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Why do I always attract toxic friends?

IMAGE VIA @degoey_planet/instagram
WORDS By Sarah Kate

“How do you tell a friend they make you feel bad about yourself every time you see them?”

I have a problem. I always seem to make friends with toxic people, and it’s happened for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been attracted to people, particularly women, who seem fun initially but end up making me feel stressed and worthless. 

I struggle to recognise red flags in these friendships early on, and when I do, it feels too late to leave. What starts out as one year in a toxic friendship soon becomes six, and when you do decide to finally end the friendship you wonder if people will question why you didn’t do it earlier. 


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A few months ago, I left a terrible friendship with a person I’d known since high school. Throughout those six years, I always knew deep down that something wasn’t right. Every time we hung out, I never felt good about myself. In fact, I often felt worse. 

Everything I did was put under a microscope and I was constantly worried she’d make fun of me. Being the only person of colour in our wider group also made things worse, as she’d often single me out for “using the race card” or “being selectively brown or White to suit my situation”.

More recently, she thought it would be funny to make light of some sexual trauma I told her about in confidence. At that point, it was the final straw. The friendship ended not long after that, but it was less to do with me setting a boundary and more to do with me leaving the country and moving overseas. 

Unlike a romantic relationship, a friendship feels harder to end. You can tell a partner that the relationship isn’t working or that you’ve fallen out of love. But how do you tell a friend they make you feel bad about yourself every time you see them? 

I’m notoriously bad at cutting people out. It often has to get to a boiling point for me to end things. I have to be so hurt and upset that I can finally set that boundary. 

Following this friendship breakup, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting on why I seem to attract bad friends. But what really put it into perspective for me was a video by Ana Psychology, a YouTube channel run by Ana, a psychologist-in-training who makes videos about real-life applications to psychology.

In the video, Ana breaks down why people might attract the wrong type of friends into eight key points. After watching the video, I realised I ticked the boxes for a lot of these. In fact, I could see myself being all of these at one point or another in my life. 

  • You’re kind to a fault: You see the best in others and tend to make excuses for other people. This means you often dismiss red flags. 
  • Self-hate: You have low self-worth from past traumas, and unconsciously choose people who treat you poorly because you think you deserve it.
  • You’re trying to rewrite past traumas: For example, if you grew up with a narcissistic mother, you might try and rewrite this trauma by being attracted to friends with narcissistic tendencies.
  • Poor boundaries: If someone is acting out and you don’t tell them to stop, they will continue walking all over you. Some people are waiting for a pushover to control. 
  • High tolerance threshold: You might have a very high threshold for what you’re willing to tolerate. Sometimes people with a high tolerance threshold don’t leave until someone does something truly horrible to them. 
  • Identity struggles: You might just be trying to find yourself in the wrong crowd. If you’re still figuring yourself out, you might not know that a particular group isn’t for you.
  • You’re kind of toxic: Maybe you’re attracting toxic people because you actually have very similar traits. Narcissists often think everyone else is the problem, and not them.  
  • Curiosity about the wrong people: When you see a train crashing, you can’t look away. Maybe you think you can help them, or maybe you just want to learn more about their life because it’s interesting to you. 

 

One of the hardest pills to swallow was that the reason I might attract toxic people is that I am also a bit toxic. Reflecting on how I was in high school, I can definitely see how this was the case. While I wasn’t necessarily the perpetrator of the toxicity, I did sit idly by while the girls in my friendship group would bitch about and sometimes bully others. 

I’ve come a long way since then, but perhaps it’s naive to assume this same group of friends has changed that much since we were 17. It’s also naive of me to think I can still be a ‘good person’ if I constantly surround myself with people who don’t try to be kind to others.

As Ana says in the video, sometimes you have a very high tolerance for bad behaviour and it’s not until they do something really awful that you finally leave. I’ve had so many friendships end this way – I didn’t stick up for myself until it got really bad. 

But what I should’ve been better at is recognising how they treat others first. I might’ve been ‘accepted’ by these women initially, but as time went on, they started treating me just as they treated others – badly. 

I wasn’t special because they didn’t bully me. In fact, I was probably just enough of a pushover that they felt they could keep me around without me saying anything. A few weeks ago, I went on a group tour overseas and found myself in the ‘mean girl‘ clique.

But this time, I was able to recognise it. Early on, I was happy to hang around a fun group of women who liked partying and being social. But after a couple of days, I started to notice how judgmental they were of others in the group and at one point they even suggested we “run away” from another girl.

At that point, I immediately thought of my toxic friends from the past and knew this wasn’t the group for me. I could see history repeating itself so I broke away and started hanging out with a much kinder group of people.

It’s not easy to start taking control of the people you surround yourself with. But I feel so much better having a strong and supportive inner circle, rather than chasing the fun yet toxic friends I used to always seek out.

For more on why you might be attracting toxic friends, try this.

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