There’s always that one friendship that feels more tough than easy. You find yourself often frustrated with that person and misunderstood. Maybe you feel like you put way more into the friendship than the other person does. At its worst, you feel used or manipulated. You wonder if the friendship might qualify as a toxic one.

Perhaps this person even reminds you of a previous difficult friendship. Here’s what a toxic friendship might feel like.

  • You find yourself wondering why there are so many eerie similarities between your current friend and that previous friend
  • You start to play the self-blame game and wonder if you’re the problem, if you’re the one that’s difficult to be friends with
  • You feel that you consistently give more to the relationship than you receive
  • You feel like you’re walking on eggshells, afraid of a conflict or abandonment

But friendships always involve two people. There’s a dynamic that just one person cannot be 100% responsible for.

These red flags aren’t simply a signal that you ought to leave, though sometimes that’s needed. They’re opportunities to reflect on similar patterns that have happened throughout your life.

We are drawn to friendships that feel familiar.

This can be both a good and bad thing. When we’re drawn to healthy, reciprocal, safe friendships, it’s a no-brainer that we’d continue to surround ourselves with those types of people. However, sometimes we can also find ourselves drawn towards individuals who don’t feel that way; we find ourselves surrounded by individuals who feel chaotic, distant, and even toxic.

It might not be so obvious at first – you find yourself making excuses for the other person, or being overly accommodating. You attend to their needs at the expense of your own. Slowly over time. your feelings don’t feel valid. You’re constantly apologizing or walking on eggshells. You feel like you can’t be yourself. You start blaming yourself for the problems in the friendship and try to adjust in order to make the friendship work. You find yourself often feeling anxious or sad when you think about or have to be around this friend.

The hardest part is that this is not the first friendship that has felt this way. So you feel frustrated that it feels like history is repeating itself again. You wonder why you find yourself in this position again. You begin to believe that you might actually be the problem or maybe that it’s not possible for you to have good friendships.

Here’s Where Red Flags and Green Flags Come In.

Green Flags

All of us have learned certain relational patterns throughout the course of our lives. If we’re fortunate enough to have had mostly safe, reciprocal relationships from early on, then we know what those feel like and are naturally drawn to those kinds of individuals. We know the green flags to look out for and the red flags to avoid; green flag friendships are the ones we end up keeping around, while red flags ones are the ones we end up putting distance between.

Red Flags

However, for those that grew up with chaotic, dysfunctional, distant, or unsafe relationships, your sense of green and red flags has been thrown off. You’ve learned how to operate and survive with red flag individuals. You’ve learned to stay silent or to be overly accommodating. You’ve learned to avoid addressing your needs and feelings. You’ve learned all the “right” things to do and “wrong” things to avoid to keep this relationship around.

You don’t like feeling this way but this is the type of relationship that feels most familiar to you and, unconsciously, you find yourself drawn to those that result in you continuing to repeat this relational pattern.

Why it may be helpful to pause, acknowledge, and process your relational patterns

1. You don’t like how you feel.

Maybe you find yourself feeling noticeably anxious or sad around this friend. Maybe your self-esteem has been negatively impacted throughout the course of the friendship. Whatever feeling it may be, you know it’s not how you normally feel or how you feel when you’re with safe, reciprocal friends.

2. You can begin to identify your own relational needs and desires.

What are the green flags that make you want to continue to invest time and energy into a friendship? What are the red flags that might warrant pausing and assessing how to move forward in the friendship? Safe friendships don’t consistently feel one-way or one-sided; there should be a mutual give and take. Is it possible to have conversations about your wants and needs in the friendship? If not, maybe that’s an indication of the kind of friend that the other person is or is not able to be.

3. You can recognize green flags and red flags more quickly in future friendships.

This is key in the process of changing unhealthy relational patterns and learning new ones; you don’t know what needs adjusting until you can identify the things that are not working. By acknowledging your own unhealthy relational patterns, you open up the possibility of learning to engage differently with those around you, which then allows you to form relationships with the type of people you want to surround yourself with.

Moving Away From Toxic Friendships Towards Safe, Green Flag Friendships

Acknowledging and changing old relational patterns is hard work. It requires time, effort, and patience but the benefits of investing in yourself in this way are significant.

You don’t have to stay stuck in the same types of friendships that leave you feeling confused, misunderstood, and alone. If relationships are an area of your life that you want to improve, reach out and work with a professional to do so. You don’t have to do it alone.