The gift of friendship is that it brings joy and fullness to our lives. Meaningful relationships are the stuff of life because we were made for love. Relationships of all kinds hold meaning for us because we are created in the image of a God who is love, and we find fulfillment in being loved and demonstrating love to others. The value of friendship, like other relationships, is that it allows us to make a gift of ourselves to others.And so, friendship allows us to journey with others in life, to love them, and be loved in return. The companionship that friendship brings enriches us, enriches our lives, and it helps us not to feel alone.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Finding a fellow traveler, someone with whom you share interests and joys is a true gift. “A true friend is the greatest of all blessings” in the words of Francois de La Rochefoucauld.
Unfortunately, the world we inhabit isn’t populated by devoted friends who have our best interests at heart, or who promote our well-being. Not only do we encounter toxic friends, but we can be toxic friends as well. Being able to discern whether you or someone else are a toxic friend can save you and others from heartache.
7 Signs of Toxic Friends
1. They don’t mind taking advantage of you.
Good friends are there for one another, and the mark of a healthy relationship between friends is the give and take that takes place between them. A friend will borrow your car, and they’ll also lend you theirs if they have one.
They are willing to set aside time and their needs to help you if you’re in a tight spot, and you are willing to do the same for them. With a toxic friend, however, they don’t mind if things are lopsided, and they take advantage of you. A friend who is willing to take but not give may be a toxic friend.
2. They don’t call you out when you need it.Let’s get it straight – none of us is perfect, and we don’ get things right all the time. Our imperfections will likely be visible to others around us, especially those who spend significant amounts of time with us, as friends typically do. If your friend sees the negative things in you but doesn’t call them out, that may be problematic.
It may either be that they don’t find you approachable, and struggle to raise critiques with you, or they see it but can’t be bothered to address it. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” reads Proverbs 27:17, and that’s the role friends ought to play in one another’s life.
Ask yourself how you react when your friends raise an issue with you about something you said or did. Do you accept critique and grow from the wisdom shared with you? If you don’t, that’s an area that needs remedying. If you’re gracious in accepting rebuke, but your friends don’t call you out when you need it, that may signal a toxic friendship.
3. They’re in it for themselves, and not really interested in you.
In the words of Ed Cunningham, “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer.” If someone is genuinely interested in you, they’ll ask after you, your health, what’s going on in your life, and how you are. Expressing no interest in you and what’s happening in your world is a red flag.
That’s especially so if they overlook your life and concerns while they can talk about themselves and their life endlessly. You will find personality differences between friends – one may be more introverted than the other, or more private. Your dynamic may be that one person talks more than the other, and that’s okay, if no one feels overlooked or that they can’t be heard.
4. They’re not supportive of you.Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reads, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” One of the roles of a friend is to help you in times of need, but also to be a cheerleader for you.
We all encounter seasons in life when we struggle – with the loss of a loved one, with failure, with mental health struggles, with difficult relationships, and so on. In those moments, our friends come alongside us and give us words of encouragement and hope, and their presence reminds us we aren’t going through this alone.
In our success, our friends rejoice with us. As people grow in friendship, they grow in knowing how best to support one another. In the early phases of a friendship, a person may not show up for you the way you’d want, and those are growing pains you work through as you figure one another out.
Those phases are something you grow past as you communicate your needs to one another and develop a mutual understanding, so if you find yourself standing alone in your moments of mourning or joy, which raises questions about your friend.
5. Their friendship is conditional.
“A true friend loves at all times,” as Proverbs 17:17 says. Toxic friends make their friendship conditional, and those conditions are usually one-sided. Friends may agree on a lot of things, but as two separate people, there will also be things about which you’ll disagree. The friendship bond can be strengthened by those healthy disagreements and by simply doing life together.
With unhealthy or toxic friendships, however, acquiescence is the name of the game, and having individual opinions challenges the relationship. In some other toxic friendships, you may be part of the club, but only if you continue playing a certain role, like those friends who invite you to things when they just want you to pick up the check, while they spend time together with their real friends apart from you.
6. They drag you down with them.
Not all friendships are beneficial for you. Some friendships may not have most of the characteristics listed above – there’s a real meeting of the minds, you get along, and you are equals in the relationship – but it may still be a toxic relationship. “Like a surgeon, friends cut you in order to heal you,” says Tim Keller.Good friends want to challenge you to grow, and their words, if they cut you, are meant for your good. Bad friends, however, don’t mind dragging you down with them, to pull you into habits that don’t promote your wholeness. As St Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: Bad companions corrupt good morals.”
If a friend wants you to join them in their drug habit, or who encourages you to skip out on work responsibilities, or spur you on to cheat on your spouse, or to engage in anything else that will negatively affect your life, relationships, or obligations, that’s not a good friend. You may like them, they may make you feel valued, but such a friendship isn’t allowing you to grow and deal with your reality.
7. They want you to be someone you’re not.
We spoke earlier about a good friend challenging you to be the best version of yourself. Your friend may accept you as you are now, but they also want you to be better than you are and to fulfill your full potential. This is different from a friend who doesn’t accept you as you are, warts and all.
When someone wants you to become truer to who you are in Christ it allows you to develop your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. That differs from a person who is on a mission to change you to fit their personal preferences, even if that means dumbing down your strengths and exaggerating your weaknesses.
They may have a vision of you that they want to bring about, and it may not be true to who you were created to be. A true friend accepts you as you are but challenges you to be better; a toxic friend challenges you to become someone else, and only then will they accept you.
“Smile”, Courtesy of Bewakoof.com Official, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Helping Hand”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Iron Sharpens Iron”, Courtesy of Anthony Shkraba, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Quarrel”, Courtesy of RF._.studio, Pexels.com, CC0 License
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