How to Know If You're Trapped in a Toxic Friendship

poison warning signYou know that little skull and crossbones that's printed onto canisters of deadly poison? Well, some friendships deserve them, too. They're called toxic friendships, people, and you could be trapped in one.

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A toxic friendship is one where "your self-esteem is constantly under threat," explains Jeanette Raymond, a licensed psychologist, therapist, and relationship expert, as well as the author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don't. "The bonds of the connection are used to make you feel disloyal and ashamed about doing things for yourself without the friend, either alone or with others."

If you think about it, Raymond points out, toxic friendship is a contradiction in terms. A friendship SHOULD be supportive and encouraging. When and if it turns toxic, "it's no longer a friendship."

Here are three dead giveaways that you're trapped in a toxic friendship.

1. You're driven by fear. Not that "No, don't go in there!" panic like you experience watching American Horror Story. We're talking about that hesitation you feel when you do anything without first checking with your friend.

Not sure if your buddy will approve of your having a glass of wine with your neighbor? Think she'll freak if you hit the gym without her? Not good.

2. You're worried that this friend is your only option. Of course, that's not the case. But many people who are in a toxic friendship are insecure or codependent, says Raymond. (Which means you'd rather be attached to someone than have a modicum of power.)

A lot of toxic friendees grew up in a family where there was one domineering parent and one who was passive. Dynamic sound familiar?

3. You don't trust your friend. Part of the beauty of a true friendship is knowing that your pal's got your back. Any embarrassing revelation you make will be put in the vault, right? Any favor you need will be fulfilled, no questions asked or judgments made.

Not so for toxic friends. If you've got a bad feeling that they're talking about you behind your back, either in person or online, you're probably right.

More from The Stir: The Ultimate Best Friendship Test: Would Your BFF Do THIS for You?

So, how do you get out of a toxic friendship?

It all comes down to feeling safe enough to "feel alone, lonely, or smeared by the friend you give up," Raymond notes. Let's be clear: Your toxic friend won't give you up easily! So getting support from someone you trust -- be it another friend, your partner, or a therapist -- is crucial.

And look on the bright side. That bad BFF got you "angry enough to value yourself and believe you have what it takes to care for yourself, make new friends, and be respected in ... new relationships," says Raymond.

Hopefully, she also helped you ID the parts of yourself that need to be strengthened.

If you're worried after reading this that maybe YOU'RE a toxic friend, don't worry. "If you are the toxic friend, you are highly unlikely to ever realize it, and certainly never own it," says Raymond.



Image © Branislav/iStock

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