Toxic Friendship: How to Deal with Toxic Friends

Friendships should be a source of joy and support. Good friends lift you up, cheer you on, and help you shine. 

However, sometimes we encounter “toxic friends,” or friendships turn sour, leaving us feeling drained, disrespected, and even belittled. 

Research has found that developing a “healthy friendship environment” is important for maintaining good psychological well-being. Thus, identifying and addressing toxic friendships is an act of self-care. 

two women arguing on a sofa, one is shouting while the other has head in her hands looking frustrated.
Toxic friends who undermine, manipulate, or mistreat you can deeply damage self-esteem and mental health. Setting boundaries or removing them from your life protects well-being.

What is a toxic friend?

Even one or two of these red flags can indicate an unhealthy dynamic:

Constant Negativity

  • Endless complaining, pessimism, and/or drama. 

Lack of Support

  • Reluctance to celebrate your successes or provide encouragement during challenging times.
  • Belittling your achievements or dismissing your goals (e.g., “Anyone could have got that promotion”).


  • Displaying resentment or envy towards your achievements and happiness (e.g., making snide remarks about your accomplishments).

Manipulation and Control

  • Pressuring or guilt-tripping you into doing things against your will (e.g., “If you cared about me, you would cancel your plans to be with me”).
  • Attempting to control your decisions.

Unwarranted Criticism

  • Belittling your choices, appearance, or achievements. 
  • Their “constructive criticism” often feels hurtful and lacks genuine support.

Double Standards

  • Holding you to impossible expectations while readily violating their own. 
  • Making excuses for their bad behavior but judging yours harshly.

Unreliable and Flaky

  • Canceling plans last minute.
  • Forgetting important events.
  • Showing disregard for your time and commitments.


  • Breaking trust or gossiping behind your back (e.g., sharing personal information you told them in confidence).

One-Sided Relationships

  • Expecting support without reciprocating or being emotionally unavailable (e.g., always venting but never listening to your concerns).

Learn more about the signs of toxic people here.

Considering the Roots of Toxic Behavior

While toxic behaviors should not be tolerated long-term, it can be useful to reflect on what may be driving your friend’s toxicity.

If this is new or uncharacteristic behavior, explore whether they are going through a difficult period. Stressors like grief, job loss, or mental health struggles can temporarily impact relationships.

Additionally, certain conditions like ADHD or trauma can affect emotional regulation and impulsivity. Your friend may benefit from support and compassion during this time. Gently encourage counseling or other help if appropriate.

Examining root causes does not excuse harm but can provide context to better assess if positive change is possible. Momentary grace and empathy may aid that.

However, recurring toxicity without accountability or effort to improve goes beyond circumstance and requires firmer boundaries.

Decide your course of action

It is important to understand that you cannot fix your friend’s toxicity for them. No amount of giving, caring, or listening will ever be able to fix the relationship that someone has with themselves. Only they can do that.

Truly examine the emotional toll of preserving this friendship and its harmful effects on your well-being. Contemplate making a change for your own peace of mind.

You have one of two options –

(1) Communicate and enforce boundaries to minimize contact: Decide to confront your friend and resolve the problems causing this unhealthy dynamic. You may see that this is a bond better kept at a distance, interacting less frequently.

(2) Let go of the friendship: If you conclude the friendship does more injury than good, you could completely dissolve it.

That may seem drastic, but releasing a poisonous tie creates space for more positive, empowering and meaningful connections, potentially lowering stress and bringing you joy.

To make your decision, you may have to evaluate your tolerance level, which you can get a better idea of by taking our quiz at the end of this article.

Communicate and enforce boundaries

If you choose to fix the friendship, learn how to communicate and enforce boundaries below:

How to effectively communicate with your toxic friend

Addressing a toxic friend directly can feel daunting, but effective communication can lead to positive change, possibly salvaging the relationship.

Setting a positive tone in your communication involves expressing your needs and expectations in a clear, direct, and constructive manner. 

Start by calmly highlighting specific behaviors causing you distress. For instance, if constant negativity is an issue, communicate your desire for more positive and uplifting conversations. 

Articulate your feelings and concerns using “I” statements to express your experiences. Avoid accusatory language, and instead, suggest solutions or boundaries. For example: 

  • “I need our friendship to be supportive, and this behavior makes it difficult.” 
  • Instead of a vague “you make me feel bad,” say, “when you make jokes about my appearance, it hurts my feelings. I need you to respect my boundaries around hurtful humor.” 

Practice recognizing emotional manipulation, such as gaslighting or guilt trips. Do not engage in arguments or justifications. Simply reaffirm your boundaries. Remember, your feelings are valid. 

How to set clear boundaries with your toxic friend

Define what you will and will not tolerate. Explicitly communicating your limits and expectations helps you create respectful friendships that ensure both people feel heard and valued.  

This involves defining the qualities and behaviors you consider essential in a healthy friendship. For example, what does emotional support look like to you? Communicate these expectations with your friends. 

For instance, if your friend constantly criticizes you, express that you will not tolerate such behavior. Use “I” statements to assert your feelings without sounding accusatory.

Be specific–instead of a vague “please be nicer,” try, “I will not engage in conversations that belittle me, and I expect you to apologize when you cross that line.”

Be clear about the consequences for violating your boundaries. For example: “If you cancel plans again at the last minute, we will not be able to hang out for a while.”

Reinforce your boundaries by consistently enforcing consequences when they are crossed. 

How to limit contact and take a break from your toxic friend

If a friend’s negativity or manipulation becomes overwhelming, consider physically or emotionally distancing yourself by limiting your contact and taking a break. 

Create emotional space to reassess the relationship and its impact on your mental health. 

To carry this out effectively:

  • gradually decrease communication (reduce or stop phone calls, texts, and in-person meetups);
  • explain your need for space;
  • use the time apart to gain clarity;
  • do not feel pressured to justify it.

Remember, this is not abandonment; it is prioritizing and preserving your mental well-being, allowing you to rebuild strength and perspective.

“If you can slow down in your interactions with people whether it’s text message email in person over the phone you will have a lot more control over yourself and it will help you to better protect yourself and your energy and your anger when you are dealing with this person.”

Stephanie Lyn, Life & Relationship Coach

Let Go Of The Friendship

How to safely end the friendship

If setting boundaries has not worked and your well-being remains threatened, ending the friendship is the healthiest choice. Not all friendships can be salvaged.

Concluding the relationship involves assertive communication. Be honest and clear about your feelings, and express your decision respectfully but firmly. 

You can say something like, “Our friendship is causing me more harm than good, so I need to step back.” You do not owe them a lengthy explanation.

Cut ties in a way that minimizes confrontation but prioritizes your well-being. 

Practicing self-care after ending a toxic friendship

It is normal to feel a sense of grief after ending a toxic friendship, even if you know it was for the best. Use this time to put yourself first and meet your needs. 

Prioritizing your mental, emotional, and physical well-being involves scheduling time for activities that make you feel good and making sure they get done. 

Identify activities and practices that bring you comfort, joy, and relaxation, especially during difficult times. Incorporate them into your daily routine. 

Create a personalized self-care plan to help replenish your energy. This could include:

  • spending time with supportive people;
  • engaging in hobbies you enjoy;
  • mindful practices like journaling, meditation, or spending time in nature;
  • developing self-compassion; 
  • seeking professional help if needed. 

Prioritizing self-care is not selfish; it is necessary for maintaining overall health and remaining resilient and better equipped to cultivate positive relationships.

Creating a support network after ending a toxic friendship

Having a reliable support network boosts emotional resilience. A study reviewed 38 research articles and found that supportive, high-quality friendships are positively correlated with well-being.

A robust support network validates your feelings and reinforces your capacity to make decisions in the best interest of your well-being. 

Identify allies who can offer:

  • empathy, guidance, and encouragement;
  • a safe space for venting;
  • active listening without judgment;
  • validation of your feelings.

Seek out those who have had similar experiences and can offer shared wisdom. 

Trusted friends, understanding family members, a therapist, or even colleagues can provide valuable perspectives and a compassionate ear. 

Furthermore, do not underestimate the power of online communities or support groups, where anonymity can provide extra comfort and connection. 

Healing from the impact of a toxic friend

Explore resources like books, podcasts, or support groups tailored to recovering from unhealthy relationships. These can offer valuable insights and validation. 

Recognize that certain patterns or vulnerabilities may have attracted this situation, but avoid self-blame. 

Instead explore potential personal patterns that might attract toxic friendships, and use this knowledge to empower future choices. 

Reflect on your experience and consider seeking professional help if needed. 

Cultivating self-compassion helps you release any burdens of guilt and move toward personal growth and healing:

  • Treat yourself with the same compassion you would show a loved one facing a similar challenge. 
  • Celebrate your courage in setting boundaries. 
  • Forgive yourself for any lapses in judgment, perceived shortcomings, or decisions that led to the toxic relationship.

Practice forgiveness towards the other person, not for them, but for your own peace. 

Toxic Friendship Quiz

Ever feel drained, belittled, or manipulated after spending time with a friend? Wondering if your friend might be crossing lines?

Take this quiz to explore if your friendship might be harboring some toxicity. Be honest with yourself and answer based on your gut feeling.

For each question, choose the answer that best describes your experience with your friend.

How do you feel after spending time with your friend?

a. Energized and happy! We lift each other up.

b. Neutral, but not particularly excited or inspired.

c. Drained and emotionally exhausted. 

d. Anxious, stressed, or negative, like I am walking on eggshells.

How often do you feel criticized or judged by your friend?

a. Rarely to never. We encourage and support each other.

b. Occasionally, but usually with good intentions.

c. Often, and it feels hurtful and discouraging.

d. Constantly, to the point where I doubt myself.

Does your friend respect your boundaries and commitments?

a. Absolutely! They understand and support my needs. My boundaries are respected, and we communicate openly about them.

b. Sometimes my boundaries are forgotten or ignored, but my friend apologizes later.

c. They often disregard my boundaries or pressure me to bend them.

d. My friend constantly disregards my boundaries without remorse, and I feel unheard.

How would you describe your communication?

a. We communicate openly and honestly, addressing issues directly and respectfully.

b. Sometimes communication gets rocky, but we resolve things eventually.

c. Important issues are often avoided or swept under the rug.

d. I feel uncomfortable expressing my feelings due to fear of judgment.

Does your friend make you feel guilty or obligated to do things you are uncomfortable with?

a. Never. They understand my limits and respect my choices.

b. Very rarely, and we always discuss it beforehand.

c. Sometimes, and I feel pressured to give in to avoid conflict.

d. Often, and I feel manipulated into doing things I don’t want to.

Do you trust your friend?

a. I trust my friend completely with my secrets and confidences.

b. There have been minor breaches of trust, but we have worked through them.

c. I am hesitant to share some things due to past betrayal.

d. I cannot fully trust my friend, and they regularly break promises.

Does your friend keep secrets or gossip about you or others?

a. No way! They are trustworthy and keep my secrets.

b. Maybe once or twice, but they apologized and learned from it.

c. Occasionally, and it makes me feel anxious about being talked about.

d. Frequently, and I cannot trust them with anything personal.

Does your friend display controlling behavior?

a. My friend respects my independence and avoids manipulation tactics.

b. They might occasionally try to influence me, but it is not malicious.

c. I sometimes feel pressured to do things for them I do not want to.

d. My friend constantly tries to control my decisions and uses guilt trips.

Is your friend supportive?

a. My friend is my biggest cheerleader, celebrating my successes and supporting my goals.

b. They are generally supportive but might express some doubts.

c. Their support feels conditional or focused on themselves.

d. I rarely feel genuine support from my friend.

Is your friendship reciprocal?

a. The friendship feels balanced and supportive, with mutual effort from both sides.

b. There might be some imbalance, but it is not a major concern.

c. I feel as if I give more than I receive in the friendship.

d. My friend takes advantage of me and rarely reciprocates support.

Does your friend truly celebrate your successes and achievements?

a. Absolutely! They are one of my biggest cheerleaders and celebrate my wins.

b. They are happy for me, but sometimes express doubt or negativity.

c. They might acknowledge my success, but often downplay it or shift the focus.

d. They seem jealous or dismissive of my accomplishments. They often belittle my achievements.

Does your friendship help you grow or have a positive effect on your life?

a. The friendship motivates me to grow and inspires me to be a better person.

b. It has some positive aspects, but also hinders my progress sometimes.

c. I feel stuck and discouraged due to the negativity in the friendship.

d. The friendship is overall harmful and hinders my personal growth.


Mostly As: Your friendship seems healthy and supportive! Keep nurturing it, and enjoy your positive connection!

Some Bs or Cs: Your friendship might have some minor issues, but communication and boundary setting can strengthen it.

Multiple Cs or Ds: Watch out for warning signs! This friendship exhibits some toxic behaviors. Evaluate its impact on your well-being, and consider talking to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist for guidance about this friendship.

Mostly Ds: Your friendship appears significantly toxic and is likely causing you emotional harm. Prioritize your well-being and consider taking steps to distance yourself, address the issues, or end the relationship.

Remember: This quiz is a starting point. If you are concerned about your friendship, it is always best to talk to someone you trust or seek professional help. You deserve to be in healthy and supportive relationships.


Arzt, N. (2023, December 29). Toxic Friends: 13 Signs of a toxic Friendship. Choosing Therapy. 

Dealing with a toxic friendship. (2023, September 20). ReachOut Australia. 

DiveThru Team (2023, February 7). 8 Tips on How to Deal with a Toxic Friend. DiveThru. 

Geller, L., & Blumberg, P. O. (2023, December 13). 15 signs you’re in a toxic friendship, according to experts. Women’s Health. 

Lahad, K., & van Hooff, J. (2023). Is my best friend toxic? A textual analysis of online advice on difficult relationships. Families, Relationships and Societies, 12(4), 572-587. Retrieved Jan 19, 2024, from

Lindberg, S. (2023, October 13). How to know if you’re in a toxic friendship (and how to get out of it). Headspace. 

Pezirkianidis, C., Galanaki, E., Raftopoulou, G., Μoraitou, D., & Stalikas, A. (2023). Adult friendship and wellbeing: A systematic review with practical implications. Frontiers in Psychology, 14. 

Rahimah, S., Abidin, M. Z., & Fadhila, M. (2022). The Effect of toxic Relationships in Friendship on the Psychological Well-Being of Islamic University Students. Jurnal Tazkiya, 10(2), 155–164.

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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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