A healthy group of friends make each other feel valued, supported and happy. A toxic friendship group is one where members belittle each other, shame others into doing things or aren’t willing to be there for their friends.
Here are a few tips for recognizing toxic friendship groups:
You feel like you're walking on eggshells
If you’re never sure how members of your group are going to react to something you say, the dynamic might be unhealthy.
If you’re in a group that supports you one day and treats you badly the next, consider branching out and finding more supportive friends.
The group makes you feel bad about yourself
Healthy friendships lift us and make us feel better about ourselves. If people in the group insult you or make you feel unworthy, the group is probably toxic.
A bit of teasing is okay now and then but if you’re always the butt of mean jokes, the group could be toxic.
Everyone gossips about each other
Talking about people behind their backs are trademarks of a toxic friendship group. These actions undermine the trust between people in the group, and can create a paranoid atmosphere.
When a group member wants to gossip with you, find a polite way of ending the conversation. Saying something like “That doesn’t seem like that Anna”, or “Honestly, I don’t know enough about it” can help.
It feels one-sided
Are you always the one contacting other group members to make plans? Or do they always contact you when they need something, but are never there for you?
This may be a sign of a toxic friendship group that you need to move on from.
You feel pressured to do things you don't want to do
No good friend would expect you to join in with something that you don’t want to do.
If you are experiencing this in your group, it’s time to leave. Putting pressure on each other can ruin friendships and make people miserable, especially if it involves shaming and bullying.
There's too much competition
If people in your group can’t be happy when you do something well, it’s a sign that they feel threatened or jealous.
An atmosphere that encourages one-upping each other is bad for everyone and is probably unsustainable.
What you can do about a toxic friendship group
If you feel the friendships you have are worth saving, you can try to talk to the group about it. Talk to the people you’re closest to in the group – if they also feel the behaviour is toxic, you can try to talk to the others.
Use “I” statements when you’re raising the issues with the group, like, “I feel we can be more supportive of each other. I think it would be great if we were kinder to each other…”
Remember that the entire group will need to want to change and they may get defensive or become even more toxic when you raise your concerns.
If they do, it might be time to look for healthier friendships that make you happy.
If you’d like to read more about topics like this, check out the following articles:
How to deal with peer pressure among your friends
5 signs you’re a people pleaser
Bullying and the role of the bystander
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