Elizabeth Roberts had a friend she'd known for 23 years. Roberts had grown
up with this friend in a small town in Maine, and while longevity in a
relationship often speaks to its strength, in her case, it was quite the
opposite -- the older they got, the more the relationship turned toxic.
"She was always putting me down," says Roberts. "Whether it was
out in the open and obvious, or a subtle jab, it was exhausting."
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For Roberts, the friendship seemed OK, and she took the insults in
"I would mention to my mother or another friend something she said to
me, and their responses were always, 'What? She said that? Who says that?'"
says Roberts. "And I would defend her. I would say, 'Oh, she doesn't mean
it that way.' But she did, and I just overlooked it."
Whether it was the friend making a snide remark about Roberts short stature,
or her weight, her clothes, or the guys she dated, their relationship was
trademark toxic. Experts tell WebMD what a toxic friendship is made of, and how
it can be saved -- if at all.
What Is Toxic?
"A friendship is between two peers," says Florence Isaacs, author of
Toxic Friends/True Friends. "There has to be balance in a
friendship for it to be healthy -- not one person whose needs get met and
another whose needs are overlooked."
Friendships permeate our lives, having an impact on our careers, marriages,
families, children, health, and even our retirement.
"Friendships are important everywhere, and they have positive things to
contribute to all areas of your life," says Isaacs. "But that means
they can also be toxic in any of these areas as well."
Isaacs explains that a toxic friendship is unsupportive, draining,
unrewarding, stifling, unsatisfying, and often unequal.
"Toxic friends stress you out, use you, are unreliable, are overly
demanding, and don't give anything back," Isaacs tells WebMD.
While a toxic friend doesn't have to lay claim to all of these charming
characteristics, they do seem to bring on their nasty behavior on a consistent
basis, as opposed to those of us who just have a bad day once in a while and
take it out on some of the people we care about the most -- our friends.
"The phrase 'toxic friend' is pop psychology," says Jenn Berman,
PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. "I would
say it's someone who, after spending time with them, makes you feel bad about
yourself instead of good; someone who tends to be critical of you -- sometimes
in a subtle way and sometimes not so subtle; a friend who drains you
emotionally, financially, or mentally, and they're not very good for
You cross the line from helping a friend in need to helping a friend who is
always needy when that friend is abusive, explains Berman.
"If your friend is asking for support, that's very different from
someone who constantly asks for support and is constantly mean and
abusive," says Berman.
These signs tell you someone is less friend, more foe. And not surprisingly,
it's women who are more likely to be toxic than men, according to Berman. So
when your gal pal turns sour and stays that way, you need to start taking
control of the relationship if there's any hope of saving it.