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7 Red Flags in Friendships

Understand the warning signs of toxic relationships and learn how to nurture healthier, more supportive connections.

7 red flags in friendships

It seems we have become savvy at detecting toxic romantic relationships, but what about friendship red flags? Alas, we still let disturbing things slide, allow gaslighting, and cultivate harmful companionships. And no matter how dismaying having no friends can be, it feels even worse when you try to fill the void with the wrong people. Nonetheless, we have a solution to that.

This article will discuss the red flags that indicate a toxic friendship and explore the alternative green flags that are crucial to look out for in a potentially good friendship. So, are you ready to hear some harsh truth with a side of hope?

1. They put you down

How often do you hear, 'You're too sensitive; I was just kidding!' after being offended by a best friend? Surely, amicable mocking can be a form of mutual entertainment. But being humiliated by a good friend daily is not a 'special bond' — it's abuse. Also, if they are kind to you one-on-one, but in a group setting, that friend starts dropping insults at your address — it's another red flag.

Instead: Your real friend should be your biggest supporter and, at the same time, an impartial critic. Everything comes in balance, after all. So make sure you can always count on them for a kind word and politely call you out when you are wrong.

Red flags in friendships quote

2. You feel drained after spending time with them

This subtle sign can tell much about your compatibility with a particular person. If even the most minor conversation with them depletes your resources, this unhealthy friendship takes more than it gives. And any relationship lacking reciprocity will never bring a desirable return on investment.

Instead: Surround yourself with people who uplift you and give you those delightful 'high' vibes after spending time together. The emotional aftertaste of any relationship is a significant indicator of its healthiness.

3. They constantly complain

We all need to vent to our close friend when life overwhelms us. However, friends shouldn't use you as their therapist or complaint journal. According to the book 'Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close' by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, such people are called social moochers.

Social moochers quote from book Big Friendship

Instead: Strive for a balanced friendship with time and place for occasional complaints. But remember not to make them the only basis for communication, as it will be detrimental to your own mental health.

4. They try to own you

Do you endure guilt when meeting other people rather than with that specific friend? Does this person badmouth your significant other and your other buddies? Are you being persuaded not to keep them in your life? Then, we might be dealing with a case of a jealous, toxic friend who guilt-trips you into isolating yourself from other relationships.

Quote from the book Big Friendship

Instead: An emotionally mature friend understands that each of you has other aspects of life besides your friendship. They are genuinely happy when you make new friend because they feel secure about your relationship.

5. You're walking on egg-shells around them

It is normal to be mindful about what you say to your friends so as not to hurt their feelings. However, if it is almost impossible to avoid that bad friend making a scene out of any mundane situation, your red flag goes up. Continuous tiptoeing in such toxic relationships leads to constant tension and the inability to let your guard down.

Instead: Keep an eye out for those who provide a safe space to be yourself — it is as simple as that. And to find a healthy relationship like that, try not to adjust to everyone to the extent of becoming a whole different person. Alternatively, when you meet a new friend, act like yourself immediately without putting on a show and see how they respond. If your energy matches, it's a win-win.

6. They devalue your problems

Everybody needs a true friend to whom they can complain occasionally and get consolation in response. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Instead of much-needed validation, we hear that our problems are nothing compared to theirs. Thus, if you have to compete with a bestie in a race of 'whose problems are worse' to receive moral support, these are signs of a toxic friendship.

Instead: Seek a friendship based on mutual respect where your feelings will not be dismissed. Your well-being is important, and you should always be able to find solace in your friend when troubles come knocking.

7. You have to justify your friendship to others

Do other people seem overly confused about why you're friends with that person? Do you keep making weak excuses for your friendship? This is another one of the warning signs.

Ask yourself what really binds the two of you together. Is it a sense of duty, guilt, or a force of habit? If it is anything else except simply enjoying that person's company, those are dealbreakers.

Instead: Life is too short to have friends you don't like. You deserve a like-minded companion to await your time together with pleasure and spend it accordingly.

Do green-flag friends actually exist?

After years of traumatizing friendship experiences, it is hard not to forsake the idea of companionship, especially if you have ticked every box in the red flag list above. There's no need to get cynical, though—there's still hope left. For example, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman's book Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close is evidence for that. The authors particularly explain why investing in friendships is essential despite how much work it takes.

This book and other incredible friendship stories that happen off social media prove that finding a best friend is, in fact, possible. The key is not to be that red-flag friend yourself, and you will eventually find that perfect healthy friendship.

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