“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…’” – C.S. Lewis
Why Red Flags Exist in Friendship
However, friendship is also capable of wounding. Nearly everyone will experience friendship wounds at some point in their lives, and those are some of the most difficult wounds to move past.
Though there are things outside of your control when it comes to friendship wounds, there are other signs that could inform you of unhealthy patterns in the relationship. These are what can be called red flags— warnings to either leave the relationship or to bring the other person’s behaviors to the light. These things can’t be ignored if we want to preserve our mental and emotional health.
When people are ignorant to or completely ignore these red flags, the outcomes can be much more painful than if they are confronted. Not everyone is aware, though, of what red flags to look for in friendships, so here are some to get you started.
Red Flags In Friendship
Sara Kuburic, a writer and psychotherapist, also known as @millennial.therapist on Instagram, says these are red flags in friendship.
- They often criticize you.
- They are only around when they need you.
- They are dishonest.
- Their words and actions don’t align.
- They refuse to apologize.
- They are jealous and/or competitive.
- They only talk about themselves.
- They make you feel bad about who you are.
- They don’t respect your boundaries.
- They belittle you or humiliate you in public.
- They talk behind your back.
- They make fun of your goals or interests.
- They speak about their other friends with disrespect.
- They use your vulnerability against you.
This article will not dive into each one, but we will pick out a few for you to consider further.
Warning Signs to Watch For
They only come around when they need you or they only talk about themselves.
One of the most important qualities in a healthy friendship is reciprocity. Though it’s impossible for both people to always be equal in their give and take, the goal is to get close.
Both people should be able to reach out to the other when they need something, but both should also be willing to attempt to meet the other’s need.
If you are friends with someone who never talks to you or hangs out unless they need something from you, then they aren’t a true friend. Even if they’re going through some difficult things, there still should be some give and take.
The other part of this is similar. They need to be listeners, not just talkers. They need to pay attention to what you say and how you feel and what you need, not just talk about their own thoughts and feelings and needs all the time.
They belittle you.
Though friends need to speak assertively to one another and point out potential areas of growth, they should never belittle or criticize in their tone or word choice. This could be superficial— a friend criticizing someone for the outfit or their weight or appearance. This could go deeper— criticizing someone’s work or their life choices or their personality or their other relationships or their values.
This could be direct (to your face) or indirect (behind your back or about you around others while you are there). Criticism comes across as more judgmental and harsher than well-meaning assertiveness.
You don’t want your friends to ignore things in you that need work, but if they are putting you down constantly or talking badly about you to others, that’s not healthy. Trust and safety are building blocks of great friendships, and this behavior only makes it harder to feel safe and trust them.
They are hypocritical and dishonest.They may say something but do something else. Their words and actions aren’t in line. They can’t be perfect, and they will screw this up sometimes.
Human beings can have great intentions to always live honestly, but it’s an impossible thing to do all the time. However, it’s a red flag in friendship if it’s happening often. Again, it breaks down trust.
This is dishonesty about who they are, not only with you but in the world. They aren’t showing you their authentic selves, so there’s no way for you to know them deeply.
Sometimes their lies are petty – “Oh, yeah, I loved that movie” (when they haven’t seen it). Or they can tell more intense lies. Petty lies are often born out of insecurity, but no lie is okay.
They refuse to apologize.
The reason for not apologizing could be many—they weren’t taught how to apologize, maybe they aren’t aware of wrong ways of treating people, they don’t want to feel embarrassed for being wrong, or maybe they’re a bit narcissistic.
But true friends know the value of apologies. They are aware of and willing to admit when they’re wrong, and then they take steps to change the problematic behavior. If your friend won’t ever apologize, maybe it’s time to end that relationship.
They don’t respect your boundaries.
A lack of respect for your boundaries is a big problem. On one hand, it is your responsibility to know and clearly communicate your boundaries because your friends can’t read your mind. On the other, friends do need to be able to anticipate someone’s boundaries (or healthy boundaries in general) and act accordingly.
If you’ve communicated a boundary, and your friend consistently crosses it, that’s a problem. That indicates they have little to no respect for you, and who wants to be friends with someone who constantly disrespects them?
They use your vulnerability against you.
There are many examples of how a toxic friend could use your vulnerability against you. For example, you tell your friend you’re struggling with fantasizing about someone who isn’t your spouse, and your friend uses that information to get closer to your spouse.
In another example, you share how someone hurt you, and your friend makes it seem like your fault. At some point, you felt safe enough to tell this friend deeper truths about yourself, but that friend wasn’t safe.
Handling Red Flags in Relationships
When someone notices these red flags in their friendships, it’s important to spend time with it for a while first, maybe in prayer or in the privacy of wise counsel. The person needs to identify what is problematic for them about the red flag, how it hurts, how they feel, and what they need.
Then, the person needs to confront their friend about it. Nothing ever changes if people aren’t willing to confront the issues, and it’s the same in friendship. So, confront with thoughtful assertiveness, being careful not to attack, but to simply express how you feel and why and what you need to see change.
If the person is willing to work on those things (and then you see them working on those things), that’s a green flag. That demonstrates humility and willingness to grow and respect for you. If they don’t change, then maybe it’s time to let that friendship go.
Many people will ignore the red flags because they don’t like confrontation or because they don’t want to lose the friendship. But a healthy friendship is much less painful than an unhealthy one, and it’s worth the discomfort of confrontation and the grief of losing the friendship to fight for the healthy ones.
A Christian counselor can help you recognize red flags, gain confrontation skills, and practice discernment about whether it’s time to let go. Contact us today to receive biblical counsel for your friendship problems.
@millennial.therapist on Instagram on October 15, 2021. ( https://www.instagram.com/p/CVDko-0soi6/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link )
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