Here's how to spot if you're in a toxic friendship

Were Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall in a toxic friendship? [Photo: Yahoo Style UK/Getty]
Were Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall in a toxic friendship? [Photo: Yahoo Style UK/Getty]

This weekend social media seemed to confirm the rumours that had been swirling for years, that all was not rosy between ‘Sex and the City’ co-stars Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker.

ICYMI, after years of reported behind-the-scenes tension, friction between the two actresses burst into the public domain on Saturday after Kim Cattrall slammed a message of support sent by Sarah Jessica Parker following the recent death of Kim’s brother.

“I don’t need your love or support at this tragic time @sarahjeessicaparker,” Kim posted on Instagram.

“My Mom asked me today, ‘When will that @sarahjessicaparker, that hypocrite, leave you alone?’ Your continuous reaching out is a painful reminder of how cruel you really were then and now,” Cattrall continued.

“Let me make this VERY clear. (If I haven’t already) You are not my family. You are not my friend. So I’m writing to tell you one last time to stop exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your ‘nice girl’ persona,” she wrote.

Kim also included a link to a New York Post article titled “Inside the mean-girls culture that destroyed ‘Sex and the City.'”

While the world comes to terms with conclusive confirmation that The Sex and the City gals don’t actually have the real-life intimate brunching friendship we envied, the news will also have resonated with many who have found themselves in a similar sort of toxic friendship.

“Most of us engage with someone – whether it’s a partner, family, friends or colleagues – and each relationship has a different dynamic,” explains Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare.

“Most of the time we take the rough with the smooth; after all no one’s immune to the physical, psychological and social aspects of their life that can adversely affect their mood. So we cherish the traits and commonalities that first attracted us to that person, and we come to accept the idiosyncrasies,” he continues.

But, over time, this dynamic can shift, sometimes to the point where neither party feels there is any value left in the relationship.

“The spark of romance fizzles out, families feud and friendships turn cold to the point where there’s no enjoyment. The feeling of tension can become overwhelming and, in some cases, destructive.”

Dr Winwood goes on to explain that it doesn’t necessarily take a sudden event, like a betrayal of trust for you to realise that you’re in a toxic friendship, in fact there are some subtle behaviours that are more difficult to spot.

Here are some of the less obvious signs you’re friendship is turning sour and what to do if you spot them…

Signs you’re in a toxic friendship

Walking on eggshells

Always worried you haven’t ‘liked’ enough of her Insta posts? Wake up wondering if you’ve done something to upset them? Time to face up to your friendship fear.

“If you’re anxious about another’s reaction to anything you say or do it’s a clear sign that things have turned sour,” explains Dr Winwood. “You may fall into a pattern whereby you avoid sharing your opinions with them, asking them a question or even messaging them because you’re uncertain of their mood.”

Though everyone has an off day or could be suffering from some underlying distress, Dr Winwood advises that unless you can find an explanation and a (mutually agreeable) plan to address this pattern, then you’re falling hostage to their moods. “Don’t let your happiness depend on theirs.”

Their on-screen friendship doesn’t seem to have been repeated in real life [Photo: Getty]
Their on-screen friendship doesn’t seem to have been repeated in real life [Photo: Getty]

A game of unequal halves

The effort each party puts into a relationship is unlikely to be the same all of the time and who wants to keep tabs on this anyway? “But if you feel put upon, under pressure or uncomfortable and are pulling more than your fair share, then it could be time to step back and assess the situation,” Dr Winwood advises.

“If your friend, family member or partner is going through a difficult patch by all means support them, but if you’re continually feeling as though you’re getting nothing in return, it could be time to pull back.”

They call the shots

According to Dr Winwood someone can exert control directly or indirectly. “The latter is subtle but can have a powerful effect,” he says. “Tactics can involve ‘guilt-tripping’ and when someone knows you well, they’ll know your weak points and, therefore, which buttons to press to get their own way.”

“Controlling behaviour can be difficult to recognise for what it is, but if you find you have an increasing dependence on the person involved, or you lose sight of what you really want and where you want to be, it’s time to evaluate your relationship,” he adds.

“Remember, you’re not responsible for someone else’s desire to control you and you don’t need to put up with it. Try to reclaim your independence and confidence. Sometimes, pursue your own hobbies and social life and remind yourself of you of who you are.”

Lost sparkle

Just like relationships, over time, friendships can fizzle out. “As you grow your interests and priorities change, especially as you go through life’s inevitable phases,” Dr Winwood explains.

“You may no longer feel passionate about the things that brought you together. Not all friendships last forever, but it’s a big world out there and you can find enrichment and authenticity with people from all avenues of life.”

Green-eyed monster

Friend always last to congratulate you on life’s little successes? Do they flaunt other friendships in your face? Yep they’re suffering from the green-eyed monster. “You can never second-guess someone but they may have insecurities,” Dr Winwood explains. “Try talking to them in the spirit of openness, rather than spiralling into an internal dialogue and a cycle of mind games.”

There have been rumours about an off-screen rift for years [Photo: Getty]
There have been rumours about an off-screen rift for years [Photo: Getty]

How to survive a toxic friendship

Know when to call it quits

“If you’re not feeling valued, supported or happy, or the friendship is draining you or chipping away at your confidence, gradually distance yourself,” advises Claire Stansfield, relationship expert from

“Friendship is based on open and honest communication between two people and if that’s only one sided, it can chip away at any relationship very quickly and make the other person feel undervalued and resentful, and often questioning the benefits of that friendship.”

Claire says that while no friendship can be a bed or roses all of the time, unnecessary negativity and back stabbing or even just a lack of communication can drain you mentally, physically and emotionally.

“What it really comes down to is your happiness and putting your own needs first,” she says.

“If your friend is no longer helping you feel good about yourself or supporting you in any way, resist an angry outburst and quietly leave the friendship with your dignity intact and your head held high.”

Don’t wait for an apology

Because it almost never comes. “We cannot control anyone but ourselves, not matter how much we may want to,” says Marianne Vicelich, author and relationships expert. “No matter how much we want someone to change, only they can make the decision to make any alterations in their lives.”

Marianne advises that though it hurts us to see people be self-destructive, instead we need to focus on finding the closure in ourselves.

“We need to know that we did not deserve the poor treatment, and that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to move on and genuinely know in our hearts that we deserve better,” she says.

Embrace forgiveness

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you always have to wait until hurt and anger passes before forgiving your toxic friends, says Marianne.

“Forgiveness is actually a deliberate and intentional act. It is a decision that restores vitality, possibility, and integrity to your life.”

“Ultimately, to forgive someone means to cancel the debt you feel they owe you. It is a surrender and release of the hurt that has passed between you,” she says.

“Forgiveness can change your past and the present by helping you give it a different purpose. The purpose of your life is not to carry a grievance.”

Fill the void

“It is important when moving forward to fill your life with enriching activities and alternative sources of happiness,” Marianne advises. She suggests focussing on the things that make you happy – family, other friends, work and hobbies.

“Embrace the new life you are about to embark on,” she continues and show yourself some love. “Self-love and self-care is a priority during this healing time.”

Surround yourself with positive people

And ditch that negativity. “Stay busy with those that you can trust and confide in,” says Marianne. “If you are experiencing a lot of frustration, sadness, confusion and anger, then this is a safe outlet for you.”

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