Emotionally Abusive Friendships

July 11, 2022
Asifa Rapaiee

About the author: Victoria is a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor and holds a Masters of Science in Therapeutic Counselling. Victoria has a private practice and is based in London, providing therapy online. She has a special interest in emotional abuse, bereavement and low self-esteem.

Is my friendship emotionally abusive?

Emotional abuse is often referred to as a form of abuse that occurs during romantic relationships, however, this can take place in other forms of relationships, such as friendships. Friendships are such an important part of our life, but problems within friendships rarely get the same recognition as romantic or family relationships. I have experienced emotionally abusive friendships myself and understand how destructive and negative they can be for someone’s wellbeing. 

This article will identify warning signs of emotionally abusive friendships and what you can do to manage this. 

Signs you may be in an emotionally abusive friendship

You feel undermined 
An emotionally abusive friend is likely to put you down. The “put downs” may not be obvious or strike you as insults, but it is likely that, on many occasions you are left feeling undermined or patronised. Friends often share their insecurities with each other; abusive friends will often highlight these insecurities, mostly in moments when you are not ready or expecting this.  

It's never about you

If you feel hoodwinked and your “friend” constantly dominates the conversation it may be that your friendship is emotionally abusive. You may often feel as though there is rarely any space for you to talk about your news and life events, resulting in the feeling that you don't really to matter. I experienced this myself; during what should have been a once in a lifetime overseas trip with a friend, I was constantly made to feel side-lined and insignificant. This friend would completely dominate any kind of conversation and it (sadly) got to the point I didn’t feel I could speak up or volunteer information about my own experience or point of view, which resulted in a significant change in my personality. It’s important to point out that at times people can behave like this unintentionally; they may not have the insight or skills to be aware of what they are doing or how it is impacting you. 

You feel taken for granted
Quite often in emotionally abusive relationships you feel as though you are taken for granted. It may feel like you are constantly putting yourself forward to help and support them, but you never receive a genuine thank you, and your efforts are rarely reciprocated. 

You feel drained in their company
If you rarely feel energised by your friend’s company and in fact, feel exhausted and drained by them then this may be a sign of emotional abuse. In my experience with abusive friendship, I felt so drained I even had to lie down due to the physical exhaustion! Quite often, emotionally abusive people are what is referred to as ‘energy vampires’ who drain people of their energy and spirit. 

They always put themselves first 
Compromise is normal; it is usual to feel as though you are not always the priority, however, if you feel you are the one constantly compromising, then this isn’t on.  

If the above things happen on a constant basis, it could be that your friendship is emotionally abusive.

What to do?

Give yourself space
Don’t let yourself be hoodwinked by your friend. Give yourself space to think about whether you feel this friendship is right for you. You don't need to be cruel or unkind, or cut the relationship off but you are entitled to give yourself space from your friend you may have doubts about.  

Be kind to yourself 
Go easy on yourself. Do things you enjoy, or visit a place that you love, but most importantly don’t blame yourself for anything that has gone wrong between you and your friend. 

Spend time with supportive people
It may be a good idea to spend time with supportive friends who treat you how you deserve to be treated; friends who make you feel good about yourself and lift you up as opposed to put you down. 

Seek professional help 
Emotional abuse has a huge impact on your mental health. It is likely that you have (understandably) had a dip in self-esteem and you may feel very confused around what you have experienced. It is important that you make sense of this in a safe place where you can process your experience and rebuild your self-esteem. A Psychotherapist or Counsellor would be able to help with this.

Useful resources:

Are you being gaslighted?

How to help someone with depression

Friendship and mental health

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