Signs You’re In A Toxic Friendship (From Someone Who’s Been There)

Illustration of a hand holding two snakes, intertwined

Ever experienced a bad friendship breakup? Not because of drifting away, or a change in lifestyles or any of the regular reasons friends stop being friends with each other. I’m talking about the sort of toxic friendship breakup that’s uncomfortably close to the one you had with the shitty ex that you had to block on every social media platform.

There was a friend. The type of friend you laugh and cry and drink wine and dance with until your feet are as sore as your cheeks. The type of friend you find yourself sitting on a park bench with in Zaragoza, worries about the future pouring out of their mouth like the bottle of cava in your hand that gave you both the giggles because you didn’t realize it was shaken before opening it. The type of friend to convince you that you’re pulling each other out of darkness when they’re actually pulling you in deeper. Let’s call them “Toxic Friend”.

If you’ve ever had your own “Toxic Friend”, then you know the pain and confusion that goes along with it. You start off thinking you’re building something real special. It’s hard to see through the love-bombing what’s to come, but once the dust settles, you realize something’s wrong. You’ve gone from being their favorite person to a selfish asshole who never has time for them and only talks about themselves. Even though you swear you’ve spent at least 6 hours the last week on the phone with them, hearing them complain about how every single person in their life is conspiring against them. Now, every time they call, you’re worried your phone’s going to slip out of your hands because your palms are so sweaty with nerves, while your heart gets stuck in your throat while you try to croak out a “Hello? Everything OK?”.

So you cut ties. Well, you try to cut ties. It’s never easy. You do it once, twice, maybe even three times. Over-the-top fall-outs with a paper trail to match because you’ve blocked each other on everything but one channel (to keep on arguing, of course). Eventually, you’ll either tire them out or hurt their ego so much they finally stop talking to you. You’ll have to let them have the last word though.

After my last altercation with “Toxic Friend”, after complaining and crying to my fiance, he made me put pen to paper. Despite my initial reluctance, I wrote down as many reasons as I could think of as to why I should definitively cut contact with “Toxic Friend”. An exercise in catharsis that unveiled more about the situation than I was even consciously aware of.

To put you in the right mindset for how this friendship felt, it’s time for a drastic change in tone.

20 reasons why “Toxic Friend” and I should cut contact

1. Every time we have a conversation or meet, it feels like there is an altercation. Now, it is about this particular situation, but before, it was about not caring enough, plus a perceived lack of empathy and consideration from my side.

2. A friend who supposedly cares for me should not continuously make me feel this way: hurt, belittled, and like I am selfish for sharing my feelings.

3. They constantly gaslight me. Constantly. I never doubt my own reality or thoughts and feelings more than when I am talking to them. Their problems and traumas take precedent over anything else.

4. They are a narcissist. There’s no way around this one. “Toxic Friend” is a narcissist. This causes them much pain. But, this also means they make their pain my pain. I can’t deal with this. I am not well-equipped to do so, and it is ridiculous that this is an expectation in our friendship.

5. Our traumas are incompatible.

They are processing their own trauma. That is fine. But they are doing so to me, in a way that directly brings up these intense emotional reactions from my own trauma.

6. Not an equal space for sharing, under the guise it is equal. In reality, it is more of a monologue. Of course, this is also on me, but it doesn’t help that when I share something that conflicts with their view, I know it will be belittled and chastized.

7. Scared to actually share in fear of retaliation. Related to the above, this is because I do not want to share and deal with a reaction that will undoubtedly be expressed in a way that makes me feel bad about myself, my thoughts, and my feelings.

8. Incompatible forms of communication, causing anxiety. It is not only what is being said, but how it is said. The monologuing, the not accepting room for discussion, acting like it was a fair exchange, then repeated follow-ups when the conversation was meant to be over. These things cause me great unrest.

9. Constantly opening up and never fully accepting ends of conversations with the fear it will be brought up again only to satisfy them. That is what hurts me. And then if I say that’s the case, they somehow make me out to be the villain.

10. Always being in the wrong and never being given the benefit of the doubt. According to them, I am always the one to need to apologize, always the one to make mistakes, always the one to hurt, even if I express they said something hurtful to me.

11. My pain is irrelevant and lesser if they feel pain. And if I express that it is also relevant, I am then accused of only caring about myself and minimizing their trauma and pain.

12. In any argument where both of us and our interactions are at play, I am always the one at fault and who is selfish for demanding space in the conversation. If it is not all about them, then it is selfish of me to highlight how their actions and words make me feel. Even if I clarify that I am taking their feelings into consideration, that is ignored.

If I do go quiet, they will a) monologue and b) after 20+ minutes ask me how I feel. I will then need to start continuously validating their feelings and then attempt to reiterate my point, which they will not accept, pretending to not understand, then redirect the conversation to a place that they think is more relevant and that is more in favor of their thoughts and opinions. They will then continue to pontificate, putting words in my mouth that were never there and projecting feelings on me that were never present.

“Oh you must be feeling sad about x (thing they would want me to feel sad about to fit their narrative)”, they’ll say.

“No, I’m actually angry and frustrated about what you did/said”, I’ll say.

Only to be met with an “Oh, but that’s actually repressed sadness” from their end.

13. They never apologize. No elaboration needed. Everything is everyone-fucking-else’s fault and never theirs. So why apologize?

14. They build me up to give me a false sense of love and caring. To make me feel special. False sense of being ” one of the good ones” to manipulate me to stay.

Yet, they tear me down repeatedly, too. They say it’s good I care so much and have such a strong reaction to their words. Despite this, they make me feel like I’m too sensitive or that me having feelings takes away from them having (conflicting) feelings about the same topic.

15. They always have to be right. The white knight. The one with the moral high ground. Only to forget it’s a moral high ground built on quicksand.

16. All this leads to a toxic relationship where we are both put into uncomfortable situations that hit our respective trauma pressure points. This is just one instance of years of friendship that’s repeated over and over. This is a pattern of behavior.

And every time the one who ends up most hurt, over and over, is me.

I have processed most of my own trauma while they are processing their own, in ways that are harmful to me. I must accept that.

17. Cutting off ties with them does not mean I don’t care. It just means the particular relationship we have always seems to eventually manifest in twisted, harmful ways.

I need to remember that.

I need to remember that the way our interactions make me feel is not normal. I need to stop making the excuse that it’s only because we care for each other deeply that that’s why I also hurt deeply. This is not normal. This is a bad friendship.

18. A cliche, but an applicable cliche: hurt people hurt people. They need to heal. But not through me as their punching bag. I don’t need to be there for their process.

19. People can change, but only if they want to.

There is a reason I was hesitant in the beginning to be friends with them again. It is how they are. Even if they resolve some of their trauma du jour, next time it will only be something else. They will always take precedent, no matter what. Their problems will always matter more. I will always be more ignorant and uncaring, and my feelings will always be manipulative or a burden on the conversation, while theirs will always be valid and relevant. I will always have to accommodate for their pain while suppressing mine to make them feel comfortable. I will always have to feel scared of retaliation.

If I do breach these presumptions, I will have to agree and take it, pretending we are equal every time.

20. This is emotional abuse.

My boundaries are never respected or even acknowledged as such. My boundaries are only points of weakness and vulnerability to be pushed and exploited. Unless my propensity to increasingly intense emotions is geared towards them in a positive way, my emotions do not matter.

In any other case, my emotions are childish and selfish in their eyes.

I’m expected to “just get over it” when it’s hurt caused by them. It’s not a valid emotional response to unintentionally hurt another. It’s pushing for an answer despite already expressing I need the time to think and sort out my feelings on a subject. It’s projecting negativity and hate when there is none and then blaming me for getting upset and feeling like it is unfair. It’s acknowledging trauma may affect how things are received but refusing to accommodate anyways because I am expected to just take it.

Like the way you knew I had to take it since I was seven, since the first emotionally-abusive narcissist who taught me bad people with bad intentions exist, waltzed into my life.

It’s being aware of that and exploiting it when convenient, while simultaneously minimizing it, in order to keep the upper hand.

21. I can’t deal with being put on a pedestal one minute, then thrown down the next. Their reactions are too unpredictable and harmful to be a positive influence in my life.

Their words deeply affect everything about me, hacking away at my self-esteem and confidence. I can’t allow that to continue and sadly, I think the only way to break this cycle is to break contact.

It’s not that their pain is too much, it’s that their treatment of me because of their pain is unacceptable.

If you relate to any of these, I only have one piece of advice: get out of there as soon as you can. Knowing where their hurt is coming from can make it easy to excuse their behavior. But please, don’t.

Your friends, the people you choose to let into your life, should be there to lift you up. If anyone makes you feel the way that I felt, they’re not your friend. You’re just stuck in a toxic relationship, headed towards mutual emotional destruction.

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