Friendship Red Flags People Don’t Talk About
As someone who has written and experienced love, heartbreak and the many complexities of human relationships, I know just how important friendship is. Our friends are the people we turn to for support, laughter, and a listening ear when we need it most. They calm our storms, keep our demons at bay, and give us peace in this unrelenting world. They are the ones who have seen us at our best and our worst, and who love us all the same. They are simply angels on earth.
But what happens when those friendships become toxic? When the people we once relied on for comfort and guidance now bring us nothing but negativity and drama? I’ve had friendships come and go before and I never really did fully understand why these things happen. I didn’t always understand why people grow apart or simply stop talking, but once I realized that there might be underlying reasons, red flags we don’t see with the naked eye, I recognized that It’s not always easy to perceive and accept the warning signs of a toxic friendship. Nonetheless, they are there-lurking beneath the surface, waiting to reveal themselves. These are warning signs that may not seem like a big deal at first, but over time, they can cause serious damage to our emotional well-being.
1. Jealousy and competition
Jealousy is natural even in the closest of relationships-it’s part of being human, after all. The thing about jealousy is, it gets ugly real fast. It festers like an untreated wound and spreads throughout our minds and actions. It poisons our intentions and leaves us bitter and competitive toward the people we care about.
When friendships turn sour, we might feel like our friends minimize our achievements and successes or even try to “one-up” our experiences. When they struggle to celebrate our wins and talk about themselves instead, we tend to internally brush it off, give them the benefit of the doubt, and tell ourselves “it’s not a big deal anyways”. But it is! Every good moment is worth celebrating, and if our friends can’t celebrate it with us, and make us feel good about ourselves from time to time, then who can?
2. Lack of respect for boundaries
Boundaries are like moats around our personal castles, designed to keep out the bad stuff and let in only the good! They protect our mental health, emotional well-being, and sanity. When friends cross the line from supportive to suffocating, from caring to controlling, it’s time to wave the red flag high and take action.
A telling sign of disrespect for our boundaries might mean constantly demanding our time and attention. It’s honestly draining when they expect us to drop everything and be available to them 24/7, even when we have other commitments. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll always be there for them! However, we deserve to have a life of our own that doesn’t revolve around them, and we deserve that boundary, most of all. Some more subtle signs of disrespect also include: not taking no for an answer, sharing personal information and secrets without our consent, and ignoring our requests for space and alone time. The discomfort in our gut should be the first sign that something isn’t right and a talk between our friends is a must for us to restore our boundaries.
3. Always putting us down
Good friends are the wind beneath our wings. They lift us up and make us feel good about ourselves no matter where we are in life. If our friends constantly put us down or make negative comments about our appearance, feelings, and dispositions, it’s always a sign of toxicity. We always know these types of friends. The ones who can never resist making snide comments about our hair, outfit, or life choices. At first, it might seem harmless enough, and maybe we might even find it funny. But over time, those little jabs can add up and leave us feeling conscious and downright insecure about ourselves.
Some signs we can look out for would be: backhanded compliments, criticism of choices, comparison to others, and downplaying our successes. This behavior is something easily absorbed and before we know it, we’ve already become insecure people who put others down as well! Nipping it in the bud and confronting our friends about it is the best course of action for a longer and healthier friendship ahead.
4. Only contacting us when they need something
These are the “fair-weather friends” who only seem to contact us when they need a favor or a shoulder to cry on and all the other days of the year, they go AWOL. We always tend to brush it off by telling ourselves, “they are busy, it’s only natural”, but the truth is, the relationship becomes one-sided when we’re expected to be there for them but they’re missing we need them. Might as well call it a therapy session instead of friendship and we should be paid by the hour, right? Just kidding.
But in all seriousness, we have to confront our friends who simply don’t show interest in our lives and refuse to show gratitude for our help. When they expect us to be at their beck and call, it’s time to evaluate the friendship and see if this kind of relationship is something we deserve.
5. Gossiping and talking behind our backs
Oh, the juicy world of gossip. It’s a guilty pleasure we’ve all indulged in at one point or another. But when that gossip is about us, it’s not so fun anymore, especially when it’s coming from a friend. Gossiping and talking behind our backs is one of the most insidious friendship red flags out there- it’s sneaky, hurtful, and hard to spot. After all, it’s not like our friends are going to come right out and tell us they’re talking about us behind our backs. So, how can we tell who’s the Gossip Girl of our group?
The first telling sign is quite obvious- they’re always dishing on other people. If they’re gossiping about others, chances are, they’re gossiping about us too, and not in a good way! Another sign would be them acting strange around us. If they’re talking behind our backs, they might act weird or avoid us when we’re around because they’re worried we might find out. Finally, they are the ones who are quick to judge- they always make negative comments about other people and it’s very likely that they judge us behind our backs, too! It’s difficult to address this kind of behavior especially when we don’t know who spread the gossip and rumors in the first place but one thing we have to remember is to never ever stoop to their level. We don’t have to explain everything to other people and so, as long as we know the truth in ourselves, other people’s opinions won’t matter at all.
6. Always canceling plans or making excuses
We all have that one friend who seems to always cancel plans or make excuses for why they can’t hang out. It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, and worst of all, it can make us feel like we’re not a priority in their lives. It’s a friendship red flag that people don’t talk about enough. We always brush it off with, “oh, that’s fine, they’re busy, I get it”. Sure, sometimes things come up and we have to cancel plans, but when it becomes a pattern, that’s when we need to start paying attention. After all, it takes two to tango and if the other one isn’t willing to make efforts for the relationship, then maybe it isn’t worth the time at all!
7. Lack of empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others- it’s one of the most important pillars of any relationship, and friendships are no exception! When we have friends who lack empathy, it can make us feel alone, isolated, and even hurt. Dismissing our feelings constantly, trivializing our experiences, and refusing to show compassion are some subtle signs that our friends don’t really empathize with us.
Ideally, we gravitate towards friends who share the same feelings, perceptions, and interests simply because we need comfort and companionship- someone we can turn to when things become unbearable. When we feel unsupported in our endeavors, it can lead to loneliness and it makes us question if they are really friends we would want to stick with during tough times down the road. True friends are there for us in good times and bad, and they show empathy and support when we need it most. We have to remind ourselves that when the going gets tough, real friends won’t get going- they stay and weather storms with us.
Approaching a Friend When They Exhibit Red Flag Behavior
No matter how frustrated we are with our friends, we have to remember to always approach them in a thoughtful and constructive manner. Being honest but kind is the first thing we must keep in mind. We use “I” statements to express how their behavior makes us feel and we must avoid playing the blame game or even attacking them upfront, after all, these are people we truly care about and their well-being and growth is also important to us.
We also need to listen to their perspective and give them a chance to explain their outlook and beliefs without any sort of judgment or condescension; who knows, we might just have different opinions and expectations when dealing with situations and complications in life.
Finally, we have to be prepared for different outcomes in the end as our friend may or may not respond positively to the approach. No matter what the result is, remember that it’s for the best because for better or worse, we have aired out our frustrations and it’s up to them to take it or leave it and end the friendship for good. Whatever happens, we have to remind ourselves that we did the right thing and it’s going to be okay.
Normalizing Letting Go of Friendships That No Longer Work
I know that letting go of a friendship can be difficult. It’s normal to feel a sense of loss, sadness, and even guilt when we decide to move on from a relationship that was once so important to us. Friendships, like all relationships, are complex and dynamic. Sometimes, they simply run their course or we outgrow each other. It doesn’t mean that the friendship was a failure or that we did anything wrong, it simply means that it’s time to move on and make space for new experiences and relationships. Letting go of a friendship doesn’t have to be a dramatic or painful process. It can be a gradual process of distancing ourselves from them and the dynamics of the relationship. It’s okay to acknowledge that the friendship is no longer serving us and that it’s time to prioritize our own well-being and happiness.
It’s okay to let go of friendships that no longer work, in fact, it’s a normal and healthy part of life. It allows us to make room for new connections and experiences and permits us to find happiness somewhere else. We won’t always share the same paths in life and while it was a beautiful journey together, sometimes paths diverge to let us grow and thrive on our own. We simply have to be kind to ourselves and trust that the right friendships will come along at the right time.
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I write because this world is too complex and challenging to be experienced in one lifetime. We all wish for healing from unspoken wounds, pains, and scars, a reprieve from unrelenting storms, and peace and calm after everything we’ve been through. Life doesn’t stop for anyone, but I hope my words can bring you comfort when you need it most. If there’s something I know, it’s that everything will be okay again- we will be okay.