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Are your friends toxic? Here’s how to tell…

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1. They are NOT there for you when you NEED them?

Everything is hunky dory when times are good, but when you’re going through hard times they are M.I.A. Ask yourself, are they around when you need help? Do they check in when you’re having a hard time? Do they disappear when it’s not fun and convenient for them? Do they only want to hang out when it’s fun, not when you need a shoulder to cry on? Do they actually listen to you and want to know?

2. They drag you down?

We all need to vent from time-to-time, but toxic people just want to complain. Anything you propose as a solution is turned down. They always find a reason, “it won’t work, so why bother.” And. The problem is that it brings your mood down and they won’t let you pull them up no matter how genius your idea, or how much of yourself you’re willing to give to help them. Are they always complaining and won’t fix their problem even when you offer a clear solution?

3. They use you?

Most of us have borrowed something, even money, and legitimately not been able to pay or give it back. We also felt terrible about it. Some people don’t feel bad, and they see you as a resource.

You know in your gut when you’re being used. The problem is that too often we are willing to rationalize it by feeling bad for the other person or wanting to believe their ridiculous excuses. Do they always expect you to pay for both of you? Do they borrow money (big sums, or multiple occasions) and never pay you back? Do they get you to drive them everywhere, or to outings you’re not invited to (provided you’re not their parent)? Are they only around when they need or want something?

Trust your gut. Do you feel manipulated? Do you feel used?

Here are things to expect from healthy friendships:

1. Trust is earned, not expected.

If someone is guilt tripping you about trusting them when your intuition is telling you something is off that’s a red flag. Conversely, just because you want to trust someone doesn’t make them trust worthy. In a healthy relationship of any kind, trust is earned through multiple experiences where they have an opportunity to prove themselves.

It’s nice to give people the benefit of the doubt for reasonable things and not be completely paranoid, but that doesn’t mean you should tell someone your deepest darkest secrets just because they are nice to you. It doesn’t mean you should give them the keys to your house while you go out of town just because they would feel bad if you don’t.

2. Boundaries will be respected

No means no. If someone is your friend, they will respect you, and that means respecting your wishes. It also means respecting your privacy, your things, and anything else that matters to you. Most of all they will respect your boundaries. That means that if you set limitations, they will comply with them. If you say no, they don’t twist your arm about it because it’s what they want.

That said, a real friend might not take no for an answer if you are not making the best decision for yourself. Your well-being trumps your boundaries. A real friend is willing to risk pissing you off because they know it’s the right thing to do.

3. Vulnerability is mutual

If you can’t be vulnerable you don’t have a friendship, you have an acquaintance. Vulnerability is what creates and nurtures the bond between you. That doesn’t mean you should just dump all your dirty laundry on someone, it means you should be able to open-up to them at appropriate times in appropriate amounts, and they to you. The amount you open-up should grow as they meet you in how much they open up to you, or vice versa.

4. There’s balance

Relationships are a two-way street. That means that if only one person is being heard and getting their needs met it is not a relationship, it’s a service. If you find that most of your conversations or time together revolve around the other person, and maybe it even feels like you’re intruding when you try to get a word in edge wise about yourself, you might be dealing with a self-absorbed person and in a one-sided pseudo relationship.

If you start talking about what you’re going through and they say something like “Oh my gosh, that’s just like what I’m going through,” and then they steam roll right over what you were talking about to make the whole conversation about themselves, you might have a problem. It happens to everyone once in a while. Some people are even aware they do it and feel bad and want to stop. Some are just completely unaware. Even worse are the ones you point it out to and they just refuse to see it. The problem is when they do it most of the time and either have no interest in changing of get defensive when you try to explain it to them. Of course, they could be a narcissist, in which case, RUN! However that’s really not always the case.

Generally it doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means that their needs are overwhelming them so much that they have nothing to give and end up sucking everyone else dry. This does not mean that you should feel bad for them and continue to let them use you. It means you need to be aware that this is going on and take care of yourself first. You deserve to be heard.

5. They show you they actually care about your well-being (and you reciprocate)

Actions speak louder than words. People might say they care about you but then they’re not around when you need them, or they talk about you behind your back, or a number of other things, because it’s easy to say things. It’s harder to follow through. It’s real damn hard to follow through when you don’t actually mean the thing you said. Words are nice, and it’s good to tell people with words how you feel about them. It’s better to show them. You can even do both, but without the action to back up the words the words mean nothing.

I’m not talking about gifts or grand gestures. I’m talking about acting in a way that represents what you say. If I say I care about you, and that you’re my friend, and then I go sleep with your boyfriend that makes me full of sh*t. Whereas, if I say I care about you, and you’re my friend, and I defend you in an argument you’re in with someone else, my actions are backing up my words.

It should be obvious, but we make excuses for people all the time. We see them doing something shady, but we think back to what they said and want to believe it. Remember, people lie. Some of us are really, really good at it too.

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