Where would we be without our friends?
According to science, friends can have a positive impact on your health, wellbeing, and life satisfaction. A good friend may encourage you when you’re at a career crossroads. They may offer hands-on help when you’re facing a personal challenge. They may offer critical, kind feedback when you’re in need of their opinion.
A good friend, at the most basic level, offers a sense of companionship, intimacy, and support. A bad friend, in contrast, can cause you physical and emotional harm.
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Unfortunately, toxic friendships can be hard to recognize and even harder to leave. Maybe you’ve been in the relationship for too long, or you feel obligated to maintain the relationship, or you’re connected through work or a partner. It doesn’t matter how you got into the relationship. If it’s toxic, it’s time to set boundaries—or get out.
Consider the six types of toxic friendships below, what they look like, and how to handle them.
6 types of toxic friends and why they’re so bad
Toxic Friend #1: The Drama Queen/King
Drama doesn’t just follow some people. Some thrive on it. For these types of friends, spilled coffee is a traumatic experience. A missed call sends them spinning. No matter the incident, they may be more disappointed, more emotional, more intense than may be necessary.
According to Melinda Olsen, licensed marriage and family therapist at Inviterra Counseling, “This friend seems to revel in conflict and is often on a never-ending roller coaster of emotion. They may have a pattern of starting fights with people (including you) out of nowhere. They never seem to be content when things are calm or going well. This friend might make you feel like you're always walking on eggshells.”
When you’re in this type of friendship, you may find yourself apologizing for things you didn’t do or say, making bad decisions on behalf of the friend, or trying to problem-solve for a problem that should have never existed.
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Toxic Friend #2: The User
This type of friend shows up because they want something from you. While many Users are motivated by status, they could be using your friendship for any number of reasons. They want to use your rooftop deck. They want you to pay for their drinks. They want to get invited to all of your exclusive events. They want to get a job at your company.
While this may be a tricky situation, Andrea Dindinger, licensed marriage and family therapist, says you should address this problem head-on. She recommends saying:
“Hey, I feel uncomfortable bringing this up, but I’m noticing a pattern that has me feeling out of balance in our friendship. I love having you over for dinner, getting the drinks or grabbing the Uber, but lately I am feeling it’s not reciprocal. Can we brainstorm some ideas that can help us get back into a better balance? I care about you and our friendship and I don’t want to have this dynamic running in the background.”
If your friend doesn’t change their behavior, this could become toxic. This friend may ultimately ghost you or make you feel used if what you have is no longer available to them, and that can leave you feeling many complicated emotions. If the relationship is not mutually beneficial, then it is not healthy.
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Toxic Friend #3: The Pessimist
“This friend can never seem to pull themselves out of their sadness. Every life event they experience is turned into evidence that things are always terrible or never good enough. They may even be envious when good things happen to you, making it difficult for you to enjoy your personal wins,” says Olsen.
Also called the “Negative Nancy,” this type of friend always has a negative opinion. Often, they are unhappy with themselves and reflecting their unhappiness onto those around them. While they may be battling depression or another mental health issue, their attitude can be problematic in a friendship.
To address this friend, Dindinger suggests saying:
“Yes, that could happen and maybe it will, but I’m going to focus on what I want to happen and would love for you to focus on that, too.”
If this friend is unwilling to change, is not working on bettering themselves, or if they are continuing to criticize you, it may be time to separate yourself from the relationship. While it’s hard to walk away from this type of friend, it may be in the best interest for your own mental health. Let them know you care about them, but that you need to take time away from the relationship to care for yourself.
Toxic Friend #4: The “Good Times Only” Friend
“This friend is unable to empathize with you when life gets hard, or when you're feeling sadness or pain,” says Olsen. When you’re telling them how you’re feeling or what’s happening in your life, they’ll often begin their response with "at least.”
While this type of friend may be fun to be around, they often lack empathy. When you need them to listen and sympathize, they can’t. This type of friend may cut you off, tell you “you’ll be fine,” or refuse to listen to your “negativity.” Your friend should be able to support you, even on your difficult days, even when you’re feeling frustrated, or when you need to vent. If they only show up for the “good times,” they’re not showing up for all of you and that’s problematic.
You don't need this friend to help you fix problems, brainstorm solutions, sugarcoat, or do anything but listen, Dindinger explains. If they are able to listen, let them know you appreciate them being there for you, but if they’re unable to be that sounding board, then you know this isn’t the type of friend you can turn to in these situations.
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Toxic Friend #5: The Competitor
This type of friend treats everything like a competition. If you have exciting news, they may try and trump you with their exciting news. If it seems like you’re getting ahead in life or in your career, they may attempt to sabotage you, criticize you, or diminish your reputation.
Very often, this friend is jealous. Their actions and behaviors often result from their own insecurities. While you may feel targeted, it’s important to step back and recognize that this isn’t about you; it’s about them.
The competitor is “operating from a not enough and insecure vantage point,” says Dindinger. “This can be exhausting, and [their] insecurity can often bleed or be contagious to you, causing you to feel fat or disheveled or be too hard on your kids or husband.” To free yourself from this toxicity, Dindinger recommends using a loving-kindness meditation practice.
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Toxic Friend #6: The Emotional Manipulator
This is one of the most toxic types of friends, because they know exactly what they’re doing to harm you. Their intentions may seem genuine, but often they know exactly what to say or do to make you feel a certain way.
This type of friend is often self-focused, wanting to always be the center of attention. They act on behalf of their own interests, never yours. They may lie to you. They may say something harmful and then quickly comfort you, all in an attempt to make you feel as though you need them.
You may not realize you’re being gaslighted, because this friend is so calculated, but if they lie to you, discredit you, shift blame, reframe conversations, or frequently apologize for behaving poorly to you, then chances are they're emotionally manipulating you. It’s important to escape this relationship, because it can take a toll on your self-esteem and lead you to believe you’re the problem and you most certainly are not.
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The best way to confront a toxic friend
“With friendships, women tend to ‘play nice’ versus saying something directly. The longer this continues, frustration and hurt feelings build up, which ultimately ends up harming them—and the friendship—in the end,” says Dindinger.
Toxic friendships offer you the opportunity to practice direct, honest feedback, Dindinger believes. These friendships push us to have difficult conversations that help us set boundaries that will further our growth and maturity.
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Addressing a problem is always the best way to solve it, but know that many toxic friends are not friends you need in your life. Even if a friend has been in your life for decades, it may be the best thing for your health and wellbeing to move on. If you feel trapped and unable to escape a friendship for whatever reason, consider speaking to a mental health professional on how best to proceed.
Know that it’s never too late to leave a friendship or make a new friend. As human beings, we evolve and change, and we need to accept and appreciate that some friends will come in and out of our lives; they won’t all last and that’s okay.
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About our sources
Melinda Olsen is a licensed marriage and family therapist with special training in Emotionally Focused Therapy, a research-validated approach for couples wanting to improve communication and find deeper connection. She is also certified in PREPARE/ENRICH, a tool that helps premarital couples gain a deeper understanding of areas of strength and stress in their relationship.
Andrea Dindinger is a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with motivated people who are stuck in a rut and need support to make positive changes in their lives. This intersects with couples, individuals and adolescents, dealing with relationship difficulties, addiction issues, grief, and general disconnection from their heart's desire.