The only way to have a friend is to be one. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I just returned from a weekend with my grade school besties and all I can say is; thank goodness for true friends. There is something special about the fact that friends are the people you choose to have in your life. Take a moment to reflect on your own friendships and some of your favorite memories. Whether it’s laughing until you cry or having adventures together, friends are the tribe we create for ourselves.

But not all friendships create fun adventures or joyful memories. Some friendships can actually be a source of pain, strain and stress. Do you have friends who make you feel bad? Who expect your undivided attention and loyalty but do not provide that in return? Or who are not there for you when you need them? Any relationship that becomes a source of pain or creates stress on a regular basis, can be considered a Toxic Friendship.

There are many reasons people stay in unhealthy friendships. Sometimes it’s a shared history that makes you stay, or the negative behavior seemed to happen slowly over time so it’s hard to even determine when the friendship went from enjoyable to stress provoking. There are a few common characteristics of toxic friendships that I have observed in my psychotherapy practice and experienced in my own life. If you are feeling like you might need to re-evaluate some relationships, here is a good start point. Ask yourself if the friend in question is insensitivity to your feelings, takes advantage of your kindness or does not make themselves available when you need them.  If you answered yes to any of the above questions you might want to dig a little deeper before to determine if de-friending is in order.


I believe it is possible to transform a relationship if you have the willingness. But willingness alone is not enough. So along with willingness…

In a Toxic Friendship you must understand your 50% BEFORE you can change it @Terri_COLE   {CLICK TO TWEET}

By asking yourself a few more pointed questions about your relationship, you can begin to see the truth, good or bad. Think about the time you spend with this person and ask yourself these questions:


  • Does spending time with your friend make you feel defensive, upset or exhausted?

  • Do you spend time justifying your own behavior or feeling like you need to convince your friend to approve of your decisions?

  • Are you happy and relaxed with this friend?

  • Do you withhold or hesitate to share good news with this friend as you think she will feel jealous rather than supportive?

  • Do you feel put down, attacked, judged or used?

  • Do you feel a sense of dread or obligation when you make plans with the friend? Does the friendship feel unbalanced and like a lot of hard work?

  • Do you feel responsible for things that happen to your friend?

  • Has your friend betrayed your confidences?

Honestly answering these questions should have created clarity about the state of your friendships. But don’t despair, even if some of the above questions were a yes that does not mean there is no hope. There are ways to draw better boundaries in your friendships. You must understand that every relationship in your life is comprised of 50% you. If you decide that the friendship is worth it, you can change your 50%, have an honest conversation about what you have been experiencing and see if anything changes. Some friendships will be flexible enough to grow and become healthier and some will not. Also know that you may be acting out an unresolved past injury in a current friendship. Does your friend’s behavior feel familiar to you and can you see any similarities with any familial relationships? Decoding and understanding any underlying attraction to an unhealthy friendship is key to resolving the old injury and providing clarity about what is actually happening now.

Since it’s your life, it’s your job to determine who gets the privilege of being in it. @Terri_Cole   {CLICK TO TWEET}

Qualities of a healthy friendship. A good, healthy friendship involves feeling like you are supporting one another, and being able to listen without judgement. Good friends are not in competition with each other. Something good happening for one does not equate to something bad happening to the other. Good friends care for one another, and keep each others confidence. Good friends spend time helping each other overcome issues rather than creating them. Good friendships are relationships that feel natural and help both people feel good about themselves. All good relationships require work but building and maintaining a healthy friendships doesn’t feel like work, it feels like an investment in your life and your future, that you’re happy to make.

I hope this post has inspired you to prioritize getting your own needs met in your friendships. Learning to draw better boundaries and speak your truth will increase the quality of all of your relationships. In the comments below please share your thoughts or questions about toxic friendships. I hope you have a healthy week and as always, take care of you.

Love Love Love





*image courtesy of eddiedangerous

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  1. Great post Terri. Just what I needed to read. I am struggling at the moment with a decision I have to make. I have been friends with a couple for a long time. The friendship has deteriorated over a period of time. I now see that it had definitely become toxic and I recognise some narcissistic traits in my male friend. After a difficult few years I have drawn a line and said I don’t want to continue with the relationship anymore. It was very difficult to extract myself (as you have highlighted in some of your videos!). Now my female friend has asked to continue the friendship with her alone. I am very torn. I am fairly certain that this would be very awkward and almost impossible for us not to go over issues of the past. I am also concerned that it would be the thin edge of the wedge and before long we would all be part of each other’s lives again. I really don’t want that. My dilemma is that I don’t want to hurt my friends feelings. I am also concerned for her in her relationship with her husband who I consider to be very domineering. However she defends his behaviour at every corner and won’t accept that he has done anything wrong. In my heart I know I can’t go back there but I do feel terrible about it as we had a long history which was good for a long time.

    1. JJ,
      Perhaps it’s time to take a break from your friend as well. You might say you are working through some stuff from the past and would appreciate some time and space. I understand not wanting to hurt your friend but the truth is if you do it to ‘avoid’ hurting her you might end up hurting her more. If you really know you are done then scrap the ‘take a break’ idea and just say the friendship is too complicated at this point with too much water under the bridge but you will treasure the good and wish her well. I know not easy but if it is your truth- it is the right move in my opinion xo

      1. This person that I know went from a best friend to someone that I know anyway I don’t talk to her anymore because all she wants to do is talk about herself and who gave her money. Every since I’ve stop speaking to her now she keeps sending me links about another woman is not your rival things like that. She needs it more than me. So am I wrong for not being her friend

        1. I’m witnessing you with compassion and I hear you. Friendships that are one-sided are not true friendships. I can’t make the call for you because you know the situation better than I do. If you feel like it is worth keeping the friend, you can make a request for what you need and see how she responds. If you don’t want to keep the friend, you don’t have to feel bad about it. You get to decide what you are and are not ok with. It’s YOUR life.

  2. Thanks for this reminder. Have “lost” about 7-8 girlfriends in the last 2 years. I am most sad about 1 but the others I feel fine about. I have about 2 gf’s left and the thing that gets me is that I used to have a network of women and now I don’t. I have been told my whole life I am a good friend but I’m sure I’ve made mistakes. I’ve looked at my part and saw that I ALLOWED myself to be or feel used. Boundaries weren’t as strong as they could be. I’ve gone through a huge transition in my life recently (still going through it) called marriage 🙂 and I really, really need gf’s. The two I have each have babies and not a lot of time…understandably. When I try to connect with new or other women it’s just not the same. I am thankful for the 2 ladies I have but still sad I no longer have my network. I try to make plans, call, etc but folks are too busy, don’t return calls or plans never quite form.

    Is this the Universe telling me to lie low or keep trying?

    1. Daisee it’s understandable that you feel in need of girlfriends right now as the support and love close girlfriends can provide, is often different than that of a romantic partner. Keep being extra kind and compassionate with yourself, in essence creating a deep and abiding best friendship with yourself. In regards to your 2 friends with children, and your desire to make more, perhaps you can shift your focus to giving what it is you would like to receive. Reaching out, asking what they may need can be a great way to connect without pressure, create trust and form deep bonds (even if they are exhausted and frazzled!). Sounds like you are on the right path. Keep up the great self discovery work!

  3. Wow, this really opened my eyes. I have siblings whom I cannot share any good events in life.In past if I did I would here remarks …mostly believe from adult siblings in their 50’s. “Whoop de do”. I chose not to share any longer even though we work in a family business together.
    This same sibling has ridiculed my religious choices to someone else within earshot to me at work.
    I find it very hard to deal with, mostly becoming a hermit in my office to avoid this sibling. Any tips?

    1. Linda dealing with toxic relationships within family is difficult.If you know this sibling is not a safe person to share your feelings or your ‘wins’ with then learn from your past and don’t share with them. But hiding in your office is a punishment for you that you don’t deserve. Try to see this person as the wounded child that they are and forgive them so you can be liberated. Holding on to past resentments will only hurt you in the end. Keep in mind that forgiveness is really for you and does not mean continuing to make the same mistake or condoning the other’s behavior. Stay focused on yourself and remember that you are the only one you can control. You can do it!

  4. My friend has been in a long term relationship with a man that nobody likes. He is emotionally and sometimes physically abusive to her. She always says “I don’t know if I should leave him,” when every person she asks tells her she should. I even took her to psychics, who all told her the same thing, three times. She did not leave him. She has lost friends because of this. I have stuck by her because I felt she needed a friend, and yet, I am also very frustrated by her constant insistence in staying in this relationship, thinking that if they get married their relationship will somehow improve. I have tried to help her turn her perspective around, by saying, okay, you’re staying, let’s deal with what we know is really there, but she refuses that idea. Should I leave my friend behind? She tells me I am her sister, the only one who helps her be positive and gives her strength.

    1. laura,
      I understand your frustration with your friend I know you were doing what you think is the right thing to do. Only your friend can make the decision to get out of an abusive relationship. You’re not responsible for her choice. One of my sisters was in an abusive relationship for years and I was codependently invested in doing anything I could to convince her to leave. It took a toll on me emotionally and financially and I ended up frustrated, angry and sad. My therapist at the time helped me see that my desire to save my sister from herself and her choices was really my desire to stop the pain that her choices were causing me. She asked me why I thought I knew what my sisters journey should look like this time around and that in reality I had no idea what lessons she needed to learn in this lifetime. So although it was painful I drew healthy boundaries for myself with my sister and told her I did not want to talk about her relationship anymore since she was the only one who knew what she should do. I also told her if she was ever ready to leave him I would help her. Eventually she was and I did help her but only when she was actually ready. I don’t know that you need to leave your friends ‘behind’ but I would suggest that you stop talking about it with her until she makes up her mind. You can still be kind and not be codependent. When she wants your opinion which you know she isn’t going to take anyway, simply state that you have no doubt she will figure out the right thing to do because she is the only one who can. Good luck!

  5. Thank you for the list of indicators for what could be a toxic friendship. I was recently blindsided by someone whom I have considered a dear friend for 10 years. She broke confidences and talked badly about myself and several other friends to a third party. (She had been berating that person to us, as well.)

    The thing I feel the worst about is that I don’t feel that I can trust my instincts about people. I have always had good intuition and now I doubt everything. How do I regain my confidence in my gut feelings? And surprisingly I am not sure that I want her out of my life. There is a lot that is good about her. Is it possible she doesn’t know she does this? She is an emotionally impulsive person…

    1. Jane it sounds like your friend made a mistake, and may lack self awareness, especially if she is emotionally impulsive, as you mentioned. Your gut can tell you everything you need to know, and it seems right now that your gut is telling you that this relationship may not be over. Perhaps having an honest conversation with her and telling her that it bothers you when she talks badly about other people in front of you and that you were dismayed to here she had broken your confidence. By opening up an honest dialogue simply sharing how you feel, you can transform your relationship. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I recently -after knowing someone for 10 years- no longer return her emails or calls & say I’m busy when I receive an invitation from her. She does not know how toxic she is & her husband also recently (a year ago) separated from her. No matter how hard I try , I never feel good around her, never enjoy conversations, and after ever;y encounter I say to myself, “that is the last one!”. A friend and I spent some time with her two years ago (she owns a bed and breakfast & invited us for a free overnight ) and my friend the next day said “don’t EVER ask me to do anything with her again! she is toxic and does not care for anyone but herself!” that really confirmed what I had always thought–my friend also said”who cares why she is this way? shes fifty, and is very comfortable lin her own skin. just dont ask me again!” Sometimes you just have to walk away for lyour own good.

    1. Hi Suzy. Toxic relationships can be tricky when it comes to family. Perhaps checking out my Setting Healthy Boundaries blog –> may be of some help. Also always remembering to keep the focus on you. I am so glad you enjoy the show, articles and the cd! Thank you for your share and all the support 🙂

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing this. There have been so many times I wanted to set a boundary with a friend but feared the outcome. One day I just told her the truth, but had to take my responsibility in contributing to the toxicity. She stopped talking to me for a little while, but we are on speaking terms again. Things aren’t the same as they were, but I feel a lot lighter and sincere with her and most importantly myself.

  8. Hey terri…Thank u for posting…soon I will Move to a Different country for my new job..I live with my parents n sibling. I intend Not to cum back as my parents r toXic. my mum z a narcisst. I consciously did Not make the decisión of Not Coming back, but I think my heart keeps telling me Not to. This has been going on for a couple of weeks. How do i know for sure this is my true gut instinct n I am Not making it up ? I so guilty for walking away frm my parents but if i dont they will destroy my do i overcome false guilt?

    1. Daisy,
      Thank you for sharing your story here with us. Before you decide to cut off your parents completely, see how a move to a new country impacts the relationship. You may find that it is much easier if you are geographically far apart. You can always choose to cut off contact but I would not want to see you do it prematurely. I bet there is a place in between where you can keep a distant relationship with them and still primarily take care of yourself. Good luck!

  9. A very close friend of 20 years decided 2 years ago to cut off all contact from me ‘because she needed
    space from everyone’. At the time she was suffering from some anxiety-related issues. I was confused and hurt by her decision then to put such an abrupt halt to our friendship; but I resolved that if that is what she needed, I would respect her decision and get on with my life. Recently however I received a very
    apologetic letter from her emphasizing that her decision ‘had nothing to do with me’ and that she hoped
    to pick up where we left off. I am hesitant and no lie a little fearful of her walking out again and I have expressed that to her. I would appreciate your thoughts Terri, thank you!

    1. Georgette,
      It sounds like you have been honest but I understand your hesitation. As long as your friend can hold space for you to tell her how her decision to cut you off impacted you, I think you can go forward. If you speak your truth and she can listen without judgement then you will not be holding onto resentment. 20 years is a long time. I think it is worth the risk. Love always is xo

  10. Wow, this was a great blog.
    I feel it’s hard to set boundaries because I come off as a bitch. I try to speak up sooner but don’t want to nitpick… I ask nicely or say something, and I just get ignored… and time and again they still carry on, after I’ve asked them, for example “why do you always have to one-up me, you always have something better, bigger, you’ve moved here from a BIGGER city then me”…

    I feel like friends (employees) always talk too much, are consistently cutting me off before I finish my thoughts and I’m learning to say “excuse me I’m still talking” because they will cut me off and I always yield to them out of curtsy. Or they continually talk over me… I sit and listen to them go on and on… when do I get my turn to talk. By this time I want to say just shut the F up!!!

    I never get to talk as much or as long as they do… arrr And by that time I’m harsh and abrasive verbally. It’s so frustrating because I don’t want to come off as a raging bitch… But they ignore me, keep on talking or talk right over me, I yield and then the bitch comes out. (in a nutshell)

    I just started to speak up for myself, (i’m 53) I waited too long… however, I will keep trying. I try to practice saying it nicely with a smile in privacy, hopefully it will come out nice in real life.

    I do, however, have a few friends that we share things, ideas and take turns talking. That I love.

    Why is it so hard to set boundaries?

    Thank you in advance

    1. Christine, it’s never too late to learn how to set boundaries. Speaking up for yourself can take a lot of courage and if it’s something you’re not comfortable with then it makes sense that you are just now learning and practicing. One of the things I often tell my clients is rather than pointing out what you feel is wrong, “You always try to one-up me,” for example, take ownership of how a situation has made you feel. “I feel like I am not being heard when I don’t get to finish what I am saying.” This way you are not pointing fingers at a person, but rather sharing how certain situations make you feel. People are usually more responsive when they feel as though blame is not being put on them.
      In regards to being cut off, unless you must speak with this person due to the responsibilities of your job, then it is important to remember that you always have choice. If you feel more stress and pain, than support from this relationship then you have the choice to stay in it or leave. Take some time to answer the questions in the blog and see if these friendships are right for you. Also reflect back on past friendships and family dynamics. You may be playing out roles from your past if you weren’t allowed to express yourself when you were younger. Also the fact that you are describing how you are relating to ’employees’ also impacts the relationship as there is a different set of communication guidelines for a work situation than a personal one. No matter what you decide remember to always take care of you.

  11. Thank You for this blog post this morning. I never would consider a few things on your list are qualities of a toxic friendship. I have a small group of female friends and 3 of them all have one or 2 of those behaviors I keep overlooking for the same of our history and my love for them. But one I’ll talk to about it and we’ll move forward. The other 2; I spoke to one several times and she persist on being unavailable and flaky, and the other makes me feel like we’re competing (for I don’t know what). She constantly brags about how well she’s doing and when I express my struggle it’s almost a bit dismissed. And I walk away with a knot. I honesty detected it may have been jealousy but I actually care this woman and don’t like how I feel after a lunch date with her. She’s definitely unavailable, fights for attention when we’re together and will basically be totally insensitive about my financial matters. I’ve tried distancing myself from her, but then I think I’m being irrational. However, after reading your post, I don’t believe I am. I’ll be re-evaluating my friendships this day. Thank you Terri 🙂

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