A close-up of a teenage girl looking out leaning her face against her arms.

Friendships can and should be something that contributes positively to our lives. However, when one person becomes aggressive or manipulative, the relationship can become toxic very quickly

There’s a quote from Jess C. Scott that states: “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’ and it’s true that having someone to confide in and share interests with is an important part of living a healthy and fulfilling life. However, just like any meaningful relationship in our lives, if things go sour, it can leave us feeling hurt, bewildered or even scared.

So, what does an aggressive or manipulative friendship look like?

If your friend is doing any or all of the following, you need to reassess the friendship: 

  • Emotional blackmail – saying they will hurt or even kill themselves if you don’t do what they ask.

  • Alienation – saying they don’t want you to hang around with anyone except them or trying to alienate you from your other friends.

  • Aggression – physically or verbally abusing you in a public or private setting. Eg. pushing you or shouting at you

The following are less serious transgressions but are still red flags to look out for:

  • Passive aggressive – they avoid confrontation but you will learn from another person that they are annoyed or frustrated with you. Now, the responsibility is on you to talk it out or make amends.

  • Overly dramatic – this type of friend thrives on drama. While it’s normal to have disagreements in friendships, a red flag is when someone regularly takes huge offense to something you say and forces you to grovel or work to regain their approval.

  • Ask a lot of favours – an equal friendship will have a lot of give and take. If your friend is constantly asking for your time, energy or money, without giving anything in return, they are taking advantage of your friendship and need to be called out.

  • Conditional friendship – this is where they are only friends with you on their terms or as it suits them. For example, you always have to go to the places they want to visit or spend time in their house where they have the power and are in control of what you do. 

Your rights

You have the right to feel safe and it is not okay for your friend to make you feel scared. A friend should never be controlling or possessive of you or threaten to hurt themselves if you leave. If they do, tell them that you will call an ambulance service or their family straight away because you are concerned for their wellbeing.

You always have the right to express yourself and how you’re feeling, especially if you no longer feel that a friendship or relationship is good for you and is becoming negative or toxic.

What to do

The first thing to do is speak to your friend about how you’re feeling.

Talking about the situation openly and honestly with them will give you both an opportunity to say what’s on your mind and maybe give you a chance to either resolve your issues or end the friendship in a civil way.  

If that doesn’t work or you feel too nervous to approach them directly, how would you feel talking to someone in your life about how to handle this situation? By talking to a trusted adult in your life, you might come up with a few different options and ideas about how to handle this situation.

This trusted adult could be a parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin, sibling, teacher or a youth worker.  

You can also talk to Childline at any time, day or night, to talk about anything that’s on your mind. Any time, any reason.