Most of us have had a range of friend experiences. There's the loyal best friend, who's available at any time to laugh or cry with you. The occasional acquaintance, who you see in the same social circle but don't know very well. There's the high school friend who remembers your embarrassing moments as well as your triumphs. And then most of us have had an experience with the bad friend.
This could be an experience of betrayal, or one of simply being used up. It could be as simple as having betrayed a secret, or maybe as complex as turning other friends against you. These experiences can be extremely painful and can ruin relationships.
So how do we tell which friends are worth trusting? Is there a way to know before you work on a relationship?
Sort of. Naturally, there's no foolproof formula for this. However, there are certainly some warning signs for those people who are truly toxic.
- Look for a person who has other friends. If he/she has no other friends, there is probably a reason. This isn't to say that you can't befriend him/her; some people are just shy. But if the person has no other social life, then you will be the person he/she leans on for everything. Consider the idea that this person may have alienated his/her other friends. Even if s/he is very close with family, s/he should have friends, too.
- Watch out for a string of unstable or broken relationships in the person's past. Everyone has a few broken relationships, but your potential friends should not have very many. It's rare that one needs to truly cut another person out of one's life. A pattern of short-lived volatile friendships or romantic relationships is not a good sign.
- How do you feel after you've been with this person? Are you energized and happy, or do you feel drained or angry? Overall, you should feel good about spending time with a potential friend. You should feel that you have gotten some of your social needs met. Introvert or extrovert, everyone has some social needs, and your time with a friend should make you feel confident and cared for. Of course, sometimes you will spend time listening to a friend who is going through a rough time, and this may cause you to feel sadness along with your friend.
- Are you compromising your own needs or boundaries for your friend? Is your friend regularly calling in the middle of the night, or doing something you've asked him/her not to do? Do you find that you get sucked into doing favors for this person when you don't want to? A good friend will respect you and your feelings. S/he won't ask for something that you can't give, or that would take you away from other friends and family.
- Is your friend jealous? Is s/he angry when you spend time with other friends or with your spouse? A good friend will want you to grow and to have a healthy social and family life.
- How much of the time is about you? 50% of time spent with your friend should be spent talking about things that you want to talk about, or doing activities you like. If you're always doing what the other person wants to do, you can try asking your friend to alternate who talks or who decides on an activity. A good friend will understand and will be happy to go 50/50 on this.