Louisa Bertman

The 7 Types of Toxic Friendships

Is your BFF bad for your health? 

Your best friend is the first person you look for at school in the morning and the last person you text at night. You wear each other’s socks and finish each other’s sentences. But lately, after a day of hanging out, you feel drained, not sustained. Maybe your friend won’t let you make a single decision for yourself. Maybe their favorite activity is running other people down. Or maybe you just don’t like who you are around them.

Sound familiar? Then you might be in a toxic friendship. “Toxic friendships happen when one person is being emotionally harmed or used by another, making the relationship more of a burden than support,” says Suzanne Degges-White, author of Toxic Friendships. A bad friendship can increase your blood pressure, lower your immunity, and affect your mental health.

But despite wreaking havoc on your mind, body, and spirit, toxic friendships can be tough to spot. That’s because most start out strong—why else would you become friends in the first place? The good news is, we can help you diagnose an unhealthy bond before it becomes a full-blown sickness. Read on to understand the seven most common kinds of toxic friendships and how to fix them.

1. THE COMPETITOR

OPERATING MODE: Always. Needs. To Feel. Superior.

SIGNATURE MOVES: Running against you for class president; prying about your grades (then bragging about theirs); undermining your accomplishments. “I was a camp counselor with a friend, and whenever any of our campers would show interest in spending time with me, my friend had to take over and become that camper’s favorite,” says George, 14. “It felt like everything I did, he either had to discredit it, or do something that he perceived to be better.”


WHY IT’S TOXIC: A little friendly competition can spur you to do your best, but constantly worrying about being outdone by someone who’s supposed to have your back? Now that’s exhausting. “Friends should celebrate your successes as much as they support you through tough times,” says Degges-White.


HOW TO DIAGNOSE IT: If you often ask yourself “When is it my turn?,” you may need to find a friend who is happier boosting you than bursting your bubble.

2. THE FLAKE

OPERATING MODE: Often dishonest, always unreliable

SIGNATURE MOVES: Cancels at the last minute… or just fails to show up; “accidentally” excludes you (“You weren’t on that text? Weird!”); lies about where they are or ditches you for better plans.


WHY IT’S TOXIC: Sure, we all occasionally break a date. But a toxically flaky friend slowly kills your confidence one agonizing disappointment at a time. “Friends need to be dependable,” says Degges-White. “And they definitely don’t ditch you because they found something better to do.”


HOW TO DIAGNOSE IT: If a friend treats you as an afterthought, breaks promises, or just never shows up, stop bending over backward to make plans. Downgrade them to acquaintance and wait for them to make the next move.

3. THE USER

OPERATING MODE: Takes, takes, takes without giving

SIGNATURE MOVES: Never texts unless they need something; borrows money and never pays it back; always wants a favor (but is MIA when you need one). “In sixth grade, this girl would use me for homework answers,” says Kaley, 15. “Then she’d ignore me in front of other friends.”


WHY IT’S TOXIC: Friends should be willing to share—but that means giving as well as taking. “A friendship can be toxic when one person makes the relationship all about them,” says Degges-White. “If they only call you when they need something, they aren’t leaving any space for you or your needs.”


HOW TO DIAGNOSE IT: Trust your gut—you’ll know if your friendship isn’t equal. If you feel like you’re running on empty constantly trying to keep your friend happy, you’re not getting anything out of the relationship.

4. THE CONTROLLER

OPERATING MODE: Bossy (times a million)

SIGNATURE MOVES: Putting a stop to your other friendships; cutting you off or speaking for you (“Sorry, but Sarah would never go to homecoming with you”); rudely commenting on what you wear. “I wore a new shirt to school, and my friend told me I couldn’t wear it anymore because she had the same one, says Remy, 15.


WHY IT’S TOXIC: We all want input from our friends. The thing is, there’s a difference between giving a friend thoughtful advice—and trying to rule them. When someone is constantly telling you what to do, they’re crossing an important boundary. “As a teen, you’re still figuring out who you are,” says Degges-White. “So it’s important to make sure that a friendship doesn’t swallow your unique identity.”


HOW TO DIAGNOSE IT: Explore who you are outside of the friendship. Joining a new club, taking a different class, or even just reserving one night a week to spend some time at home should give you some breathing room— and can help you figure out who you are without them.

5. THE BAD INFLUENCE

OPERATING MODE: What are you, chicken?

SIGNATURE MOVES: Telling their parents they’re spending the night at your house then going to a party instead; cheating on tests; pressuring you to do things that are unsafe, illegal, or just unkind. “I had a friend who wanted me to egg a house with him. It made me uncomfortable, but I felt like I had no other option because he was my best friend,” says Ibn-Hussain, 17.


WHY IT’S TOXIC: Friends are supposed to bring out the best in us—not the worst. They can help us be more confident by supporting us when we feel nervous or insecure, “but nobody takes care of someone by pushing them to break the law, hurt themselves, or hurt someone else,” says Niobe Way, a professor of developmental psychology at New York University. The pressure may be subtle—maybe you just don’t like the situations you find yourself in when you’re with this friend—but it’s still toxic.


HOW TO DIAGNOSE IT: Ask yourself, “Would I be acting this way if I wasn’t with this person?” If you don’t like the choices you make when you’re together, they might not be that great a friend after all.

6. THE JOKESTER

OPERATING MODE: Meanness disguised as humor

SIGNATURE MOVES: Calling you by the nickname you hate; sharing an embarrassing photo of you on social media; claiming you’re being “too sensitive” when you get offended by their so-called jokes. “I had this friend who teased me about everything: my hair, my clothes, my actions, my opinions. I asked her to stop, but she would say, ‘Aww, I didn’t mean it, you know I love you.’ But I didn’t,” says Sarah, 15.


WHY IT’S TOXIC: A good friend can help us laugh at ourselves. But being funny isn’t a get-out-of-jailfree card for saying mean things, and if a friend truly cares about you, they’ll stop when you say “enough.” “Sometimes, people will make a horrible comment to a friend under the facade of a joke,” explains Way. “But it’s still hurtful.”


HOW TO DIAGNOSE IT: Teasing isn’t always toxic, but it’s up to you to decide how much you’re comfortable with. If you tell your friend that something they said crossed a line, they need to respect your boundaries . . . no matter how many lolz they get.

7. THE TWO-FACE

OPERATING MODE: Got any good gossip?

SIGNATURE MOVES: Starting sentences with, “Not to be mean, but”; gushing over your mutual friend’s new haircut then making fun of it behind their back; telling you other people’s secrets while insisting you can trust them with yours.


WHY IT’S TOXIC: Gossiping can be hard to resist, but it’s not the basis for a solid friendship. If a friend’s idea of fun is running other people down, odds are, they’re doing it to you too. Good friends are loyal and trustworthy— two words that do not apply to anyone who talks trash about people they claim to like.


HOW TO DIAGNOSE IT: The next time they rag on your mutual friend, say something positive instead or change the subject. If they’re unable to follow you onto the high road, they might be more interested in a gossip-fest than an actual friendship.

Additional vocabulary word:

intervention

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