6 Signs You're In An Emotionally Abusive Friendship

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In 5th grade I invited a small group of girls over to my house for a slumber party. In my mind, the sleepover would go something like this: We would eat yummy food, giggle and gossip about cute boys, stay up past our bedtimes and watch movies. I was very excited about it!

Instead, my slumber party went something like this: I felt on edge and uneasy the entire evening. One girl intentionally and repeatedly used profanity whenever my mother was around. Another girl convinced the group that it would be “fun” to flip through the white pages and prank call random men using my parents’ landline. She suggested we sound “breathy” when men answered the phone. I was in 5th grade and knew nothing about sounding breathy, but I did know that their calls could be traced back to my house. When I woke up the next morning, I discovered that the girls had put gum in my hair while I was sleeping. The horror! I was dealing with mean girls long before Lindsay Lohan’s movie of the same name.

Emotionally abusive friendships are tricky to identify and not just for 5th graders. Back then, if one of the girls had physically attacked me, I could have identified that as wrong. The line between healthy playful teasing and ill-intentioned nitpicking was much fuzzier for me. Thankfully, you won’t need to wait until you’ve had a disastrous slumber party to find out whether or not your friends have your best emotional interest in mind. I’ve done that legwork for you.

Here are 6 signs that you might be in an emotionally abusive friendship:

1) Your friend finds ways to sabotage your happiness.

Good friends celebrate your achievements, are comfortable with your success and cheer for your happiness. An emotionally abusive friend, in contrast, might find your happiness to be intolerable to them and in turn may find subtle and not so subtle ways to undermine you. For example:

You get a hard-earned promotion at work and call your friend to excitedly tell them about it. They cut you off mid-sentence to let you know that after taxes and the cost of living in your city, your promotion really doesn’t amount to much money and therefore is no big deal.

You invite your friend to your graduation celebration. While there, they boast to all within earshot about their own personal accomplishments, skillfully drawing the attention away from you and your big moment on to them.

You invite your friend to your baby shower. They spend the day pointing out to you how all the gifts you received are cheap.

2) Your friend allows you to confide in them, but later uses this personal information against you.

One of the cornerstones of a healthy close friendship is trusting that you can safely confide in your friend. If you are dealing with an emotionally abusive friend they may allow you to confide in them, but only because they are amassing a repository of information that they can later use to tear you down and make you feel inadequate. For example:

You confide in your friend that you have started meeting with a therapist to help you cope with a recent breakup. Weeks later, when you tell your friend you have finally saved enough money to purchase a new car, they respond with, “You’re in therapy right now. Are you sure you’re emotionally stable enough to actually be driving?”

3) Your friend constantly blames you for their problems.

We all face difficulties in life, but in emotionally healthy friendships each person takes accountability for their own actions and does not inappropriately assign blame to others. If you are dealing with an emotionally abusive friend however, they may find ways to blame you whenever something goes wrong in their life. For example:

You’re in an important meeting and have your phone on silent. After the meeting, you check your phone and notice you have a text message from your friend saying the following:

Really really really needed to talk to you 2 day! Thanks for NOT picking up!! I called you 3 times. Shows how much you care :-( You probably forgot about my presentation 2 day. Well I bombed my presentation and will prob get fired. Gee, thanks a lot, FRIEND.”

Clearly, it’s not your fault your friend did not do well on their presentation. An emotionally abusive friend however, will project their own problems, missteps, hurts and feelings of inadequacy on to you.

4) Your friend tries to isolate you and becomes jealous when you do things without them.

There’s nothing wrong with spending a lot of time with your friends but within those friendships you should have the freedom to develop a separate life and pursue your individual interests. An emotionally abusive friend may make you feel guilty about spending time with other people and might make you feel bad for pursuing interests that don’t involve them.

5) You constantly feel on edge and nervous around your friend.

The best friendships are those in which we can be our authentic selves. In emotionally abusive friendships, you may feel like you are walking on egg-shells around your friend and live in fear that they will somehow disapprove of something you have said or done. You constantly worry that if you say the “wrong” thing in the “wrong way” at the “wrong” time your friend will unleash a load of hurt on to you.

6) Your interactions with your friend always leave you feeling emotionally depleted.

No friendship is perfect, but healthy friendships leave us feeling emotionally uplifted overall. Emotionally abusive friendships rob you of your emotional energy and leave you feeling dragged down, drained, emotionally depleted and overall bad about yourself. How yucky!

Armed with these 6 signs of emotional abuse, you are now in a great position to begin reevaluating your friendships. It’s time to begin pruning out any friendships that are compromising your mental wellness.

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