I often see Instagram posts giving advice on how to handle a potentially toxic friend or relationship. These posts say things like, “walking away from toxic friends is an act of self-love” or “detox your life from negative people.” So naturally, traits you associate with “toxic people” are malicious individuals who exude negative energy. People who tend to intentionally disrupt your energy and your day.

However, toxic people aren’t monolithic. What if I told you that you have also, at some point, exhibited toxic traits? Of course, it is easier to identify the demons in your own life, but it can be difficult to admit that you could be a villain in someone else’s story.

Since it is often easy to be shortsighted regarding your toxic flaws, here’s a list of red flags signaling you might be the person on the wrong side of a friendship. 

1. You talk more than you listen

[Image description: Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks talking with a serious expression. ] via Giphy
Have you ever returned home from meeting a friend and wondered why they didn’t update you on their life? Well, it might be because you were talking about yourself the entire time. Although many of us have a tendency to be slightly self-absorbed at times, being excessively self-involved is definitely a toxic trait. To combat this, lend an attentive ear every now and then.

Make sure you ask about how your friend is doing and make sure you don’t occupy more space in the friendship than the other person. After all, friendship is about equality. You might be the lead role in your life, but your friends are certainly not the supporting cast! 

2. You play divide and rule to conquer social groups

[Image description: GIF of character from Mean Girls saying "you can't sit with us!" Via GIPHY
[Image description: GIF of character from Mean Girls saying “you can’t sit with us!” Via GIPHY
You often find yourself amidst other people’s drama because you love exclusionary social politics. You’ll corner one person, only to later pretend to be sympathetic towards them. You also tend to turn people against each other so that you can benefit from their mutually degrading friendship. All of this chaos makes you feel alive, relevant, and perhaps even powerful. 

3. You love giving unsolicited advice

[Image description: Regina George, played by Rachel Mc Adams, in Mean Girls saying her iconic line.] via Giphy
Here’s the thing about unsolicited advice: it’s typically unwanted! Learn to keep your opinions to yourself, and only give advice when it is asked for. You might have your heart in the right place when you call somebody out on their sartorial choices or when you criticize your friend’s appearance. You may even tell yourself that you’re only helping your friend improve so that someone else won’t give them harsher criticism or insults.

However, being perennially critical does not help anyone. Instead, it often comes off as mean-spirited.

4. You find it easier to talk about people behind their back rather than to their face 

[Image description: Rachel, played by Jennifer Anniston and Amy Green from Friends gossiping.] via Giphy
Have you ever been guilty of intentionally breaking someone’s trust? Do you relish in idle gossip? You tell yourself that you’re only “talking” about your issues with someone else. But guess what? That counts as backbiting too! The more mature and kinder route to take when having issues with someone: talk to them face-to-face. Address the person who the issue concerns. And don’t gossip about someone else’s business with parties not directly involved in the conflict. 

5. You often find yourself projecting your own unresolved issues onto other people

[Image description: Blair Waldorf, played by Leighton Meester making an angry face.] via Giphy
Simply put, your coping mechanism is to project your deepest insecurities onto other people. You may also interfere with other people’s mental well-being by planting seeds of self-doubt in their minds. For a moment, your confidence and mood are boosted with a false sense of superiority. But that is short-lived. Your unhealed trauma persists, still disrupting your mental peace. And the cycle continues.

Here’s the catch: immense self-awareness is needed to even recognize this pattern. Projecting onto others is so deeply ingrained in your behavior that it feels normal for you. So, how do you prevent this cycle from continuing to consume your mental health? You seek therapy. You discuss your childhood traumas and address them in a healthy manner with a professional.

This is the most effective way of ensuring you do not further propagate your own wounds, especially onto others. 

6. You neglect genuine friendships for social media clout

[Image Description: Best friends in Vegas taking a selfie.] via Giphy
Imagine this scenario: you’re at a party or social event with your closest friend. You then neglect your friend whilst taking way too many selfies with people who you think make you look better on social media. All the while your friend is sitting in the corner, bored, and regretting their decision to go out with you.

There’s no harm in indulging in socializing and networking while out, especially if your friend has no interest in the matter. But should disingenuous socializing come at the cost of your actual friend’s feelings? Next time while you’re out, try to spend more time investing in genuine conversations with the friend(s) you came with. Or befriend people because you click, not so that you can tag them in your Instagram posts, only using them for social media clout.  

7. You struggle to respect boundaries 

[Image Description: Michael Scott from The Office.] via Giphy
The concept of consent is important in friendships too. Do you get infuriated when a friend says no? Do you get offended when they stand their ground and try to protect their financial, emotional, and physical boundaries? Being entitled to impose onto others while disregarding their boundaries is toxic behavior. So is guilt-tripping your friends when they say they are busy.

In addition, while we’re on the subject of practicing self-awareness, next time you call a friend to rant about your day, ask if they have the mental capacity to listen to you, or if they are overwhelmed by their own problems. 

8. You think the world revolves around you 

[Image Description: Kim Kardashian takes a selfie next to Kris Jenner in an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. ] via Giphy
Think of a situation in which your friend is going through something and needs you. Maybe it’s a relationship gone wrong or a personal tragedy. Do you find yourself doing a mental eye roll when the subject is not on or about you? Do you become tempted to then redirect the narrative to involve yourself? In the future, consider: if you have the right to occupy space within a friendship, what about the other person? Friendships should look more like a democracy, not a one-person dictatorship. 

9. You find it hard to be genuinely happy for others 

[Image Description: Rachel, played by Jennifer Anniston, giving her version of the middle finger.] via Giphy
When a friend breaks good news to you, are you happy for them? Or do you find yourself questioning outcomes surrounding your own problems? Thinking, “when will those things work out for me?” While it is natural to feel slight pangs of jealousy sometimes, it is important not to allow the occasional jealousy to develop into full-fledged envy. Don’t let schadenfreude get the better of you! Now is your time to be a supportive friend. Trust, that your time will come. 

10. You like to control people

[Image Description: Khloe Kardashian talking to Kylie Jenner in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.] via Giphy
You struggle to be around opinionated individuals, and you thrive off more submissive personalities. You prefer having someone who will blindly follow instructions rather than having a friend with more autonomy. Someone with their own views and ideas. You struggle to accept people the way they are and feel the need to micromanage them completely.

All of these are red flags, so beware!

11. You love comparing some of your friends to other friends 

[Image Description: Kim Kardashian makes a funny comment in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.] via Giphy
Do you find yourself uttering phrases like, “[insert name here] is so much more fun to be with compared to [insert another name here]?” Instead of appreciating individuality, you try to assess all friendships with the same yardstick. Little do you realize, comments like that prevent friendships from developing naturally. 

These are just some of my humble learnings throughout life. So if you feel like you identified with any of these tips, reflections, and suggestions, consider this article an intervention. Don’t corrupt your friendships with toxic behaviors or attitudes. Ultimately, it is important to be the kind of friend you want to have!

For those of you who are at the receiving end of a toxic friendship, there’s no shame in asking for positive vibes only! 

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  • Safa Shoaib

    Safa Shoaib is an educator and counselor turned entrepreneur, writer, and editor. She has a B.A. Honors in English Literature from the Lahore University of Management Sciences and has written for local publications such as the Express Tribune. She is a history buff who is equally passionate about literature. In 2021, she co-founded Deja New Pakistan, the first of its kind marketplace of pre-owned fashion in Pakistan, pursuing the vision of sustainable fashion.

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