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Women's Health

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?
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What Is Toxic? continued...

"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."

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.

How to Handle Toxicity

You know you have a problem with someone when your nontoxic friends start telling you, "Every time you hang out with Sue, you're in a bad mood." Or the phone rings, you see it's your toxic friend, and you conveniently go to the bathroom. But despite these warning signs, you don't do anything about it. Why? Because you're trapped.

"One of the characteristics of a toxic friendship is that the good friend feels she can't extricate herself from the relationship," says Charles Figley, PhD, professor and director of the Psychological Stress Research Program at Florida State University. "Whether it's on the phone, in person, or from the friendship entirely, you feel like you are trapped, you're being taken advantage of and you can't resolve the problem one way or another."

Whether the feeling of entrapment has to do with history -- you've been friends with the person since a young age, like Roberts -- or you feel she has no one else to turn to and you need to stand by her through thick or thin, you need to take action to help your friend, and yourself.

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