How to spot the signs of a toxic friendship

Save yourself the bother, cut them out now


This article is quite difficult for me to write. For the first two years of my university life, I was friends with an extremely toxic, manipulative person which only became clear to me when we were no longer friends. However, the fact remains that this person was my friend and there was a time when I cared for this person so much I would have done absolutely anything for them, and where I wrongly believed they cared about me, and so that makes me not want to write this.

However, then I think of 18-year-old me, and I know that my university experience would have been completely different, and different for the better, had we not been friends. If 18-year-old me, had been able to spot the signs of a manipulative friend then she might have avoided this person and been all the happier for it. Manipulation is a tricky concept. One could argue that in my writing this article I am being manipulative because I am only presenting my side and there are of course two sides to every story. However I think the difference is my manipulative friend seemed to enjoy messing with my head and took pleasure in making me feel shit, knowing they had the power to do so.

I’m not saying I was always a perfect friend, but the behaviours I list here are signs of a toxic friend – signs from my own ex-friend and  from submissions from other girls, and you will save yourself so much hassle by just cutting people who do this from your life.

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Inability to apologise

The reason my ‘friend’ and I stopped being friends was because I heard rumours that they had been telling all my secrets to the rest of the group, and had been making fun of me behind my back. I didn’t believe this was true and so I asked to talk about this, an offer they refused. So we stopped talking, despite my numerous attempts to make up.

There has never been an apology for any of this. And the more I thought about it, I realised how they never apologised for anything they had done, in the entire time I knew them. And of all the times I had not been in wrong but found myself compelled to apologise to them anyway.

Adults have to be capable of admitting and acknowledging when they are in the wrong. No-one is right all the time. Everyone fucks up, and occasionally does something shitty. If you know a person who will not apologise, and is capable of convincing you to apologise to them for their own behaviour, that’s manipulative. You should be able to apologise, full stop, but you should definitely be able to apologise to people you care about, as a grown up.

 Constantly shit-talking everyone else

Here is a list of some of the things my friend told me to my face:

  • ‘You are the kindest, sweetest girl I know’
  • ‘You’re the only person I’ve told this to’
  • ‘You’re an amazing friend’

Here is a list of some of the things my friend said about me behind my back

  • ‘she’s self-destructive and selfish’
  • ‘she’s attention-seeking and needy’
  • ‘pathetic’

I heard them shit-talk everyone but because of the first list, I thought I wasn’t being shit talked behind my back. The thing is, if someone is mean about everyone else, chances are you aren’t special, they’re being mean about you too when they think you won’t hear it. Most people don’t shit-talk their friends. They aren’t dicks like that.

They control the friendship

They dictate the friendship. When they they see you and want to talk to you – but if you fall out, they tend to decide when the fight is over, whenever it suits them.

They control the friendship. So whatever they say goes, their opinion is the only one that matters. They always need to be right, always need to have the last word.

It’s the need to control which really defines a manipulative friendship.  The reality is they need to be in control.

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The red flags to look out for

The professionals say the key red flags of a manipulative person are turning your words against you, using guilt trips and diminishing your problems, so if you notice these, your friend might be bad news. There were other signs such as ‘playing the victim, they always seem to be having it worse than you’ and ‘they are cowards’ but the advice varies and often manipulation can be hard to spot. The problem is that manipulative people tend to be very good at it, and you might not be able to notice because you care about them.

All I can say is if you do notice these traits in a person, maybe reconsider your friendship. Please, just save yourself the trouble. Get out now.