What is a bad friendship?

Working out the difference between a good friendship and a bad one isn’t as easy as it may seem. However, there are ways you can recognise when a friendship is no good. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do about toxic friendships, and ending a friendship is sometimes the only option. Getting help when you need it is a really important part of making sure you’re surrounded by supportive people.

This might help if you…

  • are having trouble with some friends
  • want to know the signs of a bad friendship

  • want to know what to do about a bad friendship

two guys lying on grass, resting their heads on a soccer ball and books

Toxic Friendships

Toxic friendships stress you out, use you, are unreliable, demand too much, and don't give anything back. After spending time in these sorts of friendships you are likely to feel bad about yourself instead of good. Your toxic friend might be someone who tends to be critical of you - sometimes in a subtle way (and sometimes not so subtle!). Or they might be a friend who drains you emotionally, financially, or mentally, and they're not very good for you.

Toxic friendships are bad for our mental health and wellbeing, and if you can’t improve the relationship, you should think about letting it go.

Recognising a toxic friendship

If you’re trying to work out if you are in a toxic friendship, there are a few things you can look out for. Toxic friendships can often involve your friend:

  • generally having an angry attitude toward life
  • gossiping about others
  • reminding you of your past failures
  • acting in a manipulative way.

The person might not have toxic friendships with others but that doesn’t mean that their relationship with you isn’t toxic. By continuing a toxic friendship, you're allowing your friend to hurt you, but you're also hurting yourself.. Even though we want to help our friends and have them rely on us in troubling times, it’s important to take responsibility for toxic friendships and how they make you feel.

What to do about toxic friendships

Start taking better care of yourself and make your own wellbeing more important than the toxic friendship. You don’t want to become a negative influence for yourself or others because you haven’t been looking after yourself! Say no when they ask you for something that you don't want to give, and point out to them when they are mean or critical to you. You don’t have to feel put down or unhappy because of someone else, and good friends don’t make you feel that way. If they really care about you, they won’t want to hurt you and will be willing to change their behaviour.

Talk to other people outside your toxic friendship who can give you their opinion on whether or not the friendship can be saved or whether you need to end the relationship.

Ending a friendship

If none of these steps stop the toxic nature of the friendship then it is time to end the friendship. Ending a friendship is never easy – but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Take some time to think about why you want to end the friendship, and write it down to help you make your thoughts clear. Sit down with the friend and explain as best as you can that you’re different people, and that the relationship is not healthy. Explain how you have been feeling, but try not to point the finger or blame them, or make them feel like they are a bad or negative person – it’s always best to end as nicely as you can, for their wellbeing and yours. Listen to their point of view, and make the point that you care about them. However, if they are angry, or make you feel unsafe, politely remove yourself from the situation as best you can.

When a friendship ends it may involve several people and it may be difficult to stay part of a group. This may be lonely and it can take time to move on. Talking to someone you trust like another friend, family member, youth worker or counsellor may be helpful.

Getting help

Sometimes we need help to find ways to get out of difficult relationships, or to deal with the effects of ending a relationship. Also, if you think your toxic friend needs to talk to someone, or that they are a risk to themselves or others, encourage them to get help. If you feel insecure or like you need to talk about what’s going on, talk to someone you can trust, or get in touch with a phone counselling service like Lifeline (13 11 44) or Kids Help Line (1800 55 1800).

    What can I do now?

    • Get tips on communicating effectively
    • Talk to another friend or someone you trust about how you're feeling
    • Take some time out to relax
    Last reviewed: 16 February, 2014
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