6 Types of Friendships That Are Bad for Emotional Health

four young adults look out over water smiling and talkingWhen I was in high school, my best friend’s mom made no secret of her worries about us driving, going to parties, meeting new teens she didn’t know, and staying out late. But she felt confident in our ability to navigate the temptations of risky teenage behavior because, in her words, “You have good friends.”

She was right to assert that our solid, trusting relationships with each other were protective, certainly for our physical safety. But as a therapist, I can see now that another aspect of our bonds played a significant and lifelong role in our emotional safety as well. We encouraged one another to take some risks and scale our actions back when necessary; we showed up for one another when we were needed and supported each other when we were down.

The life lessons of those years, and in many cases the friendships, have withstood the trials of distance, careers, children, marriages, and, yes, other friendships. Whether you have enjoyed positive friendships in your life or not, it is never too late to examine if and in what way your friendships, or your friendship, are lacking and could use attention. While it may seem glaringly obvious that we need trustworthy and reliable friends in order to thrive, here are six common types of friendships that can undermine your efforts to enjoy those friendly bonds and negatively impact your emotional well-being:

1. The Toxic Friendship

Friendships go through ups and downs, as any relationship does in life. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we feel a certain tension or friction in a friendship. That is normal, and through time and solid communication you can often work through those uncomfortable periods.

But that’s different from a friendship that consistently leaves you in a negative state. If you regularly hang out with a friend or group of friends and notice you do not feel energized either in their presence or once you leave them, that is a sign you may need to examine the friendship and your role in the dynamic.

2. The Slippery Friendship

We have all had these friends, and maybe you have even been that person sometimes. It’s natural to suggest to someone you like, “Hey, let’s get together sometime!” But the slippery friend is tough to pin down for an actual date. You may have a plan for Friday night, but on Friday afternoon they bail on you because something more interesting came up.

If you make a plan with someone and they repeatedly cancel at the last minute or make no effort to reschedule, that may be revealing about the nature and quality of the friendship.

3. The Ghost Friendship

Some friends may be good day-to-day buddies, some are terrific in a crisis, and some you don’t see often because of time or distance but know you can count on them to show up for you if and when you need them. Unfortunately, we don’t often know in which camp our friends belong until that moment arises.

It can be hurtful when you reach out to someone expecting them to respond and they are silent. It doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be a good friend, but it may mean you need to either have a talk with them or consider reevaluating to what extent you can rely on them.

4. The Self-Loathing Friendship

As inherently social beings, we can’t help but be influenced by those around us. So if you surround yourself with the company of people with positive outlooks, you may be more likely to regard yourself positively.

The same holds true of the opposite. If you are spending your time and energy with people who don’t like themselves—or, just as bad, who don’t like other people—you may tend to like yourself less. If you are frequently around someone who talks negatively about others, leaving you feeling less happy with yourself, you may be caught up in a self-loathing friendship loop.

5. The Wet-Blanket Friendship

When you are hedging on a risky move in life that could pay off but also may have a disappointing result, such as considering a career change or taking a big step for your health or finances that feels scary but exciting, sometimes our unconscious defense to protect ourselves from that risk is to reach for our nearest wet-blanket friend.

This is the person who will tell you all the things that could go wrong and why you shouldn’t bother, leaving you feeling deflated and your parade drenched in rain. You don’t need to shun your wet-blanket friend, but you should be aware that your friend is stuck, and would rather have your company in Stuckville than see you move forward without them.

6. The Placating Friendship

On the flip side of the wet-blanket friendship is the placating one. While you don’t want your friendships to constantly kill your life buzz and shoot down your ideas, you also need people in your life who are going to tell you the truth as they see it.

While you don’t want your friendships to constantly kill your life buzz and shoot down your ideas, you also need people in your life who are going to tell you the truth as they see it.

As long as the feedback is kind, sensitive, and truly in your best interest, you can still come away feeling good about your decisions or the options ahead of you. If you sense that your friend would not meet you with nothing-but-the-truth sincerity, it’s good to ask yourself what role that friendship is playing in your life, and adjust how much sway that person’s feedback has on you accordingly.

Healthy friendship seems like a simple transaction, but the reality can be complicated, especially as we grow and our emotional needs change over the course of our lives. There will be times when we cannot be the best friends we could or should have been to those we care about. But it is important to keep in mind what is most important about friendships, especially if you are feeling like the “friend” area of your life is lacking. Friends should be reliable, trusting, caring, and honest.

And when you do click with a good friend, remember the wise words of William Shakespeare: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kaye

    September 20th, 2016 at 7:06 AM

    Why even be that person who says oh let’s make plans and then you won’t commit? I mean, that is just wrong, leading someone on basically. If you don’t want to hang out, then just say so. Eventually someone will get the hint.

  • Alena

    September 20th, 2016 at 9:45 AM

    Agreed, Kaye :) -Alena

  • Denise

    September 20th, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    I have a few “friends” I’d like you to see. Keep up the good work!!!

  • Alena

    September 20th, 2016 at 7:23 PM

    LOL Denise, thank you!

  • Kaye

    September 20th, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    I saw something online the other day and it reminds me of those exact kind of people, something about why I continue to swim through oceans for people who wouldn’t jump through a puddle for me? It is all tying together for me, seeing all of these things, hopefully teaching me a lesson that thus far I haven’t quite been able to learn!

  • Alena

    September 20th, 2016 at 7:24 PM

    Thank you for sharing that, Kaye. We are all learning…-Alena

  • Noni

    September 20th, 2016 at 4:47 PM

    I’m guilty of ghosting. It just feels so much easier like that, a clean break, no explanation needed

  • Trudy

    September 21st, 2016 at 7:13 AM

    I never realized how much we all in a friendship circle can actually influence one another and I guess in some ways enable each other. One person gets down, so do the rest of us but it isn’t healthy for the whole group to feed and thrive on this. I think that as friends we have to do better for one another, be better for one another, be the support lifting one another up instead of being a force to bring each other down.

  • Alena

    September 21st, 2016 at 12:01 PM

    Trudy, yes! Thank you. -Alena

  • jay

    September 21st, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    The wet blanket is the worst!

  • Alena

    September 21st, 2016 at 12:01 PM

    Jay-a tough one indeed. -Alena

  • JD

    September 21st, 2016 at 2:17 PM

    I would have to say that life is too short to entertain any of these people in your life on a regular basis Now I know that the ties can be tough ones to break because there might be some people who have been in your life for a very long time. But why continue to keep them there if they are only bringing you down to their level?

  • Alena

    September 21st, 2016 at 6:13 PM

    great point, Jay. Thank you. -Alena

  • Sissany

    September 22nd, 2016 at 10:54 AM

    My daughter has this one friend who I swear only calls her to do something when she has exhausted every other possible person. I don’t think that my girl sees that but I do very clearly and it makes me want to tell her no every time she gets asked by this person to do something.
    I don’t know why I have this feeling about her, I have just seen her around the other girls too many times and know that she is just one of those people who will hang out with those she feels like will be the most beneficial to her at that point in time.
    And no one wants to see their child be on the receiving end of this kind of behavior.

  • Alena

    September 22nd, 2016 at 5:22 PM

    Definitely. Your daughter will learn as we all do. -Alena

  • kassie

    September 23rd, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    My momma always told em that if someone makes you feel bad about yourself then they are not really your friend to Begin with.
    Had to learn this the hard way and over many years, but once it finally sunk in, I know for sure that she was right.

  • Alena

    September 23rd, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    She was right (aren’t mom’s always? ;) ). We all have to learn. -Alena

  • alyssa

    September 24th, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    I have some friends who want me to be that person who is a yes girl, who tells them that everything that they are doing is right and that it is the other people in their lives who are wrong.
    Well that’s not really me, I am more of a straight shooter and if I think that you are in the right then of course I will support you but if I think that you are wrong than I am gonna tell it like it is.
    I would much rather have someone in my life who is honest with me good and bad than I would someone who is deceiving me, and then causing me to deceive myself, with lies.

  • Alena

    September 25th, 2016 at 6:03 PM

    Thank you for that Alyssa! -Alena

  • Jenny

    November 26th, 2019 at 9:59 PM

    I have some fantastic friendships and feel very grateful to have one or two friendships that are special, you know trustworthy, honest, kind, patient, selfless…
    Recently noticed with one of those special mates, every time we meet up she invariably runs into someone she knows either someone from her workplace or someone she hasn’t seen for a while…
    What I have reflected on very recently is that while she is chatting with this other person, I am left waiting and looking around uncomfortably and awkwardly into space.
    She often stands talking for some time. Recently, it was nearly 1/2 hour conversation while I waited around looking silly and getting frustrated with her behaviour.
    Should I be annoyed or am I just being petty…?
    Thank you for your response..

  • Frankie

    July 24th, 2018 at 12:33 PM

    My rekindled friendship with an old friend of 25 yrs. was great for about 15 months. then i began to notice i was doing all the planning and schedule adjusting to get together, or to try to set a date to get together which was becoming more and more difficult. So when I called her on it she said, well I like spontaneity, not a planned event. And she refused to make plans with me, not for her b’day nor mine!. At that time she had repeatedly turned me down for many invites to my house/deck for drinks, and fun in sun saying, as she has stated, she is under a black cloud and not good company. And the few times we did plan an outing, more than half the time she made last minute cancellations for very silly reasons…her 90 yr old father has a migraine, and worried he might have to go to hospital….and never making suggestions for another date and time she could plan something with me. Bottom line, her attitude made me feel like a second class citizen and I said no more. I’m willing to keep friendship if your willing to contribute to the friendship too. We shall see what happens but my guess is, i will not see her again. I have asked her spontaniously twice now to join me and friends for dinner, to which she refused to go. So now she has no interest. Very sad for her. So I continue to go out, meet new people and make new friends. Don’t let your undeserving so-called friend(s) let you feel like a second class citizen! It is they that are the downer and not worth your time or energy.

  • matt

    January 25th, 2022 at 7:49 AM

    Life is too short! You shouldn’t be stressing over your relationships. When you go to bed, you can have all happy and healthy thoughts.

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