Could YOU be a toxic friend? 5 Sure Signs

Published: September 28, 2009 | Last Updated: September 28, 2009 By | 17 Replies Continue Reading

After a tiff with your BFF, it’s natural to get upset and ask yourself (or a third person), "What’s wrong with her?" That’s because it’s much easier for all of us to recognize blemishes or faults in our friends than it is to look in the mirror.

But if you’re finding that you’re having frequent conflicts-either with the same person or with multiple friends-or that people who you thought were close friends often wind up dumping you, you have to consider whether there’s something you are doing or saying that’s sabotaging your own friendships.

Here are 5 possible signs of toxicity to watch out for:

1) Are you too needy? Are you always the one who asks to get together? Are you the one putting forth all the effort in the relationship? Friendships need to be reciprocal. Even an ideal relationship may not be balanced every day or even every year but there’s a give-and-take that evens out over time. If you are constantly asking for attention, advice, support, time or even material favors from your friend, or are demanding more than they’re able to handle, it’s not unreasonable for them to grow weary of your neediness.

2) Are you too volatile? Do you blow-up each time things don’t go your way or do you tend to hide your feelings until they spew out when they can no longer be contained? No one likes to be with a friend who is intense, unpredictable, and seething, or who is unwilling or unable to work out little problems (before they become big ones) by talking about them.

3) Are you too moody? Everyone has his or her ups and downs but it’s difficult to be with a moody person no matter what the relationship. Are you always in the throes of depression? Are you so energetic to the point that you exhaust the people around you? If your moods seem too intense for others to bear or if your moods cycle rapidly, it may be off-putting.

4) Are you too blunt or invasive? Are you the type of person that always says what’s on your mind and expresses every thought totally unvarnished? Do you probe and ask questions regardless of whether your friend is ready to answer them. Are you so pushy that you make friends squirm in their seats? Close friends need to be kind and respectful of each other’s feelings, not say everything that comes to mind, and be sensitive to and responsive to the lines their friends draw around them.

5) Are you too insecure? Do your friends always make you feel one down to the point that you feel like you need to brag, lie or aggrandize your own situation? Do you hold back or feel too shy to talk, to disagree, or to set boundaries? Are you unable to talk about things that are important to you? If most people make you feel this way, you need to look inside and see how you can make yourself feel better.

If you have lost a friend or two in succession, it may not be anything to worry about. But if you begin to recognize a pattern of lost friendships, one after another, intermittently, or very often, it’s time to take notice and at least consider the possibility that it’s you, not her.

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Comments (17)

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  1. N says:

    KC, I totally understand. Even though I willingly gave my energy to such friends, it is so extremely hurtful that they don’t care to reciprocate. They were willing to accept the representations of love from me, but then ignore or forget about me. So yeah, even if I wasn’t fulfilling favors that were asked for and was doing things because I wanted to, it still does feel like having been used. When I’ve mentioned feeling taken for granted or ignored, I have been accused of trying to buy people’s friendship since I’m expecting reciprocation in the long run. It is such an unfair accusation. True, nobody owes you or me for the love we showed. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? They didn’t HAVE to, but people forget that WE didn’t have to either! We did it cause we cared. So when the general sense of love and care isn’t reciprocated in the long run, or in times of need or celebration, it shows that our friends didn’t care back. They took our love as nothing, as though anybody would have cared and done such things for them. And that is so hurtful.

  2. N says:

    I have to disagree with some of this, especially #1. If your friendship isn’t balanced and you are always the one calling, it might not be your fault. It’s one thing if you call constantly and don’t even leave room for the other person to miss you. It’s another if that person doesn’t seem to care if you’re not around. In the latter case, you are not the bad friend, they are.

    Also, if someone is going through a hard time or has low self-confidence, being dumped is not what shows that they’re a toxic friend. It shows me that their friend wasn’t a good one. A real friend isn’t fair-weather, and will talk to you (without being rude or angry) if there is a problem. For example, they can help you see the good things in yourself so you can have confidence.

    • KC says:

      Your reply rings true with me. I recently had my attention drawn to the fact that most of my friendships were not balanced, with me making the effort. I conducted an experiment and waited to be called and asked friends to visit me instead. Neither happened and it’s left me feeling terrible.

      A really true friend suggested I might ‘need to be needed’ and that it meant that I had created a one way street, meaning these other friends were unable to help me when I was in trouble because that isn’t the way the friendship was set up. I has considered these friends as family but this one way street has left me feeling abandoned and used. I have withdrawn myself from these friends and it would be easy to think that I am the problem, especially after reading this article. But I do believe in balance and as I age, I have no interest in fair weather friendships. I like to help and I need to be helped.

  3. Julie C says:

    I am 47. I do not believe women in my age group are looking for friends, but they sure are looking for victims.

    I believe I am done trying the ‘to have friends be a friend route.” Something has happened to Generation X women, and I suspect the group here in this town is very very mean to each other from the way they attempted to treat me. Unfortunately, it isn’t just women in my age group treating each other horribly, all of the women in this town and the SW area of this state treat each other and their girls horribly. Why is this so prevalent in an area where just about everyone goes to church on Sunday?

    Last night, another fledgling friend threatened me in the manner of a seven year old, and I’m really thinking hard about just walking away. Do I really need, yet another, draining friend who is hiding something from herself as well as others? Why was her husband so worried about us getting together? Why did her child react to me so strangely when she left the room? That two year old tried to push me over and then got sooooo very angry when she discovered I am a rock. I had to hold her arms to prevent her from rocking backward and knocking her head smartly on the ground. Maybe I should have let her go? I guess I’d better let her mom go. The mom has her pharmaceuticals and is placing her daughter in the position of caregiver, already, and is happy in her various illnesses, she is happy with her codependency, so I am too old for this and I have to walk away.

  4. Ann says:

    Geez. What happens when you suddenly realize you are all of these? And at 42 yrs old with little chance of changing? I’m tired of having no close friends… some have lasted for a few years at a time, but always end the same. With me angry and hurt. And lately, I’m so certain it will eventually end that I don’t see much use in trying.

  5. neurowave says:

    I feel exhausted by my best friend. She just ended an abusive relationship with a restraining order. I was encouraging her because this guy was scary.

    Same day she throws herself at someone else. Meanwhile, I’m looking over my shoulder all the time for her angry ex. He blames me.

    So she ignores me for a month to be with the new guy. I find him looking at my profiles on social media. I just feel like it will happen again. She will get involved with another abusive guy and look to me for help.
    I don’t want to get involved. How does this stranger know all about me, and I know nothing about him?

    I’m exhausted and empty. I’ve had a rough month too, and no one to turn to at all. I go to therapy and I encourage her to go to. She won’t. I’m just tired of being in a one-sided relationship. I told her about my feelings and she got angry. Her self-destructive dating patterns will probably continue. I don’t want to be there when it blows up in her face.

  6. anon says:

    I don’t really lose friendships and can count the number of conflicts I have had in my life on one hand, but I still feel I am toxic to other people. I have had mental health problems since I was 13, though they have got much better over the years. I used to have eating disorders, but I overcame that, and the same for agoraphobia and anxiety. I still get a bit anxious and feel guilt more than I need to and I feel generally unhappy, but overall I think things are loads better and I doubt anyone can even tell nowadays.

    The problem has largely been neediness when things are really bad. I lost all of my friends when I was 16 because there was a lot going on at home, my ED was really bad, and I was being abused by my boyfriend. I think it was probably all too draining for them. It’s fair enough, really, but I guess looking back there’s really nothing I could have done differently. I was going through an extremely difficult time and was too young to be able to cope. It’s not like you can just leave home when you’re legally a dependent.

    Similarly, my friends pulled away from me around 8 years ago when I hit another crisis (I’m now 28) and again I think it’s fairly reasonable because I was really stuck in distress and I couldn’t find my way out at all. I don’t blame them, basically, but I suppose I do feel lonely. I do everything I can to be self sufficient. I live alone and I don’t really go to friends about my problems unless I really collapse, but then I feel awful about it because I feel like I really ought to make up for having been too needy in the past. I also do feel unhappy a lot of the time and I’m a bit embarrassed about that. Sometimes my friends say things like ‘why don’t you just call me?’ if I admit I have been feeling bad, and I just think ‘make your mind up!’ but I suppose I never do feel comfortable admitting that I can’t cope and I don’t want them to see me vulnerable. I’m judging myself already when I feel that way and I don’t want to open myself up to criticism.

    Like I say, I guess I don’t really lose friends. In fact, looking back, the very friends who backed away when I was 16 and 20 are the same friends I have now. They tend to return when I’m feeling better. But then sometimes I find myself in the position where I am inviting them out more often than they are me and that makes me feel pretty stupid so I just busy myself with something/someone else and wait for them to return the favour – which they do eventually with many apologies etc. I’m finding that I want to back away from these friends a bit now. Sometimes they just come off as too judgemental of others and I guess I see people in a different way than they do. I know people who are in crisis myself and while I can’t always be there for them – I have my own stuff and have to look after myself – I guess I just also find myself unable to judge them for their neediness. I just keep everything crossed for them and hope they’ll make it through. But when I tell my un-needy friends about it, they start getting judgemental about my more needy friends and I walk away feeling like I don’t really want to hang out with the un-needy group anymore. I don’t understand how they can be so cold when someone else is going through hell. Fair enough, I might distance myself if I don’t have the resources, but I still have compassion from that distance.

    I guess these experiences have all made me feel a bit miserable about finding new friends. It’s not that I don’t like other people, I guess I just think that despite all of the improvements I have made, I don’t know for certain that I won’t have another crisis in the future or need people again and I don’t want to be told again and again that I’m “too upset”. I’d rather just be left alone. I suppose I don’t really think it’s my fault if I struggle to cope, because I know I always try very hard and there’s nothing more I can do than that. i just feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I don’t think I’m deliberately doing anything wrong – I know I always think of others’ feelings and I do a lot to help myself – but at the same time I know that the majority of people feel they shouldn’t have to be around people like me – damaged people – and I guess I kind of agree with them to some extent.

    • Coco says:

      Thank you for this writing, I can totally relate to your situation. It similar to what I have been feeling about the few friends that I still do have. I believe that sometimes we have to walk this walk alone.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Because you recognize your own behaviour and can reflect on it that is material for a great friend because this shows you have the ability to be open and have honest communication so you are well on your way to being a good friend, all the best to you in your journey 🙂

  8. Irene says:

    Hi Ashley,

    Change starts with insight. If you are beginning to notice things about yourself that might be interfering with your friendships, that’s a great beginning. One simple next step might be to make a list of the behaviors you think may be alienating people and then make efforts to change them. For example, if you think you interrogate people too often, think carefully before you ask too many questions.


    It also sounds like you feel anxious and have trouble regulating your mood swings. Another next step might be stopping at the student counseling or health service office to see if you can get some advice about addressing these problems.


    Hope this helps!

    Best, Irene 


  9. Anonymous says:

    Hello Irene.

    I have to say that I can relate to a lot of these signs. I have always been insecure when it comes to friends. I always worry that when I’m not with them, they are talking bad about me, or if they don’t answer my texts right away, that I have made them mad. I’m currently in College, but I have never had the greatest luck with friendships. I lost many friends growing up, by moving a lot. When I got into high school I had some friendships that ended badly and went for about five years with no friends at all. Just my family. I have now recently made some really great friendships and I don’t want to lose them.

    I myself am naturally a loud energetic type of person, who can be nosey at times. I can interrogate someone and not even realize I am doing it. I can also have bad mood swings nearing my time of the month. I hate feeling so insecure all the time about my friendships. I spend some nights just dissecting the whole day and I am probably thinking more into what someone said, than I really should. I’ve talked to my mom about this and she has stated, that she too felt the way I have when she was my age.

    I just want some advice on how to control myself and not constantly feel insecure. I want to be a great friend! 🙂



  10. Irene says:

    Recognizing the problem is the first step towards solving it! Some problems require self-monitoring and making changes in behavior. Others may benefit from a friendship coach or mental health counselor.

    You might also benefit from reading <>. It’s not only for dumpees 🙂


    Best, Irene

  11. Anonymous says:

    I read this article and sadly recognized some traits in myself… I looked over previous posts and I don’t see anything on what to do if you are the toxic person. How to go about correcting that or even making amends… or are we just doomed?

  12. Natasha reilly says:

    Heyy i need some advice i have this best friend shes always there for me but am so moody yeh she means ah lot to me but she thinks am lying or something but am not she syd ave tae proove wat she means to me but i dnt noo huw we have been friends for abt 2 yearz nd really its always argueing nd ah take my moods oot in hur nd ah dnt ken huw tae stop tht or try nd savenour friendship is it wurth trying to save pleasee write backk x

  13. Irene says:

    Hi Nancy:

    Thanks so much for listening to the broadcast LIVE at 7AM this Sunday morning when most people were in slumberland—and thanks also for writing! (For those interested, who sleep later than Nancy, you can also download the NY 106.7 FM interview as a podcast).


    In my book, I talk about the importance of friendships maintaining some sense of balance so both friends in a relationship feel like they are receiving as much as they are giving. In the case of your friend with serious health issues, you may be learning important lessons about resilience and the ability to cope.


    It sounds like you really treasure your friendships and put alot of energy into them. Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you’ve had to make some important choices along the way because it’s virtually impossible to keep all of them.


    Again, thanks for your warm note,






  14. Nancy Bracero says:

    Good morning Irene. I just heard your talk on 106.7 light fm radio. I did not know about you or your book and appreciate the information shared. I am 50 and have about 5 lifetime friends that I’ve known from 12 to 35 years. One is male, one is disabled, one in FL and the other 2 in Rockland County. I can appreciate the information as to friends becoming distant over the years and the need to replenish your friends. I am the type that always calls, arranges the gatherings, will travel, etc. I am now about to arrange a gathering for 10-15 classmates from high school. We all found ourselves online. I used to think that emails were so impersonal but I realized, as you stated ,that today’s women are always on the move and the availability of this technology allows us to communicate with people all over. I used to feel guilty about severed friendships that just drifted over time. I’m glad I listened to the show this morning and I’m hoping to get a copy of your book. One of my friends has serious health issues and is very depressed, but always tries to make the best of it. I would like to become an even better friend to her by understanding the dynamics of our friendship and how they relate to and help her, not hurt her in dealing with her health issues. I feel at some point I will be depended on more and want to be there as best as I can. Again, thank you for the information. I look forward to the blog and hope to post whatever I feel is helpful. Have a blessed day. Nancy

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