How to Identify and Deal With Toxic Friends

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Reader’s Question

I’m in a situation with a person whom I call a friend, although I just met this person eight months ago. I’m concerned by some behavior this person is exhibiting.

We are in a unique situation because we are both away from our countries of origin. This can breed a certain degree of loneliness all by itself, but I am wondering if my situation with this person is beyond that.

This person has become so increasingly needy that I finally had to establish some boundaries and limits, and they did not like it at all. If you’ll permit, let me list some of the stuff that has been going on so that you can give me an opinion about whether this person sounds toxic:

  • Incessant calling, sometimes to the point of 6 times a day and sending multiple text messages — even after we have spent an afternoon together hanging out.
  • Always in drama mode about one thing or another.
  • Interrupting my work, walking in on the middle of something I’m doing and wanting to talk about their problems right then and there.
  • Deleting my phone number if I have refused to answer their 4th in a row call. I have found out that this person does this to a lot of people.
  • Asking for advice, but after I give it wanting to revisit the issue time and time again, often calling back 3 times in a row, emailing me over and over, or coming into my work to talk about it further after we have JUST talked about it.
  • When we get together, always wanting to do more than what was agreed upon and sometimes simple hanging out becomes a 4 to 5 hour ordeal.
  • Wants to borrow money because long times hanging out frequently involve shopping and spending more money than this person has.
  • Constantly late but still expecting others to wait for them.
  • Sending emails saying how much they value you as a person and your friendship worded in such a way that you feel manipulated in the end.
  • Gossips and seems to want to be the bearer of all information about others and gets upset when they are not.

I keep wondering whether this person was ever really a friend in the first place. Their behavior has left me reeling many times and not knowing what to think. Unfortunately, this person’s behavior is also alienating a lot of people in the community that we are a part of, and I feel very sorry for them.

When the boundaries and limits I set were violated, I blew a gasket and unleashed a letter to this person telling them that they desperately needed help and were not adjusting to the new environment we both find ourselves in. I’m at a loss for what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

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According to experts such as Florence Isaacs, who wrote the book Toxic Friends/True Friends [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], you’re actually doing a lot of things right. You’ve set boundaries and limits, continued to network with less toxic friends, taken responsibility, and even recommended your friend get help. So, there might not be much left to do besides terminating the relationship.

What’s important to stress with your friend, however, is that a true friendship must be a relationship between peers which is both respectful and reciprocal. That means the expectations and demands of one person don’t trump the other’s. And, as I point out in my first book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], the way out of feeling manipulated is to take charge of setting the “terms of engagement.” That means you decide upon and enforce the rules for maintaining a relationship with you. Then, it becomes the other person’s responsibility to respect those rules or risk disengagement.

Dealing with a friend whose wants and needs are so oppressive as to make the relationship toxic is never easy. But your ordeal can become a lot less stressful once you demonstrate a commitment to enforcing the terms you set for engagement with your “friend.”

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