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A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

I am very grateful for all of the feedback I received on my blog post, Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head. As you all know, narcissism and recovery from abuse are topics that are near and dear to my heart, and there is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling that you’ve helped someone in their healing, even in the smallest of ways. That’s why I’ve decided to continue the series on this blog called A Culture of Narcissism. In this series, I will explore how narcissism is becoming ingrained and reinforced by new technologies and  sociocultural norms.

The reason I am exploring narcissism from this approach is simple: psychopathology often needs a “breeding” environment to thrive and disorders often manifest themselves due to an interaction between biological predisposition and the environment. I believe our culture is providing an environment that is conducive for disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder to thrive.

There are many theories about how narcissism arises in the individual – from a “narcissistic wound” in childhood, to a pattern of idealization and devaluation by the parent or even a neurological standpoint that focuses mainly on how a narcissist’s brain has structural abnormalities related to compassion. I am not claiming that our culture is the primary source of narcissism, but rather, that it does encourage it in those who already have the biological predisposition. That’s why I believe it’s so important to explore this culture and how it’s affecting the way narcissism and narcissistic individuals operate in society.

My first post in this series can be found here: The Narcissism of Elliot Rodger – #YesAllWomen, Misogyny and Rape Culture

Now onto Part II!

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A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

For this post in the series, I’ll be exploring how technologies like the internet provide narcissists and those who have antisocial traits with easy access to victims and minimal effort. Cyberbullying and trolling are strategic ways for narcissists who lack adequate narcissistic supply or who are experiencing boredom to get a quick “fix” without being held accountable for their abuse. 

In the context of intimate relationships, survivors of narcissistic abuse may be stalked, harassed and cyberbullied for years even after the ending of the relationship, especially if they were the ones to discard the narcissist first. When a narcissist suffers from a narcissistic injury, this can lead to narcissistic rage. This rage is a result of  an injury to their ego when something or someone threatens their delusions of grandeur and “false self.” Since survivors often implement No Contact with their abusers, narcissistic abusers feel a loss of power and attempt to regain that power through tactics like provocation, hoovering and post-breakup triangulation techniques.

On a larger scale, narcissists and those who have antisocial traits employ similar manipulation tactics in cyberspace to provoke and harm complete strangers. A recent study showed that online trolls demonstrated high degrees of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. This should come to no surprise to anyone who has encountered trolls or cyberbullies – they are notorious for attempting to provoke people in order to derive sick feelings of satisfaction that they apparently can’t get anywhere else.

Bullying in any form, especially anonymous bullying, can lead to devastating results. Research indicates that cyberbullying in schools leads to a higher rate of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in victims of cyberbullying. There have been a number of suicides that were triggered by the words of anonymous sadists – the suicides of many teenagers, for example, were a direct result of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying and trolling leave such a terrible psychological impact that there is even a movement against anonymous comments sections on media outlets. Since there is little accountability for cyberbullies and the laws against it in each state may not protect victims entirely from emotional abuse, it often goes unchecked and unpunished. If cyberbullies are ever reprimanded, it is usually after the fact of a tragic suicide or in the event of publicity.

In the case of the recent death of Robin Williams, for example, people became outraged when they heard that trolls on social media outlets were harassing Robin Williams’ daughter and had caused her distress during a time of intense grief and loss. Usually, however, the sadism of these bullies goes unnoticed except for the people who have to endure the harassment.

THREE WAYS TO DISTINGUISH A SADISTIC CYBERBULLY FROM A PERSON WHO’S PROVIDING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

1. Rather than engaging in healthy debate and respectful disagreement, cyberbullies and trolls distinguish themselves from normal people who disagree by staging personal attacks on character instead of providing evidence against the argument that they claim to have problems with. Instead of saying, “Research proves you wrong, here’s the source,” they’re more prone to verbal diarrhea which consists of insults, name-calling, word salad, circular logic and provocative overgeneralizations deliberately aimed to get a rise out of you. They may even bring up personal details or assume things about you that have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand. They are, like many narcissists in intimate relationships, perpetual boundary-breakers.

2. They persist. Some cyberbullies give up eventually if they don’t get the response they were looking for, but others will keep hunting for more of a reaction and provoking you, even on multiple accounts. Like narcissists in intimate relationships, they use the anonymity feature of cyberspace to employ triangulation techniques with their “fake” accounts to show “support” for – who else -themselves.

3.  Stalking. When you do respond in a way they’re not accustomed to, they suffer a kind of narcissistic injury and resort to low blows and attacks. Some cyberbullies are satisfied when you give them a quick ego stroke, like a “You’re right” to their insult and go away. Others are much more malicious. When you give them radio silence or choose to report their harassing behavior, they come after you.

I’ve had cyberbullies follow me all the way onto personal social media accounts in an attempt to silence my voice on important issues or because they suffered a narcissistic injury when I didn’t respond. They weren’t persisting to try to respectfully get me to see their point of view, either – they were outright insulting me and making assumptions about me that had little to do with the topic at hand.

THREE WAYS TO HANDLE CYBERBULLIES AND TROLLS

1. Don’t engage or feed the trolls. Depending on the forum or website that you’re being harassed on, there may be an option for you to report harassment or block the person. This is especially useful for cyberbullies who are attacking you personally and taking a toll on your mental health. This is sort of like going No Contact – except, instead of someone you were in an intimate relationship with, you’re going NC on a stranger out to harm you. Find a way to remove them from your presence with the least amount of effort. They’re simply not worth the time and energy that it takes to stage a rebuttal. Remember: narcissists always need an audience and a source of supply. By removing yourself as a narcissistic source of supply, you refuse to give them the attention they’re looking for. By default, you win.

2. Be strategic about your privacy. Different forums and websites have different policies, so be strategic depending on what platform you’re using. Most social media platforms allow you to block or report anyone who’s harassing you, so take advantage of whatever you can do. Next, explore the privacy settings on whatever platform you’re using. If you feel comfortable and it’s available, take on the option that will enable you to share the least amount of information with the public. This will prevent cyberbullies and trolls on the hunt from finding out the personal details of your life. If you find it feasible, consider limiting the number of social media accounts you have so that you only use the ones you absolutely need for your professional and social life.

If you’re a blogger and are being trolled or cyberbullied, websites like WordPress take it one step further and allow you to see the IP address of the person commenting. This enables you to watch out for multiple “fake” accounts cyberbullies may be using to troll your blog or website and you can block one specific IP address from commenting on your blog altogether and just be done with it.

Should cyberbullies ever threaten you with physical harm, you can use this IP address to find out where the troll or cyberbully resides,  so you can report them with more accurate information. Simply copy/paste the IP address into a geolocation website like this one. This will yield identifying information that you can have in case the cyberbully or troll ever threatens you.

3. Refocus your energies on productive outlets. Trolls and cyberbullies will never have the final say on your self-worth or your abilities. Why? Because they’re literally spending their time trying to tear people down. Don’t you think that if they were fulfilled in their own lives, they’d find better things to do? Thankfully, you do have better things to do than to ruminate over the narcissists and sociopaths in cyberspace. You have a blog to run, a website to manage, a Twitter feed to update, a Facebook page to update, and a story to share.

Continue to use your voice and make it heard. Only engage with respectful people and save the debate for people who can disagree with you in a manner that’s not pathological. Let the cyberbullies motivate you to make waves for social change and to continue to speak out on behalf of the underdogs.

If you’re at any point feeling overwhelmed by these bullies, shut down the computer, unplug the devices, and tell someone, especially if you’re an adolescent reading this post. Stand up for yourself and do not let this go unchecked. Also help others who may be going through similar struggles. The more you spread awareness about this important issue, the more likely change can happen.

Important Note: If the cyberbully is someone you know, like a friend or former romantic partner, make sure you go No Contact with the person immediately, document any text messages or incriminating phone calls and report them to online service providers or law enforcement agencies if they violate your state’s anti-bullying laws. In that scenario, their anonymity no longer protects them from the consequences of their harassment.

Remember: bullies can be adolescents or adults. Though they all share the same mental age of five, they can be dangerous to us at any age group. Let’s take a stand against bullying and harassment in all forms – from text messages to forums, from social media to blogs. We do not deserve to be violated or disrespected – even online.

Stay safe and take care. Here are some additional resources for cyberbullying which may prove helpful to you:

Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online

Top Ten Tips for Teens Who Are Being Harassed Online

Reporting Cyberbullying from StopBullying.gov

How to Spot Blog Trolls and What to Do by Kristen Lamb

How to Stop Caring About Trolls and Get On With Your Life

Do you have any tips on how to handle cyberbullying or a story to share? Comment below and help other victims of abuse. 

For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

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The Smart Girl’s Guide to Rejection: Rumination, Redirection and Rejuvenation

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The Smart Girl’s Guide to Rejection: Rumination, Redirection and Rejuvenation by Shahida Arabi

Rejection can send us spinning in ruminations over our self-worth and desirability. Whether you were rejected from a job, within a relationship, a potential romance, or a friendship, rejection can threaten our sense of self-efficacy, self-image and self-esteem if we don’t learn to embrace and cope with it in healthier ways. Rejection can also maximize people-pleasing because we may feel like we are at fault for it and must try harder to win someone else’s approval.

Here are some crucial ways we can develop a healthier relationship with rejection and cope with it in productive ways. I call it the “Three R’s of Coping with Rejection.”

The Three R’s: Challenge the Rumination, Redirection to Something Better and Rejuvenating a Sense of Self

1. Challenge the Rumination

Challenge your irrational thoughts and beliefs. Rejection makes us vulnerable to cognitive distortions, inaccurate thoughts or beliefs that perpetuate negative emotions. When we feel rejected by others, we may engage in “Black and White” distortions where we perceive ourselves or the situation as “all bad” or “all good.”  We may also participate in filtering, where we exclusively focus on the negative details of an event rather than the positive ones. Most likely, rejection will lead to some amount of personalization where we attribute the blame of someone else’s negative toxic behavior to ourselves, as well as overgeneralization, where we interpret that one event of rejection as evidence for a never-ending pattern unlikely to change.

What do you think happens when you carry around these false beliefs? Most likely, you end up with a partial or full-on self-fulfilling prophecy, because cognitive distortions tend to affect our perceived agency in navigating constraints and opportunities in our daily lives. If we think we can’t do it, we often don’t even bother trying – we don’t get the job because we don’t believe we’re qualified to even apply for it. We don’t achieve healthy relationships if we believe we’re not good enough. We may end up having a never-ending pattern of bad luck in relationships because we sabotage ourselves in ways we may not even be aware of and maintain connections with toxic partners. Rejection can prompt us reject ourselves under these false assumptions and subsequent actions.

Try this exercise. Start by writing down a list of ten negative, false beliefs you hold about yourself, the power of rejection, and its connection to your perceived self-worth. These can include beliefs like, “Rejection means I am a bad person,” “If someone rejects me, it means I am not good enough,” or “I need people’s approval before I can approve of myself.”

Next, write down ten reevaluations next to these beliefs. These include thoughts that challenge the beliefs or provide evidence against it, like, “Rejection is about the other person’s expectations and preferences, not about my worth as a person,” or “I can feel good about myself regardless of someone else’s perception of me.” If it proves helpful, try to think of examples where these challenges were true. For example, you might think about how someone else’s expectations for a relationship differed from your own and shaped his or her rejection of you (or more accurately, the relationship itself).

Or, more importantly, you might remember a time when you yourself rejected someone, not because of his or worth, but because of your own needs, wants and preferences. Putting yourself in the rejector’s place enables you to gain a broader perspective that resists personalizing the rejection and helps you to move forward. You’re essentially reminding yourself that everyone, at some point, gets rejected by something or someone, and it’s not an experience exclusive to you or indicative of how much you’re worth.

2. Redirection to Something Better

Rejection doesn’t have to be a negative thing – it can be a positive release  of your efforts, and a redirection towards something or someone more worthy of you. What are the ways this specific rejection has freed you? Have you gotten laid off from a job and now have the opportunity to work on your true passion? Has the ending of a relationship enabled you to take care of yourself more fully and opened up time and space for friendship, travel, and new career prospects?

For every rejection, make a list of new opportunities and prospects that were not available to you prior to the rejection. Whether they be grandiose fantasies of what could be or more realistic goals, this will help train your mind into thinking of the infinite possibilities that have multiplied as a result of your rejection, rather than the limiting of possibilities we usually associate with the likes of rejection.

3. Rejuvenation of the Self

Remember that there is only one you and that a rejection of your uniqueness is a loss on the part of the rejector. We’ve heard this phrase, “there is only one you,” time and time again but what does it really mean? It means that your specific package – quirks, personality, looks, talents, dreams, passions, flaws – can never be completely duplicated in another person. You are unique and possess a certain mixture of qualities no one else on this earth will ever be able to replicate even if they wanted to.

Embracing our uniqueness, while depersonalizing rejection, enables us to remember that rejection can be a redirection to something or someone better who can appreciate us fully. Whoever rejected you has ultimately lost out on your uniqueness – they will never again find someone exactly like you who acts the way you do and who makes them feel exactly the way you did. But guess what? It means someone else will. Another company will benefit from your hard work, perseverance, and talent. Another partner will enjoy the beautiful qualities that make you you – your sense of humor, your intelligence and charisma. Another friend will be strengthened by your wisdom and compassion.

You are a gem and you don’t have to waste your precious time attempting to morph yourself into anything else but you just to get someone to “approve” of your unique brand. You are who you are for a reason and you have a destiny to fulfill. Don’t let rejection detract from that destiny. Let it redirect you to better things, remind you of how special you truly are and rejuvenate your sense of self rather than destroy it.

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from the copyrighted book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

To learn more about minimizing people-pleasing and cultivating an authentic self, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

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The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

The Smart Girl’s Guide to No Contact and Detaching From Toxic Relationships

 

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Photo Credit: RockLove

What No Contact is and what it isn’t

No Contact (NC) is not a game or a ploy to get a person back into our lives; this technique has been misrepresented in many dating books and blogs. We should not desire to have people who have mistreated us back into our lives. On the contrary, No Contact is a way to remove this person’s toxic influence so we can live happier, healthier lives while cultivating our authentic self and minimizing people-pleasing. As shown by the image above, No Contact is the key that locks out that person from ever entering our heart, mind, and spirit in any palpable way again.

Why We Establish No Contact in the Context of Abusive Relationships

We establish No Contact for a number of reasons, including preserving a healthy mind and spirit after the ending of a toxic, unhealthy or abusive relationship or friendship. NC gives trauma bonds, bonds which are created during intense emotional experiences, time to heal from abusive relationships. If we remain in constant contact with the toxic person, we will only reinvigorate these trauma bonds and form new ones. No Contact also gives us time to grieve and heal from the ending of an unhealthy relationship or friendship without reentering it. Most of all, we establish No Contact so that toxic people like Narcissists and Sociopaths can’t use hoovering or post-breakup triangulation techniques to win us back over. By establishing No Contact, we essentially remove ourselves from being a source of supply in what is clearly a non-reciprocal, dysfunctional relationship.

How To  Do No Contact Effectively

Full No Contact requires that we do not interact with this person in any manner or through any medium. This includes in-person and virtual contact. We must thus remove and block the person from all social media networks, because the toxic person is likely to attempt to trigger and provoke us through these mediums by posting updates on their lives post-breakup. We must also block them from messaging or calling us or contacting us via e-mail.  Avoid the temptation to find out about the person’s life via a third party or other indirect way.  Remove triggering photos, gifts and any other reminders from your physical environment and from your computer.

Always refuse any requests to meet up with this person and ignore any places the person frequents. Should the person stalk or harass you by other means and you feel comfortable taking legal action, please do so. Your safety comes first. If you are in a situation where you must remain in contact with an ex-partner for legal issues or because of children, keep in low contact (minimum communication) and use the Grey Rock method of communication if this person has narcissistic (NPD) or antisocial (ASPD) traits.

I also highly recommend cutting contact with the friends of the abusive ex-partner if possible as well by also removing them from your social media sites.  I understand you may have established great friendships with these people during the course of your relationship but if you did date a narcissist or sociopath, he or she has likely staged a smear campaign against you and you will not get any validation or support from these people.

Unfortunately, the narcissistic harem or fan club is ultimately convinced by the illusion and false self of the charming manipulator. Think of your ex-partner’s “friends” (more like supply) as being kept in a perpetual idealization phase with no discard – they are not likely to believe your accounts of the abuse and may even be used by the narcissist or sociopath to hoover, triangulate, trigger or manipulate you in some way. It’s best to cut ties with them completely and create your own support network that is separate from the abuser.

Stick to No Contact

If NC is a struggle for you, there many ways to ensure that you stick to it. Make sure you have a weekly schedule filled with pleasurable, distracting activities, such as spending time with friends, going to a comedy show, getting a massage, taking long walks, and reading helpful books such as The No Contact Rule by Natalie Lue.

Take care of your physical and mental well-being by exercising daily,  establishing a regular sleep schedule to keep your circadian rhythms in balance, doing yoga to help strengthen your body and relieve stress, as well as engaging in a daily meditation practice of your choice.

Use these meditations in order to be mindful of your cravings, which will be an inevitably part of the addiction cycle to this toxic relationship. Remember that we are literally “addicted” to the narcissist via biochemical bonds created by lovebombing, devaluation and trauma. If you have a relapse, the important thing is to radically accept (nonjudgmentally) your fall off the wagon and continue to maintain No Contact. Relapse is inevitable in addiction, but recovery is possible.

Studies show that mindfulness curbs our craving by disconnecting the regions of our brain that create that sense of craving. I offer a Healing Meditation for Emotional Abuse Survivors on my YouTube channel, and Meditation Oasis is also an excellent resource for guided meditations.  You may also experiment with alternative healing methods such as Reiki, acupuncture, or aromatherapy.

Do yourself a favor and look up online forums that relate to unhealthy and toxic relationships; joining such a forum ensures that you have a community and support network that enables you to remain NC and support others who are struggling just like you. It will also help validate some of the experiences that you went through during the friendship or relationship with people who’ve been there.

Do not resist your grief during this process, because you will have to face it at some point. The more you resist negative thoughts and emotions, the more they’ll persist – it’s a fact. Learn how to accept your emotions and accept the grieving process as an inevitable part of the healing journey. I recommend trying the grieving exercises and abiding by the No Contact rules in the book Getting Past Your Breakup, written by certified grief counselor Susan Elliot.

Most of all, develop a healthier relationship with your cravings to break NC by practicing radical acceptance and mindfulness to the present moment. Remember that relapse may be an inevitable part of the addiction cycle and forgive yourself if you do break NC at any point. After practicing this self-compassion and forgiveness, you must get back on the wagon after falling off of it. Track your urges to break NC in a journal to curb acting upon the urges. Make sure that before you act on any urge, you give yourself at least an hour to collect yourself. It will get easier once you realize that breaking NC often bears no rewards, only painful learning experiences.

See my list of 30 Kickass Affirmations for Going No Contact with an Abusive Narcissist.

See my videos for more Tips on Maintaining No Contact and No Contact: Healing From Narcissistic Abuse.

Why We Remain No Contact

The ending of an unhealthy relationship often leaves us reeling and feeling unable to cope. Even though we logically know we did not deserve the abuse or mistreatment, we may be tempted to stray from this when our emotions get a hold of us. Trauma bonds often keep us tethered to the abuser, as well as other factors such as codependency, low self-esteem, feelings of low worth, which may have been instilled in us from the abusive patterns within the relationship or may have kept us in the relationship in the first place.

No Contact is a space for healing and reviving yourself, apart from the belittling influences of your former partner or friend. It is an opportunity for you to detach completely from the toxic person while moving forward with your life and effectively pursuing your goals. It enables you to look at the relationship honestly and productively from the realm of your own intuition, perceptions, emotions and thoughts, apart from the gaslighting or abuse of the former partner.

Remember that anyone who has treated you with anything less than respect does not deserve to be in your life, so NC helps you to resist the temptation to invite them back into your life in any manner or form. Many survivors find it helpful to track their progress on a calendar, blog or journal. You should celebrate and take note of your NC progress, as it is both a challenging and rewarding path to self-empowerment.

By establishing No Contact, you are ultimately staging your own victory and exploring your strengths, talents and new freedom with more ease. I invite you take the first steps to recovery and success by challenging yourself to at least 30 days of NC if you are doing it for the first time. This will provide a detoxifying period where you can start to heal in a protective space of self-care and self-love, enabling your mind and body to repair itself from the abuse. Then, utilize the resources I’ve mentioned here in order to maintain NC and purge your life of the toxic influences you were once tethered to.

Happy healing!


Since writing this post in 2014, I’ve started a new monthly online coaching program for survivors and have a new book available for pre-order.

Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Order my new book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved, including translation rights. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from the copyrighted book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author.


IF YOU ENJOYED THIS, BE SURE TO ALSO READ: 30 KICKASS AFFIRMATIONS FOR GOING NO CONTACT WITH AN ABUSIVE NARCISSIST


 

 

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

Ten Signs of Toxic Friends: The Smart Girl’s Guide

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If you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, sociopath, emotionally unavailable person or someone otherwise disordered, you have benefited from learning more about the red flags that toxic people exhibit in romantic relationships. You have used these red flags to protect yourself and recognize abusive behavior the next time you see it.

Yet what we often forget to focus on are the red flags of toxic friends – people with whom we should have mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships with, people who are supposed to support us and provide a validating environment, yet fail to meet our needs even though we’ve met theirs time and time again. It’s important to cultivate and pursue only healthy friendships as well as healthy relationships, because overall healthy interpersonal habits lead to a strong, viable and reliable support system during hardships.

Note: Sometimes, the pronoun “she” is used to represent the friend, but this article is not meant to be gender-specific and can refer to male or female friends.

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Recognizing Toxic Friends: Top Ten Signs

1. They are not happy for your accomplishments. When you mention your success, your friend’s face goes automatically sour. She may look like she’s eaten an entire lemon as she struggles to say congratulations. Or you receive a totally blank facial expression and no response at all, just a stare. She may even attempt to “one-up” you by mentioning her accomplishments quickly before you’ve even finished your sentence. This is the type of friend who is never happy for anything you do, and is secretly hoping you’ll fail so that she doesn’t have to feel so badly about her own life. This is toxic because real friends celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and even if there is any jealousy involved, they will put it aside in order to congratulate their friends. Instead of feeling despair at their friends’ accomplishments, true friends will be secure in their own accomplishments, and thus feel celebratory, inspired and motivated to better themselves when they hear about the accomplishments of others.

2. They covertly put you down. If you’re happy and cheerful for whatever reason, toxic friends find ways to rain on your parade by introducing little storms and tempests of invalidation, belittlement, and degradation. These are often disguised as “helpful” or “honest” comments that actually have no value at all except to make you feel less proud of yourself. Saying things like, “Oh, anyone could’ve done that,” when you mention something you accomplished or, “That’s not a real major” when you mention your academic concentration. They also seem sadistically happy when you’re failing or when you’re going through a difficult time. This is a sign that something is seriously wrong with them. Real friends don’t attempt to criticize or put down people just for the pleasure of making someone seem small. Only inferior people do that in order to elevate themselves. If you can’t be your greatest, authentic self around your friends without being constantly demeaned by them, then they’re not your true friends. They’re malignant bullies and narcissists. Get it straight and know the difference.

3. They emotionally exhaust you. Have you ever had this experience? You’re on the phone with a friend. You ask your friend how she’s doing, and find yourself being “talked at” rather than “talked to” for hours on end – and this consistently seems to happen all the time. As you finally get your chance to speak, your friend suddenly needs to get off the phone because she is now so tired from all the “talking.”

Sure, we all have to vent sometimes and talk about ourselves. Certain situations warrant this type of behavior such as a break-up, a loss in the family,  or any other traumatic event. However, if this happens quite often and you rarely get a chance to have a reciprocal conversation with a person, you’re acting as their audience to a monologue and not as a friend. You also deserve to be listened to and deserve to talk about any problems in your life. Don’t let these toxic friends convince you otherwise. Stand up for yourself and tell them this is an issue. If they continue to do this despite you establishing that boundary, it’s time to forfeit the friendship altogether.

These toxic friends drain you and your ability to engage in self-care because they are emotional vampires whose only focus is them, their lives, their wants and needs. You don’t exist, or if you do, you only exist in relation to them.  For example,  if a friend hears your traumatic story and uses it to turn the conversation back to her life constantly, this is a red flag for narcissism, so be careful. Real friends would listen to your story and make sure to give you feedback that is helpful to you before turning the conversation back to them. Stay away from any people with whom you don’t feel there is an equal, reciprocal exchange of conversation, validation, compassion, and respect.

4. They are there for your good times, and never for the bad. We mentioned in #1 that you should stay away from people who don’t celebrate your accomplishments. One caveat though: watch out for toxic friends who are only there to piggyback on your success. These friends only appear when you’re doing very well, and rarely show up when you need them during hardships. They use your presence to associate themselves with you, for the sole purpose of seeming more important via affiliation to your success. Or they enjoy your presence only when you’re in a good mood and they need you. Otherwise, when you have a health scare, or someone in your family has an accident, they are nowhere to be found. Real friends help each other through tough times and are there for each other even when times are challenging.

5. Not emotionally responsive, validating or helpful. What is the point of having friends if they can’t even respond to your emotions? If you find yourself dealing with a friend whom you can have great intellectual conversations with, but only  hear the sounds of crickets when you tell them you’ve had a bad day or you just had a breakup, this friendship is a no-go. Feel free to keep those type of people for your LinkedIn, but not for your real life crises. At most, they are a professional or academic connection because all they can do is talk about things related to the mind but not the heart. Sure, some situations lead to a loss for words, but friends should be capable of basic emotional support, even if it’s a hug and the words, “I am here for you.” If your friend happens to be very emotionally invalidating, constantly telling you to “get over it” or gets angry at you expressing your emotions, leave them forever and don’t give them access to your life in any way. They don’t deserve to be your friend. Real friends validate each other’s emotions while still empowering each other’s personal growth.

6. They don’t stand up for you. When an outsider or mutual friend makes a snide or insulting comment about you or does something hostile or horrific to you right in front of these toxic friends, you rarely see these toxic friends jumping to the rescue. They don’t advocate on your behalf even if they are the only ones who can. They don’t support you when you most need it. Real friends come to each others’ aid; they don’t have to “pick sides” in order to point out wrongdoing and consider your feelings. And also, when did we become so resistant to “picking sides”? Why shouldn’t friends advocate for victims or call out inappropriate behavior when they see it? These toxic friends will more likely either stay silent or even participate in the belittling behavior on your behalf. That’s when you know it’s time to stop making excuses and stop defending people who won’t defend you.

7. Their ego is bigger than their bond to you and they attempt to put a shade on your light. These types of friends are extremely narcissistic, jealous and they will do whatever it takes to maintain their delusion of grandeur. For example, they might refuse to compliment you when you’re all dressed up, but compliment someone next to you who is wearing sweats and a t-shirt. They might put up pictures of themselves on social media with other friends, but avoid putting up pictures of you and them together because they think you outshine them in some way. Or they may hide or belittle your accomplishments to others while they brag about their own. These are superficial friends who can’t stand having someone outsmart them or be prettier than them. Real friends appreciate each other’s unique beauty, intelligence and charisma. They don’t attempt to obscure your light in the darkness just because of their own place in the shade.

8. They only communicate through the screen. For this, I am referring only to “offline” friends who you have met face-to-face with. I know there are many online friendships that are built through supportive forums and I don’t mean to diminish the value of those. However, for friendships that developed face-to-face and for friends who live within a reasonable distance of each other, there’s no reason that both people in the friendship would make an effort to see each other in real life occasionally. You know, step away from the messenger and Facebook once in a while to actually make a face-to-face connection when possible. Be very wary of any friends who don’t have time to see you, but seem to have all the time in the world to be wrapped up in their new boyfriend 24/7.

These are not your real friends. These are buddies constantly talking to you through a screen, and electronic communication is often a cop-out for emotionally unavailable people. If these friends emotionally exhaust you as well, they have no place in your real life or even on your messenger list. You might as well be engaging with the wall, although the wall will probably be more sympathetic and won’t hurt your feelings. Think of it this way: you’re wasting energy on these toxic people by constantly engaging with them online because they won’t grace you with their presence offline. They have shown you they don’t have time to do a simple meet and greet by taking a step outside, so why should you hurt your eyes or strain your fingers for them? Real friends make the effort to meet in person; emotional vampires, like real vampires, can’t stand the daylight and prefer the light of the computer screen.

9. Too busy for everything and anything. Related to #8, if your friend is constantly always too busy to see you or make any type of contact, especially in the midst of a crisis, run, don’t walk away from the friendship. Yes, people have jobs, lives, and relationships to deal with. Nobody can always be there for you every time you need it. That’s all fine and dandy, but if a friend rarely even follows up on how you’re doing when you really need them and plays this “too busy” game consistently, this friend needs to get the door slammed in his or her face the next time he or she comes around looking for any attention.

Also, thankfully for technological advancement, social media has made it quite easy to assess whether these friends are truly “busy” or truly bullshitting. If you see your friend claiming to be too busy to call you during a crisis but posting statuses or liking people’s posts on social media all the time, you have further confirmation that this friend is not a real one. Thanks, Facebook and Twitter for the heads-up!

10. Betrayal, breaking boundaries and disrespect. I saved this for last but it’s the most important. If your friend disrespects you by: being flaky, multiple cancellations, chasing after or flirting with your significant other, calling you names, cursing at you, bullying you, coercing you, making you cry during an already rough time by being insensitive, pressuring you to do something, gossiping about you, or treating you with anything less than respect or consideration – it’s time to take your fabulous self out the door. There will be plenty of people in the world who won’t make you feel that way, so why not save your energy and invest in something that will have a positive return?

Life is way too short to waste our energy on toxic people, whether they be friends or romantic partners. Learn to recognize these signs and you will pave a better path to a healthier life, better support system, and more meaningful as well as authentic relationships. Once you’ve experienced an authentic friendship with love, care, compassion and respect, I guarantee you’ll never want to go back to one with the absence of these qualities.

You can see more tips on detaching from toxic people and cultivating your authentic self in my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, available in Kindle  and in Print. The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, please contact me if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit.