hurtful and insulting. I feel bad because she has been a part of my life for so long, but I always feel depressed after talking to her, due to the constant negativity. I have tried to help her by giving her honest advice. But she never takes it. I need to distance myself, as I would not put up with this behavior in new friends.

  3. Sela says:

    I dumped my bf a year ago, it was one of the best decisions of my life. Once you get distance from an unhealthy human, you realize and recognize the ways in which they operated very clearly. I have concluded my former bf is a narcissist with great deceptive skills. The reason she can deceive everyone is that no one lives in the same area, so you only get glimpses into her personality, her lack of character. However, I have also realized it gets harder and harder for them to hide what they are…mental illness definitely starts to surface more with age. Stories that were told years before, now included the reality of her sleeping with married men, lying about her education, setting up coworkers, and betraying anyone she referred to as a friend. It is amazing how they can wear that mask, but once they hit their mid-to-late 40s it all becomes obvious.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Hi,

    I would like to give an update regarding this post. I ended up distancing myself from both friends. I communicated with both of them letting them know how I was feeling. Shortly after I told my friend how I was feeling he unfriended me off Facebook. lol. We have mutual friends so, anytime anyone asked me about him. I would just say, we haven’t spoken in a bit. Anyway, about a week or two ago I received a call from one of our mutual friends. He said, I just spoke with “JIM” and he said he doesn’t talk to you anymore. I ended up just saying, No, we haven’t spoken. I didn’t give any information because I felt like anything I said may get back to Jim. I would rather have Jim think I don’t care that our friendship has ended. I have to say that I actually feel better not having this person in my life. ALOT less drama and more time for me! It’s unfortunate that Jim couldn’t accept our new friendship with some boundaries. Instead when I wasn’t there for him every minute of everyday. He cut me out of his life. He did me a favor and at first I didn’t see it that way but, now I do. It’s sad also that Jim and I have known each other for 20+ years and that he couldn’t see any value in our friendship to repair.

    • Amanda says:

      Cheryl,

      It has been my experience that toxic people will disappear from your life once you start to put up and enforce boundaries. I often attempt to make the relationship more functional by changing the dynamic, but toxic people seem to be highly resistant to change and I am often forced to back away. Retaliation is not uncommon, which suggests that they do not think that I have the right to make my own decisions. All this does is show me exactly why I’ve chosen not to remain close with them, and I just ignore it. My life is much more peaceful once they’re gone and their departure leaves room for better friends — toxic people just keep you upset and block your blessings!

  5. Tommy says:

    U are to nice.So people take advantage of that.
    Stop being to nice to people who don’t deserve it

  6. Amy says:

    I believe that we “train” people how to treat us by what we will and will not accept. Some friends (and family) need firmer boundaries. If you don’t want to be a sounding board for complaints, tell your friends. “I’m trying to keep things positive in my life, so I’m not up to listening to this.” Or, “The past few times we spoke, I felt stressed and frustrated. I can talk if we keep things positive, but otherwise I’ll talk to you another time.” Those sample statements keep the focus on you and your needs without sounding accusatory or judgmental.

    • Sienna says:

      Hi Amy,

      One reason for having friends at all is to help us get through difficult times, especially when we’re feeling rudderless. We all experience, what Buddhists and many others call, the human condition. At some time or another, we suffer heartbreak, sadness, anxiety, anger, – the list goes on.

      With acquaintances we talk about benign subjects such as the weather, canning recipes, or our pets, but with real friends we share, at least some of our deepest feelings about ourselves, our relationships, and our worldview. Life can be messy, difficult, heart-wrenching, and we all need people in our lives (friends) to help us through these trials and tribulations.

      Friendships that don’t allow us to share our troubles are not friends at all. What would be the point of having such relationships that ignore or insist we suppress these feelings? We have enough of those shallow relationships with, for example, the local supermarket cashier, or our fitness instructor.

      Whatever happened to “A friend in need is a friend indeed” philosophy?

      • Kathy says:

        I think true friendship is all about balance….We should be able to vent about anger, heartache and other trials we are going through but it shouldn’t be the only thing we talk about. When all we discuss is the negative things going on in our life, it gets old after awhile and it does become draining and frustrating. If it’s a one sided friendship that all you do is listen to someone complain sooner or later your going to get tired of it and feel like enough is enough. A healthy friendship is one that if a friend has a problem you can vent but not to the extent of that being all you ever do…. If the friendship has become one of constant complaining I would recommend a Therapist, they are trained to listen and help people move on to finding ways of dealing with a situation so you can create a more positive life for yourself.

        • Amanda says:

          Kathy, you said it better than I ever could. If you look at just about any list of warning signs of a toxic person, someone who is always negative, critical and complains all the time is always on it. This person is often referred to as a “Negative Nancy” or a “Debbie Downer.” They are toxic because the other person gets essentially nothing positive out of interacting with them — they vent and feel better, but the listener feels abjectly awful because they’ve basically just had a big pile of garbage dumped on them.

      • Lauren says:

        Hi Sienna,

        I love your comments, which outline your life philosophy about friendships as well-rounded friendships. Yes, I totally agree, that we need friends to help us through the tough times, the stormy passages of life. It can’t be all sweetness and light, for life is not like that. We all have good times and bad.

        You are so right that we have superficial relationships with store clerks, servers in favourite restaurants, etc; but real friends should be there for each other.

        Yes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed” is so true.
        Best,
        Lauren

    • Anonymous2 says:

      I agree, Amy. There are people in my life that allow me to get away with bad behavior and others who don’t. Guess which friends I behave best around?

      • Grow up says:

        Shouldn’t you behave well because it is the right thing to do? Grow up.

        • Kiki says:

          Definitely! Doing the right thing or behaving well is always a choice. You can’t “train” anyone on how to treat you…they have to want to treat you well.

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