Skip to content

Health & Balance

Font Size

Toxic Friends: Less Friend, More Foe

They put you down and expect you to pick them up, or drain the life right out of you for their own gain. With toxic friends like these, who needs enemies?
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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."

Recommended Related to Mind, Body, Spirit

De-Junk Your Life

By Anna Davies How to understand (and then unload!) the clutter that drags you down. Have you ever found yourself gazing longingly at the spare and tidy living rooms, kitchens, and home offices in a furniture catalog and wishing you could live in that world? No mess, everything neatly in its place — it's a setup that would last, oh, approximately seven seconds here on planet Earth! Fact is, you have a big, hectic, possibly messy real life — a life that you'll enjoy a lot more if...

Read the De-Junk Your Life article > >

For Roberts, the friendship seemed OK, and she took the insults in stride.

"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.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

woman in yoga class
6 health benefits of yoga.
beautiful girl lying down of grass
10 relaxation techniques to try.
mature woman with glass of water
Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
coffee beans in shape of mug
Get the facts.
Take your medication
Hand appearing to hold the sun
Hungover man
Welcome mat and wellington boots
Woman worn out on couch
Happy and sad faces
Fingertip with string tied in a bow
laughing family