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It’s not always easy to know where you stand in a friendship, but there are ways to spot when it’s no good. Find out how to recognise and handle a toxic friendship. Remember to keep your support network around you, and ask for help when you need it.

This can help if:

  • you’re having trouble with friends
  • you want to know the signs of a bad friendship
  • you want to know what to do about a bad friendship.
young guy in group with neutral expression

Recognising a toxic friendship

If you’re wondering whether your friendship with someone is toxic, there are signs you can look out for. A toxic friend might:

  • gossip about others or about you
  • criticise you or other people, either subtly or not
  • constantly remind you of your past failures
  • try to manipulate you into feeling a certain way or doing something you don’t want to do
  • stress you out
  • demand too much, without giving anything back
  • have an angry or negative attitude towards life.

The best way to decide whether a friendship might not be healthy is to be honest with yourself about how you feel when you’re with that person. Do you generally feel worse when you hang out with them? Do you feel drained of energy whenever you spend time with them? Toxic friendships are bad for our mental health and wellbeing. If you can’t improve the relationship, you should think about letting it go.

What you can do about a toxic friendship

None of us likes the idea of losing a friend, and some people deserve a second chance. Your friend may not be aware that their behaviour bothers you. It might be worth talking to them and establishing some healthy boundaries:

  • Say ‘no’ when your friend asks for something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Point out to them when they’re acting mean or being critical of you.
  • Tell them when their behaviour is unwanted and unacceptable.
  • Talk to them about how their behaviour makes you feel.
  • It’s okay to tell them that if they aren’t willing to treat you better, then it might be best if you parted ways.

Ending a friendship

If the steps you’ve taken don’t improve things, then it might be time to pull the plug:

  • Write down a list of reasons why you think the friendship should end. Keep the list handy in case you need to look at it.
  • Sit down with your friend and explain as best as you can that the friendship isn’t healthy.
  • Try not to point the finger at them or to make them feel bad.
  • Instead, tell them how the time you spend with them makes you feel. Nobody can ever take your feelings away from you.
  • Listen to their point of view and try not to argue with them.
  • If either of you gets angry, calmly remove yourself from the situation.
  • End the conversation as politely as you can, for their wellbeing and yours.

Getting help

Sometimes we need professional help to deal with the effects of ending a relationship. Also, if you think your toxic friend needs to talk to someone, or that they’re a risk to themselves or others, encourage them to seek help.

Check out our getting help section for information on who can help.

If you feel like you need to talk about what’s going on, contact a phone counselling service such as Lifeline (13 11 44) or Kids Help Line (1800 55 1800).

What can I do now?