How to Spot a Bad Friend

Are unhealthy friendships holding you back?

Posted Aug 13, 2019

Recently, I met up with my college roommate. Like many old friends, we share a secret language, referring to events and situations with a single word or glance. A raised eyebrow, a sideways look, or the phrase, “What size are your bananas?” and we erupt into fits of laughter while others look on perplexed.

I feel invigorated whenever we meet; communication is effortless and enlivening. Which got me thinking: Why can’t all my friendships be like this?

The Friends We Choose

It’s a long-held belief of psychotherapists that the friends you choose reflect your innermost feelings about yourself. For example, if you don’t value yourself, your friends won’t, either. They won’t think twice about standing you up, phoning in last-minute cancellations, or forgetting about you entirely. They don’t consider your feelings or needs. But don’t blame them: They just mirror your low opinion of yourself.

What's more, if you’re self-critical or disparaging, expect unsolicited advice, criticism, and discouraging comments. When it comes to friendships, you get what you believe you’re worth.

Why You Put Up with Lame Friends

As long as personal insecurities dominate you, so will unhealthy friendships. The more insecure you are, the more you are likely to tolerate bogus friendships.

Three reasons you may think poor treatment from friends is acceptable:

  1. Low Self-Esteem. You excuse your friends’ lackluster behavior because you don’t think that you deserve better.
  2. Fear of Loneliness. You harbor fears of abandonment and isolation, so you accept your friends’ shoddy conduct.
  3. Being a Caretaker. You tend to service others and neglect yourself; caring for others is the only way you feel valued.

The Friend Test

If you repeatedly leave an encounter with a friend feeling discouraged, it’s time to ask, "Why am I still friends with this person?”

Try this simple test: After you meet with a friend, take a quick emotionally inventory. Ask yourself:

  1. Do I feel lighter?
  2. Am I encouraged?
  3. Do I feel valued?

If you answered yes to all three questions, that friend is a keeper. If you don't, try it again. Keep in mind that even good friends have bad day; give them a pass now and then. But if a friend consistently leaves you disheartened, disappointed, or depressed, they failed the good friend test. It may be time to move on.

Friends Who Grow Together, Stay Together

No one likes the idea of a jettisoned friendship, particularly if it’s an old friend. Yet sometimes friendships expire. Priorities transform as you mature. You may no longer be compatible. For instance, a new dad may quickly find that he has little in common with his high-school drinking buddies.

Only when friends evolve and grow together do friendships withstand the test of time. A true friend is a constant source of inspiration, someone you can always turn to for support, someone who will champion you.

So if your friends are leaving you feeling unappreciated and neglected, put them to the test. Challenging your friends is not a crime, but staying in unhealthy relationships should be.