Signs of an Unhealthy Friendship

Not all relationships are made to last, so do you let go of an unhealthy one?

Lydia Wieczorek, Staff Reporter

Friendships are one of life’s great joys. Not only does doing something with a friend make it more enjoyable, research has also shown that strong friendships have academic, social development, and even health benefits. However, in order to take advantage of these friendship perks, one must ensure these friendships are high quality and healthy for both parties.

Unfortunately, some friendships are not. Either they started that way or they gradually evolved in response to life’s circumstances. Whatever the case, it can be difficult to say goodbye to friendships.

It is time we examine the kinds of friendships we entertain and step away from toxicity, which poses the question: what indicates a toxic friend?

Their Treatment Isn’t Consistent

You can spot this easily by tracking if they treat you in unpredictable ways. Do you ever know what to expect when you show up? Anyone who uses their attention as a weapon against you should automatically be a red flag. Do you feel yourself getting nervous, wondering if they’re going to be mad again for no reason?

These are all blatant issues.

This finicky behavior is typically tied to their sensitive ego. Of course not all friends are going to be 100% all the time, everyone has their off days, but these friends are truly calculated about their behavior.  If you continually find yourself receiving the cold shoulder after a short disagreement, an awkward moment or a vulnerable talk, that isn’t a coincidence. That is manipulation to make you feel guilty for not giving them their way.

Kristina Hickman, testing coordinator at IU Southeast, said she had never experienced this behavior in her life until she became friends with someone she didn’t know was toxic. She said the two became friends when they met through their children who were the same age.

“She tried to pressure me into doing things I didn’t want to do and that’s when I realized that the friendship wasn’t good,” Hickman said. “I would have never stepped into it [the friendship] if I knew she was that kind of person.”

An unhealthy friendship is one that makes you feel bad about yourself.”

— Nikki Martinez, psychologist

You’ll also find that they really kick up this kind of behavior whenever they need it but not whenever you need it. They might loop you into conversation or ask you to hang out whenever they feel alienated but then disappear when you feel the same.

“She ended up cutting me off because I wouldn’t do what she wanted me to, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Hickman said.

“You do everything for the friendship, and your friend is passive,” Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, said.

This kind of behavior and friendship is unhealthy, unfair and not something you should feel you need to put up with.

They Look for Enablement

When hearing  ‘codependent relationship,’ you’d probably think about something between spouses or partners. However, not all codependent relationships are romantic.

Codependency is a relationship in which one person enables another person’s bad habits such as with excessive drinking, drug abuse or just downright mistreatment of others. They might cover up the behavior for them, normalize it, make excuses for it or even encourage it to some extent. Plenty of friendships can be codependent on one member to stick up for their bad habits. This can make it especially hard to step away from the friendship.

According to Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist who specializes in codependency, these relationships often form when there’s a perfect combination of personalities: one person is loving and caring, genuinely wants to take care of the people around them, and the other needs a lot of taking care of.

It’s a dysfunctional relationship where one person loses themselves in their attempt to take care of someone else. Somewhere down the line, (or from the beginning) one person becomes the “codependent” and ignores their own needs and feelings. They also feel guilty and responsible for tackling the other person’s problems and solving their concerns.

“Codependents can feel lonely, even in relationships, because they aren’t getting their needs met,” Martin said while also explaining that it’s never entirely one person’s fault.

If you feel that you are an accessory for enabling a poor behavior in a friend or feel maybe someone is enabling you; take a step back. Access what would happen without your attention and vice versa. Would the behavior extinguish? Would they find someone else to be their enabler? Would they assume responsibility for their own actions and finally make a change?

Michael Day, doctor of psychology and personal counselor at IU Southeast, said we tend to see a lot of social pressure around relationships with co-dependency, especially with enabling drug abuse and addictions.

“You begin associating with more people that do [enable this bad behavior] and when someone attacks that, there is a natural tendency to defend our social circle,” Day said. “It gets very complicated.”

If they won’t change and won’t likely find someone else to enable their behavior, the relationship isn’t grounded in being friends but rather you assisting in their behavior.

They Make You Feel Bad About Yourself

“An unhealthy friendship is one that makes you feel bad about yourself,” psychologist Nikki Martinez said. “The person builds themselves up by putting you down and is always pointing out things about you to make you feel badly about yourself.”

This can be in subtle passes, like you landing a job you’ve been wanting and your friend mentioning that she just got one too and then list all the better benefits of hers that makes her position better and more interesting.

“They are competitive and draining to you,” Martinez says. “It becomes all about them, and they are much more concerned with their own needs than yours.”

After a while, spending time with this person no longer feels fun, it’s a competition.

This ‘one upping’ behavior is toxic in that it builds on the idea that they are somehow better than you as a person. If you find that your friends are beginning to examine this kind of mentality, it’s a sign that the friendship wasn’t built on mutual values or love for each other. It was probably loosely formed thanks to a similar commonality or pure convenience.

For nursing major Macie McCarty, this was a common dilemma growing up. McCarty said she grew up in New Washington, a small town where people stay friends for all their lives.

“It’s really tiring actually. You think someone is your best friend but it feels more like work to be friends with them,” McCarty said. “It’s hard too because if you don’t [stay friends] people question why you aren’t hanging around them and you feel pressured [to stay].”

Ending friendships that don’t serve your best interests is one of the best things you can do for your self-esteem, motivation and direction. If you have a game plan for life, you need people cheering you on every step of the way. Take the time to recognize that you aren’t bound to friendships, even those that seem deeply rooted. Instead, give yourself that opportunity and phase out friendships that don’t meet your needs.

It’s not selfish – it’s healthy.