How to Deal with Friends Who Drag You Down: 7 Steps

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Good friendships are one of life’s most rewarding experiences. But what if your friends who hold you back from your full potential? Here’s how to deal with friends who drag you down so you’ll know how to rise above their behavior.

Making the decision to improve yourself and actually following through can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a lifetime. We can all stand to become better people.

If you’re like the rest of us, you’ve felt unfulfilled at some point and didn’t (or still don’t) feel like you’re living up to your true potential. And since most people do not feel they have the power to change themselves, when you finally dig your own heels in enough to gain some momentum, do not be surprised if you meet resistance along the way.

Indeed, sometimes it feels like your entire social circle turns on you as you start seeing results.

Today I want to talk about friends. More specifically, the friends who let you down or put you down, even subtly.

Friendship Can Be a Double-Edged Sword

Your friends enrich your life. They are the primary characters in the memories you play of your past, days and nights unfolding now, and your plans for the future. Unfortunately, friends are not always a positive influence – for many different reasons.

If you’re making positive changes in your life, for instance, you may still have friends stuck in the same rut you used to be in. While we love these people, it’s not always healthy for us to be around them, and it’s important to know how to juggle that dynamic if you want to succeed.

While some friends might act hostile towards you as your self-improvements manifest, most often, the negativity is subtle and performed subconsciously (“oh, that’ll never work, 80% of all small businesses fail”, “just one drink, you’re no fun ever since you quit,” “why do you work so hard, stop taking things so seriously and just enjoy yourself?”).

It’s been said that we’re creatures of habit; we’re also creatures of consistency. And our subconscious urge is to resist when a person doesn’t act the way we expect them to.

Another common reason some people are so resistant to other people’s success is that, on a certain level, it reminds them of their shortcomings and missed opportunities; it’s the other side of the coin that sees people take great joy in the failure of others. This can manifest in jealousy, animosity, scorn, gossip, passive-aggressive comments, verbal challenges, alienation, and outright sabotage.

When to Let Friends Go

Determining when friends drag you dow isn’t always easy. It is a more than challenging decision many of us don’t want to have to make. Even if you have been friends with someone for a long time, things can change.

You may not be able to count on them anymore, or you may find it increasingly difficult to maintain the relationship. If your friendship is not making you a better version of yourself or lifting you up when you feel down and at your worst, it is probably time to let your friend go.

Does your friend encourage unwanted behaviors or unhealthy habits? If your friend mocks you and acts in other ways that affect your self-esteem, they may be toxic, and it is time to let them go. Let’s take a deeper look into some toxic traits to help you decide if it is that time.

If you need more help with releasing people (or things and habits) from your life, check out our 125 Letting Go Quotes to Release the Past and see how to do it today.

Common Traits of a Toxic Friend

Do you know the warning signs of a toxic friendship? A toxic friendship can ultimately bring out the worst in you and cause emotional abuse.

1. They Feed on Your Insecurity

This is one of the biggest red flags when determining if a relationship is toxic. You never know where you stand with them; they are often uncertain. This can destroy trust and make you harbor feelings of unhappiness.

There must be some balance for a friendship to work and be a healthy relationship. If both people’s needs are not met, there is an imbalance.

To determine if your friend is toxic, reflect on how you feel after being with them. In the moment, their charm might blind you, but it may be toxic if you constantly feel small or diminished around them.

2. They Don’t Respect Boundaries

Another red flag of toxic friendships is when someone doesn’t respect your boundaries. If they shame you for not wanting to do something or encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone after you explicitly explained multiple times why you are choosing not to, they are not respecting boundaries.

Reflect on your own choices and determine if they were negatively pushing you or just trying to encourage you to try new things and embrace new opportunities. If you find you are uncomfortable, it could be a toxic relationship.

A good friend in a healthy relationship will encourage you without violating your boundaries. By reflecting on your feelings and experiences, you should be able to determine if they are true friends who enjoy spending time with you or friends who put you down subtly.

3. Everything Is on Their Terms

If the friendship is strictly on their terms and exhibits controlling behavior, it may prove to be another red flag. If your friend goes to you for help all the time but fails to be there for you on the occasion you need help yourself, there is an imbalance, and it could be a toxic friendship.

Were they busy and couldn’t help, or did they just choose not to? While people can make mistakes, you need to reflect on your experiences and see if the friendship is sustainable.

4. It Feels More Like a Transaction

Does your relationship feel genuine, or does it feel more transactional? There are times you are befriended simply because of what you can do for that person.

If your friend is constantly trying to sell you something or keep tabs on how many favors are owed, they are crossing the line and traveling away from the friendship. At this point, it feels more like a business transaction, and nothing is genuine about it.

5. You’re Holding Each Other Back

According to a study conducted in 2007 and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity spread through a “deeply interconnected social network of more than 12,000 people. This shows that there is a tie between our social relationships and the behavior we have regarding our health.

If you hold each other back and prevent one from getting healthy or your friend constantly complains about you, it may be time to drop them. Real friends will work together in a healthy relationship, while a bad friend will drag you down. A good friend will offer emotional support when needed.

The Process of Breaking Free

So, how do you navigate this social minefield? Is it possible to salvage these friendships, and if not, how do you know it’s time to let go of a bad friend?

Let’s look at a simple 7-step process you can use to analyze these relationships when they start feeling like dead weight at your feet.

Step 1: Recognizing Friction

The first obvious step is recognizing when a relationship has become toxic. We recommend going through the red flags we have outlined above before continuing because determining if you have a toxic relationship or a healthy relationship isn’t always cut and dry. It can prove to be much more challenging than that. 

First off, every friendship has its ups and downs, and sometimes we tend to ignore an increase in the downs, just passing it off as business as usual. It’s one thing to have your moments of struggle, but when bickering and power-plays become the norm, it’s more than just being moody or needing a couple of days apart due to emotions or resentment.

Another reason it can be difficult is because the way your friends undermine you is not always obvious. Humans are emotional creatures who communicate subtly, especially considering that we don’t always understand our own motives.

Aside from obvious sabotage or friends who bring you down because of their own self-destructive or bad behavior, be sure to pay attention when a friend leaves you feeling negative more often than they leave you positive, even if it seems unintentional. Consider why and how they are making you feel the way they do.

Is it becoming a cycle? How many toxic friend red flags have you found?

Step 2: Try to Understand Them

Upon determining that your friend is holding you back or you have friends who put you down subtly, the first temptation is often anger. After all, they are supposed to be your friend – how could they betray you by wanting anything but the best for you?

But slow down for a second. Resist the temptation to get emotional or vengeful in return. You stand a far greater chance of preserving the friendship and maybe even coming to some new understandings of your own if you seek empathy instead.

Try to understand what exactly is causing your friend’s behavior. Are they really angry at you, or are they just feeling insecure? Are they trying to purposely hold you down or acting on a natural inclination to keep the friend they know and love? Seek truth first.

It’s also important to explore the possibility that you’ve been acting differently due to the changes in your life – and maybe that’s what’s bugging your friend.

For example, I was reading about a recent study that discovered people who are making more money drive more aggressively and that a person winning a basic board game rigged in their favor will act more aggressively and brash at the table.

This was a big “aha” moment for me as there are times in my own life when I’ve caught myself driving like more of a jerk when in a nicer vehicle.

Considering this, think about how you’ve been acting lately. Is there any chance the new positive changes in your life also have more negative side effects on your behavior that rub people the wrong way? Maybe it’s you who needs to lighten it up a little.

Step 3: Consider the Benefits

Take the time to consider the positives your friend brings into your life. It’s only fair to think about how much they mean to you and all the pleasure and support they offer aside from the recent difficulties. Dismissing this can cause you to undervalue them in a state of anger, and you don’t want to make a huge decision like this in haste.

The unfortunate truth is that you may realize at this point that any value they brought to your life has long since disappeared; sometimes, that’s just how life goes. Just as you’re changing for the better, sometimes people change for the worse.

Whatever the reason, if a person brings nothing of value to your life other than negativity, it might be time to let them go. When you want to deal with friends who drag you down, don’t just focus on the positive – move on to Step 4.

Step 4: Understand the Negatives

After going through the positive benefits this person brings into your life, it’s time to get serious about the negatives.

How detrimental is your friend’s behavior and attitude towards your own life and push for self-actualization? Is it going to affect your progress, or is it likely to be a temporary growing pain that they’ll get used to just like they’ve always gotten used to the changes life brings?

This step is a time to get serious about how serious a problem this really is.

Don’t underestimate the value of your own self-esteem or the ability of others to cut the drive right out of you with a simple comment, though.

Similarly, if you’re trying to quit a destructive bad behavior or habit, like drinking or doing drugs, you should know that old friends who still do those things and can’t seem to step away from their demons are a particularly big risk to you.

Step 5: Seek Balance

Three girls balancing on a railroad track.
Do your friends keep you balanced or drag you down?

Before completely cutting people out of your life and burning bridges, contemplate how to achieve a more balanced approach first.

We have all types of people in our lives that we may not get along with 100% of the time. Bosses and co-workers. Brothers and sisters. In-laws. Even our own parents. Yet we usually find ways to still live with, work with, and even love these people.

Considering that, is it necessary to completely throw a friendship out the door, or can you redefine it somehow?

Maybe you just won’t be the type of friends who spend a great deal of time together anymore. It doesn’t mean you can’t still stay in touch – you should always have complete control over how involved someone is in your life, and there’s nothing wrong with holding someone at a distance while still staying in touch. As long as you’re not just doing it to play games…

Also, sometimes a pause can be enough to spark needed changes. After some time apart, they may be more likely to accept the new you, just happy to still have you in their lives. In fact, in the “honeymoon” period that old friendships always seem to go through upon reuniting, they may very well realize that even though you’ve changed, the new you is just a happier version of the old you.

On top of that, sometimes you can initiate changes simply by altering how you act towards the person (especially if you conclude that you have been part of the problem), opening a dialogue, or even directly confronting their behavior. These are all worthy options – it just depends on the situation.

Step 6: Take Action & Reassess

Once you decide on how you’re going to deal with a friendship that has become toxic, the next part is the toughest. You actually have to follow through on it.

Remember this important fact, though: often, the most manipulative of our friends, the ones most likely to be resistant to us changing, are also the most charismatic. That means that when they get a whiff of what’s happening, they might instantly change their behavior in response, which can be a seductive ploy.

Friendships can sometimes resemble emotionally abusive relationships, where as soon as the victim tries to pull away, the abuser changes their act, only to slip right back into the old routine once the distance is closed again. Sometimes they do this on purpose, and sometimes they have no control over their emotional behavior.

Keeping in mind what I mentioned about manipulators, it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether their change of heart is a genuine effort or not.

If you’ve only decided to reposition your friendship or even have a discussion with the friend to see if you could make changes that way, this will also require some reassessment to see if it worked.

You’ll most likely be immediately aware if it doesn’t, but just keep your eye on the situation, realizing that if things don’t get better, you might have to pull the plug completely.

Step 7: Letting Go of Friends Who Drag You Down

I mentioned a few times in this article about “having a discussion.” But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Confrontation and criticism are often the worst ways you can deal with walking away from the friendship.

Even if you decide your life is better off without a particularly poisonous relationship, does that decision really necessitate some type of awkward and confrontational “breakup?” In the vast majority of cases, I would say no. This isn’t a romantic relationship here, and you have no obligations to each other – friendships end all the time just by simply drifting away.

Walking away from a friendship, when done right, should be barely noticed. If you’ve changed enough to seriously consider a friendship “break up,” chances are your friendship is only held together by old habits and familiarity.

If you let those go, you’ll often find the friendship dissolving naturally. There’s no reason you can’t keep things civil. Who knows, maybe someday down the road, you’ll reconnect as two different – yet very familiar – people.

Of course, there will be cases where your decision meets with particularly desperate resistance, and you may have to be a little less tactful if that friend really is someone that needs to go, but well, that’s just how life goes sometimes.

The Evolution of Friendships

None of this is easy, and I don’t want to pretend I have all the answers to the chaotic landscape of human relationships. In a perfect world, all of your friends would see the great things happening in your life and hop right on board, not only happy to see you doing so well but eager to follow down the same path.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it usually works. Many people go through life without the strength to live up to their ideals. And that means that evolving and the path to self-improvement is often a solitary, even lonely process.

Some people can’t even form these friendships at all and never have a true friend to count on. For example, those with social anxiety disorder have trouble making new friends. And some even think the friends they do have are not high-quality enough.

Don’t forget to read our 275 Friendship Quotes to see how good friends are supposed to be.

Social anxiety has the power to affect friendships. This is clearly seen in a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. It states that people with a social anxiety disorder often experience a distorted perception of friendship.

Social anxiety affects your ability to make friends and engage in a conversation and can also cause a skewed perception. Are you looking at your relationships in a negative light because it is warranted? Or are you seeing different people in different ways because you perceive the situation in the wrong light?

Sometimes it helps to take a step back, reflect on your mental health, and see if your current friends bring happiness or sadness. Do you experience a lot of hurt feelings? Or do the people around you offer you the emotional support you need, and can you reciprocate that help?

Don’t Let People Bring You Down

Don’t let all of this get you down too much, though. Remember that every time one door closes, another opens. As you become someone just a bit different, you’ll meet new people who bring exciting new possibilities into your life.

Not only that, but you’ll quickly find out who your true friends are – those who will be there until the end. It’s a painful process but sometimes well worth the effort.

Being around someone negative can be extremely draining. Don’t let people bring you down. Avoid those who just want to complain about the world or you. It is their problem and not yours.

Do not engage with these kinds of people. It can make things worse. They probably won’t suddenly find happiness because of something you say or point out. Rather, they will double down on their original point.

And don’t consider your silence as rudeness. You can make non-committal sounds or remarks that show the other person you are listening but are not engaging.

And don’t be surprised if someday a relationship you once let go comes back around full circle as your old friend does a bit of growing up on their own.

Photo of author

Natalie Seale

Natalie Seale is a writer and researcher with an MA, MSc, and PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh. Natalie is an avid reader, a keen traveller, and enjoys cooking and walking with her English Spaniel. Her posts focus on inspiring ideas and tips that help people learn, gro, and inspire others.

3 thoughts on “How to Deal with Friends Who Drag You Down: 7 Steps”

  1. I love the article. I have had friendships where they are trying to tear me down. I found people judging me long after I had left town and moved across the country. I have learned sometimes it is easier to just keep your opinion to yourself. Sometimes it is just easier to slowdown on visits and let life make adjustments. I think everyone deserves to be happy including having friends to support you…..

  2. Well-written and good advice. I like the idea of not throwing a long friendship out the window but letting it change to fewer visits.

  3. I personally had to break free of a friendship as i felt i was being dragged down myself. This friend was my age at the time but unfortunately she was a type of person who would like to know all about other people’s business which i found quite boring. She was also quite nasty at times about people making remarks which i felt was rude. I did tackle her about it but she said oh everyone does that talks about people and make nasty remarks. She then became demanding and controlling getting very angry if i said couldn’t go somewhere with her and i got to the stage where i didn’t tell her what i was doing in the end. I became so stressed out with the situation i told her i could not handle it anymore and called it a day. I was sorry in a way but my health was suffering and i just couldn’t have that as i suffer with anxiety and panic attacks and they got worse being with her. My friends now are very supportive and do not give me any problems.


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