Being with people who love and support you can lift you up and make you feel as though you have the power to do anything . . . but what about the people who find subtle ways to criticize and undermine you?
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Whether it’s a friend, significant other, or relative, it can be difficult to tell whether you’re in a loving relationship with someone whose flaws occasionally frustrate you or a full-bore toxic relationship.
If you feel that someone makes you a worse person and generally makes your life unpleasant and unhappy, it may be time to let go. Below are nine warning signs that the company you keep isn’t worth having.
1. You Dread Getting Together
This one should be obvious, but too many of us overlook it. If you have a date with your friend or sweetie and your main emotion is a gnawing dread that they’re going to say or do something awful, the relationship is hurting you. Similarly, if your main emotion at the end of the date is profound relief to be done, it’s time to be done for good.
2. They Make You Sick – Literally
It’s a subtler sign than dread, but it’s there. When you’re with people you love, you feel relaxed and calm; in fact, a 2000 UCLA study showed that being with friends can actually reduce some of the negative health effects of stress.
However, toxic relationships have exactly the opposite effect, making you more prone to mental and even physical health problems. You may actually be able to feel some of the physical effects of the toxic relationship.
Do you feel a headache coming on or are vaguely sick to your stomach right before spending time with this person? Does the thought of them make your heart race – and not in the loving way, but in the panicky, fight-or-flight one? It may be that your body is trying to tell you something.
3. They Won’t Admit That They’re Wrong
If you’re unhappy about the person’s behavior and confront them, how do they react? Do they apologize? Do they seem sincerely surprised that you were so unhappy and ask you to help them pin down the unpleasant behavior so they can change it? Or do they act like Mother Goethel from “Tangled,” insisting that you’re being too sensitive and complaining about what a martyr you’re making them?
True friends care about your feelings. Toxic emotional vampires only care about themselves.
4. They Don’t Care About Your Problems . . .
Toxic friends will talk your ear off about everything wrong in their lives. That’s not bad by itself, but it becomes a problem if they always tune out your problems.
There can be something cathartic about hanging out with your best friend and griping, but if it always seems to be you lending the friend constant support and getting a deaf ear whenever you have a problem, the relationship is unhealthily skewed. You’re supposed to be an equal partner in the friendship, not a sounding board.
. . . Or Your Successes
A true friend celebrates with you when you’re happy, whether it’s because you’ve had some major accomplishment at work or because you’ve started a new relationship.
If your supposed friend keeps trying to drag you down when you’re happy, or if they keep enviously pointing out all the reasons that your success doesn’t really count as a success, the relationship has some serious problems. This is even truer if they constantly brag about their own accomplishments and expect you to gaze upon their genius with shining-eyed wonder.
5. They Always Criticize
If you’re afraid to speak your mind around your friend because you know they’re going to pick your thoughts and opinions apart, the relationship is unhealthy. You should feel comfortable being yourself around your friend or significant other. If they always seem to belittle your feelings or point out your flaws, that isn’t the kind of support you need and deserve from a friend.
6. They Make You Act Like Someone Else
On a similar note, some friends have you so afraid to speak your mind that you actually feel the need to act like a different person around them.
Like the hanger-on of a mean girl in high school, you find yourself agreeing that the friend’s favorite show is the best in the world even if you don’t really like it, that this person at work is an idiot even if you think he’s not so bad, that you agree on a political issue even though you actually hold opposite opinions… all because it’s so much easier to agree than to face the put-downs or eye-rolling if you speak your mind.
Of course, it may be that there are some issues that you agree not to bring up because you’ll never agree on them. If you can’t talk about politics without killing each other and you agree not to talk about them, that’s fine, but not if your friend expects the two of you to play by different rules.
If your friend can constantly gripe about ideas you find abhorrent while you smile and nod, but you feel as though you aren’t allowed to voice your own opinion, your friend is getting into toxic territory.
7. They Disrespect The Things You Value
Some toxic friends will make disparaging remarks about your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. Other toxic friends will make belittling comments about people who share your beliefs, your career aspirations, your level of education . . . the list goes on and on.
They may claim that they’re kidding, that they’re talking about other people in your group instead of you, or that you’re being oversensitive. Don’t put up with it. If they vocally disrespect the things they know you cherish, they’re disrespecting you.
8. They Violate Your Trust
Toxic friends can usually find all kinds of creative ways to violate your trust. It may be that they lie to you, intentionally and repeatedly. It may be that they gossip about you behind your back. It may be that they cheerily mention things you told them in confidence during group conversations.
They may even do something that seems straight out of a bad romantic comedy, like flirting with your significant other, your brother, or someone else who’s clearly off-limits.
9. You Have To Drop Everything For Them . . .
While friends should make time for each other, toxic friends are self-centered and expect you to make time for them constantly. If you don’t, they guilt-trip you, no matter how valid your reasons may be.
. . . But They Can’t Make Time For You
Conversely, toxic friends will only make time to see you when it’s convenient for their schedules. Genuine friends sometimes have trouble making time for one another because of the demands of work and family, and that’s okay. Toxic friends, however, take it a step further; they never seem to reach out to you unless they need something.