Good friendships can bring out the best in us. They can allow even the shyest among us to open up, be ourselves, and be understood. Toxic friendships, on the other hand, can leave us confused, hurt, and exhausted.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized the value of surrounding myself with friendships that support my mental and emotional well-being and help me recharge, while re-evaluating those that drain me.
1. They are never truly happy for you
Human beings are naturally self-centered. It’s a part of our anatomy – our mind is hardwired to see the world through our own lens, and our response to events is always colored by our emotions and experiences. That’s why, when someone can put aside their own self in a moment when you have accomplished something big to just be there for you, they are a friend to hold on to.
Feeling sorry for someone who is going through a hard time draws on our sense of empathy and compassion and can often feel like an easy thing to do. Being happy for someone is more nuanced, psychologically speaking. It can sometimes give rise to complicated feelings such as envy and trigger a comparison of how we are doing in life vis-a-vis someone’s success. A good friend will put aside what they are going through, as hard as it may be, to celebrate your success in a way that warms your heart and brings you joy.
Of course, there can be exceptions here, like someone battling issues that may affect their judgment in the moment, or someone experiencing crippling emotions such as trauma or grief. But as long as they can show up for you most of the time, they are a good friend. On the contrary, if excuses exceed the number of times they have been able to celebrate you and your success, it’s a pretty clear sign that they are not in the best headspace to be your friend.
2. They make you feel bad for growing as a person
Growing takes courage. It may require us to change our priorities, outgrow old habits and break vicious patterns. It may take time, but in a good friendship, there will eventually be understanding and support for the kind of person you want to be. However, if someone keeps guilt-tripping you for not being as available as you used to be after you have communicated to them multiple times that you are busy with school or work or a new self-improvement project, it’s time to have a serious chat. Are they feeling that you are not there for them in important moments, or is it just that you can’t hang out five days a week anymore? If it’s the former, they may have a point. If it’s the latter, it’s a sign that they may just want things to be the way they were without regard for what is best for you in that stage of life.
3. They often make you feel depleted and exhausted
A good friendship involves give and take. If you feel like you are approached only when they are in a crisis situation and need help or when they want to vent, it may be exhausting for you. Someone who is always caught up in their own drama can deplete your emotional bandwidth.
Being there for a friend, listening, and offering advice if asked are the nuts and bolts of friendship. But it’s also important to remember that a good friendship will replenish you more than it may tax you at times. So, if you find yourself in this spot time and again, where a friend hits you up only when they want to dump their negative emotions on you without regard for your mental well-being or capacity to emotionally invest yourself in their issues, its a sign that they are not paying attention to how their actions might be impacting you.
Of course, there can be exceptions here, when someone is experiencing trauma or grief following a life-altering event, or are in an abusive relationship where they need constant validation. If you find yourself being at the receiving end of such a dynamic and are emotionally exhausted, politely bring up options for your friend to seek help through therapy or a healthy outlet for their emotions.
4. They blame you for their problems
As an adult, placing blame on those around us for our choices can often be a result of displacement of responsibility. It’s hard to accept responsibility for choices when the consequences are difficult to endure. If someone blames you for their poor life choices, claiming that they were influenced by you, they are trying to reconcile their reality with their aspirations and finding possible causes for why things turned out the way that they did.
While it’s true that we influence our friends and get influenced by them, it is still a choice we make. And if you know you did not do anything to deserve that kind of blame, you should understand that it’s not you, it’s them. Insecure people tend to shirk responsibility for consequences that they are not happy with. People who are secure in their sense of self do not mind taking responsibility for errors in judgment, as their sense of self does not depend on any one decision or its outcome.
5. You don’t like the person you are around them
Sometimes there is no apparent reason for being concerned, but you can feel that you are not your best self around someone. It may be the way they pay back-handed compliments that leave you puzzled, or it may be passive aggressive manipulation of conversation that seeks to make them look better than you in social situations. If you can’t put your finger on it but can sense that something is amiss, pay heed to your intuition. If being around them makes you feel like you should have your guard up at all times, and that their charming personality hides less than desirable qualities, you may have picked up on something that your conscious mind has yet to register.
It can also be that there is nothing toxic about that person, but you are in a headspace or a stage of life where having them in your life gives rise to complicated feelings. While most of us can work through temporary feelings of inadequacy or envy, if you find that such thoughts are persistent, it may be that you are not ready to have their energy in your life at that time. For your own mental peace, it may be wise to examine your feelings and try to resolve the root cause of what may be bothering you about this person.