One Saturday evening, I walked into my living room holding a tray of snacks for a room full of women. Some I had been friends with for years while others were newer relationships. When I stepped into my living room someone I considered a close friend made a jab at me. It was unprompted and caught me off guard. Everyone in the room got quiet and stared at me waiting for a response.
I combated it by brushing it off with a quick joke and left the room to grab the drinks. As I walked into my kitchen I stood there paused wondering why that friend said what they said. Were they truly joking around because I can take a joke, or were they trying to embarrass me? I dismissed it and went back into hosting mode and continued on with the evening.
There are toxic traits in friendships that are easy to pinpoint. You can see when gossip is present, you’re quick to feel the feelings of being used, or when you’re the driving force of the friendship. However, there are toxic behaviors often overlooked. They’re not identified as easily and if you’re not careful, you can find yourself in a friendship that’s slowly creating a deep wound.
Toxic Behaviors In A Friendship And How To Address Them
1. Unfair Expectations– A huge frustration in a friendship is when the friend holds you to expectations they don’t hold themselves to. Often, this will look like them asking things of you they won’t do themselves. Whether it’s expecting you to always answer the phone when they’re in need but have no problem with sending you to voicemail. Or, they expect you to do things with a sense of urgency but when it’s their turn they take all the time in the world. It may go a little deeper as well, where the friend has no problem questioning your choices or speaks to you harshly, but rejects any sort of talk about their choices and are very quick to bring up the tone in your voice. These types of friends lack the maturity of self-awareness and these unfair standards have roots in selfishness.
Scripture calls you to love your neighbor as yourself. While this can be displayed in many ways, one of the ways in friendships is when your friend holds themselves to the same standard they hold you to.
Mark 12:31 says, “The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
2. Misaligned Boundaries– One of the greatest tools you have to ensure a healthy friendship is healthy boundaries. These guidelines help everyone involved and the only time sin can enter a relationship is when the boundaries become misaligned. In the sense of friendship, people who struggle with boundary issues tend to hop around. Their circle of friends and community groups changes frequently. This type of friend will often make comments about parts of your life they have no place or position to comment on. Whether it’s your marriage, your parenting style, certain life decisions. Specific parts of your life are reserved for your spouse only and friends with misaligned boundaries can’t see that line and cross it often. Stepping into parts of your life that you never invited them into, or pushing that line even further. There should be times where you confide in your friends, however, someone with boundary issues will take that as an open invitation and find ways to use that vulnerability against you. With boundary issues, friends can take from you what is not theirs to take, manipulate situations, and invade personal spaces and situations.
Scripture calls you to avoid corrupt lifestyles and the people who choose to live that way. Their paths don’t have biblical boundaries and the thorns in their life will ultimately affect whoever gets too close. In Godly friendships, boundaries are expected and respected.
Proverbs 22:5 says, “Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road; whoever values life will avoid it”
3. Emotionally Led– Let me start off by encouraging you how emotions are not a bad thing. Let me say it louder for the people in the back, emotions in and of themselves are not bad and shouldn’t be avoided. God created emotions and we see Jesus expressing these emotions regularly. When you have a friend who lacks emotional maturity and doesn’t allow the Holy Spirit to guide them, you’re left often guessing how to handle them day-to-day. There’s a walking on eggshell environment and the unstable person ends up leading the relationship if the person on the receiving end doesn’t know how to handle it. These friends place their emotions above everyone else. Their viewpoints, attitude, and responses are all centered around how they feel. Unfortunately, these friends don’t have the maturity to understand others and lack compassion and gentleness. Never knowing where you stand with someone leaves you exhausted and often walking away feeling misunderstood. These friends tend to be verbally abusive because they cannot understand the depths of their words.
Scripture calls us to live with self-control. Having self-control over our emotions is freeing because you can express each emotion in the way God designed them to be used. In a biblical friendship, there is safety knowing emotions are welcomed because they are Holy Spirit led.
Proverbs 25:28 says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
4. Closed Off– What people share and whom they share it with varies from person to person, relationship to relationship. There are times and places for transparency and should always be paired with wisdom and discernment. Closed off people keep others at an arms distance for a few reasons. Someone in the past could have deeply hurt them and they’re trying to protect themself. Or being vulnerable was never displayed for them. While those are understandable reasons, I’m specifically talking about friends who refuse to let you in. Keeping most so far away they’re often labeled mysterious. Closed off people are hiding something and typically what they’re hiding is sin. People will go to great lengths to keep their sin hidden so they have the freedom to keep on sinning. These friends will never cultivate a lasting relationship because they will go to great lengths to create negative attention on you to keep themselves hidden.
Scripture encourages us to use our testimony to point others to Christ, to take our sin to Jesus, seek forgiveness, and flee from all temptation. We see the early church build community with one another by sharing life with each other. Creating unity cannot happen with secrets and healthy friendships welcome transparency.
Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
5. Masked Jealousy– Earlier I mentioned there are toxic behaviors that go unnoticed. So, you may be surprised to see jealousy on the list. People absolutely get jealous of material items and that’s what we largely associate jealousy with. However, masked jealousy forms for much deeper things. Your marriage, other friendships, the favor of God on your life, your calling, etc. are plenty of reasons for masked jealousy to creep into a friendship. Someone who is facing loneliness can poke fun at your areas of companionship. Friends struggling with their identity will insult your identity in Christ. Those desiring more for themselves and who have grown frustrated can make passive-aggressive comments towards the things that make your life full. It’s often shown through the words your friends speak. It will shine a light on the exact thing they’re jealous of and it’s done with a tone of aggression, sarcasm, or passive-aggressive insults.
Scripture calls us to celebrate one another which means to have genuine joyfulness, compassion, and empathy. Jealous friends will envy your reasons for rejoicing and will find joy in your pain where biblical friendships will rejoice with you and weep with you.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
What To Do Now?
When it came to my friend I mentioned earlier in this post, I had to decide if this behavior was something I deemed acceptable in the friendship. After spending some time in prayer, the Holy Spirit showed me how people’s intentions are often known by their words. If the person’s words are often inflicting pain, more than likely that was the intention. I also felt led to have a conversation with this friend. After approaching her about how she was treating me, her response was less than comforting. Excuses, yelling and interrupting followed. I sat quietly listening to someone I considered a close friend continue to treat me in a hurtful manner and decided then I needed to create distance in the relationship.
When you’re in a friendship where you’ve seen and felt toxic behaviors, there’s a simple way to manage it. I want to encourage you to spend time in prayer and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There will be times where the Holy Spirit will lead you to a place of few words or keeping silent (Proverbs 17:27). However, there will be times with the Holy Spirit will lead you to the position to speak (Proverbs 15:1-2). So, speak in a way scripture instructs us to, with bravery, gentleness, and in a loving manner. Then, take a deep breath and say, “What you said/did was hurtful to me.” You will find out everything you need to know by the way they respond.
Friend, don’t believe the lie that there are no godly women capable of biblical friendship. Some women will love you, think highly of you, and want to be a part of your life. They will be some of your biggest cheerleaders and can be closer to you than a sister. I want to encourage you to pray for those friends. Some of my closest friends weren’t the most charismatic in the room nor were they quick to make conversations with me. Some of them happened and grew over time. And before I knew it, I would be sitting across from them thinking how much I enjoy my time with them, how I feel safe, and I walk away feeling closer to Christ. When someone is constantly hurting you, they’re not a friend. That person has deep emotional wounds and they need to be healed. So, pray for them and love them from a safe distance.
Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”