13 Telltale Signs You're In A One-Sided Friendship & How To Handle It
Chances are, if you've found yourself wrapped up in a one-sided friendship, you may already have a gut feeling things aren't right. Nevertheless, it can be hard to admit your friend, well, isn't a great friend. Not only that, but maybe you don't feel the friendship is serving you anymore. If you're unsure whether this friendship is truly one-sided, here are all the signs to watch out for and how to move forward, according to experts.
What is a one-sided friendship?
A one-sided friendship is a friendship that revolves around one person, their needs, and their needs only. As psychotherapist Annette Nuñez, M.S., Ph.D., explains to mbg, "The person is only concerned about themselves, so it's all about them." This translates into the giver—aka the friend on the other side—feeling constantly drained by their friend.
"One-sided friendships are characterized by one person doing significantly more than their fair share of the 'heavy-lifting' within a relationship," licensed marriage and family therapist Tiana Leeds, M.A., LMFT, adds. "The 'heavy-lifter' tends to be the one to initiate communication, make plans to get together, provide support, and generally care more about the friendship."
13 signs your friendship is one-sided:
Your friend is an emotional dumper.
If your friend is constantly unloading their problems on you all the time, Nuñez explains to mbg, you may be dealing with a one-sided friendship. They may launch into long-winded complaints before you even have a chance to say hello, as they're only concerned about themselves.
You feel resentment toward them.
Naturally, in a one-sided friendship, the giver or load-bearing friend is eventually going to start feeling resentment toward the other friend. Leeds says resentment is actually "one of the most surefire signs that your friendship is one-sided," adding that if you have a growing sense of resentment toward your friend, you have likely fallen into overgiving.
They never ask how you are.
Now, some friends may simply lack self-awareness, not realizing they're an emotional dumper, but still care about you. However, if they never asking how are you're doing or whether you're OK, Nuñez says, this shows a lack of compassion and concern for you and your well-being—which is not how a friend should behave.
The conversation revolves around them.
Even when you try to bring up something related to your life, they find a way to circle the conversation back to themselves, according to Nuñez. And of course, they always start the conversation with their wants, needs, problems, and the focus is all about them, she adds.
You don't know where you stand with them.
Leeds notes that another potential indicator of one-sidedness is worrying about where you stand this person. "If you find yourself frequently wondering whether your friend cares about you or actually wants to get together, it's probably not a balanced friendship between two mutually invested people," she explains.
They don't seem to care about your problems.
Whether you're dealing with relationship problems or struggling at work, when you try to tell your friend about your issues or concerns, they may flat out ignore them, Nuñez notes, or, of course, find a way to make it about themselves.
They accuse you of being selfish.
In addition to ignoring your problems, this friend may go so far as to get upset when you try to talk about yourself—blaming you, saying you're selfish, or that you're not listening to them, Nuñez says. "Sometimes the friend will become angry and upset, and that could cause a fight because they would then call the other friend selfish and not concerned with their wants and needs."
They make you feel guilty.
Depending on how sensitive you are to your friend's critiques of your efforts to talk about yourself (for once), Nuñez adds they may make you feel bad or guilty—or at least try to—when you want to talk about something going on in your life.
They display narcissistic qualities.
As you might have started picking up on, many of these signs mirror the behavior a narcissist would exhibit. That's not to say all one-sided friendships involve full-blown narcissists, Nuñez notes, but it's certainly something to consider. Some narcissistic qualities to watch out for include deflecting responsibility, attention-seeking, controlling behavior or manipulation, and a lack of empathy.
They drain your energy.
If you've ever heard the term "energy vampire," you have a sense of what a one-sided friendship feels like. According to Nuñez, you likely "feel tired being around this friend because all they do is talk about themselves; they're using up your energy, and you feel tired and exhausted."
You can't get a word in around them.
Simple things like cutting you off, blowing off what you have to say, talking over you, and so on, are all signs of a one-sided friendship. (See also: conversational narcissists.) Nuñez notes this kind of friend will be completely uninterested in hearing what you have to say, which brings us to our next point.
They don't care what you have to say.
If you offer sound advice or suggestions to a friend talking about their problems (which, as we've established, is probably happening a lot), this friend won't even consider hearing your advice, let alone taking it. They may even turn it into a fight or argument and accuse you of not listening, being unfair, or not being a supportive friend, Nuñez says.
Their presence may make you feel physically ill.
And lastly, particularly if you're a very empathetic person (or even an empath), this person's presence may feel not only mentally draining but physically draining as well. "You may feel sick or ill around them because you're picking up their energy," Nuñez says.
How to evaluate the friendship.
According to Leeds and Nuñez, open and honest conversation is the best way to get to the bottom of these difficulties. "If you value your friend’s positive qualities enough to want to save the friendship, discussing the lopsidedness openly is the quickest way to discern where they stand and whether they’re willing to put in the effort necessary to rebalance the relationship," Leeds explains.
If your friend is unaware of how you're feeling (and unaware of their own behavior), she adds, sometimes an honest conversation can be the catalyst for a shift. From there, once you've expressed your concerns, it's on them to make a change.
But of course, Nuñez stresses the importance of listening to your intuition and those gut feelings. She suggests asking yourself:
- Do you feel good around this person?
- Do they make you a better person?
- Do you have fun with them?
- Are they adding to your life, or are they draining from your life?
And of course, another strategy for improving the friendship, according to Leeds and Nuñez, is to create some space if necessary. "Pull back within the relationship so that you no longer are overgiving or building up resentment," Leeds says, noting that you may also want to look inward at whether you tend to be the one to put in more effort in your relationships across the board.
Rather than you being the go-to person for this friend's emotional problems, Nuñez adds, you can create some healthy space and boundaries by not being as readily available or seeing them less than you normally do.
Nuñez says that just like with a breakup between partners, this isn't the time to "ghost" your friend or block them. Again, try to be honest with them. You can use phrases like, "Right now, this friendship just isn't working for me," or "This friendship isn't helping me grow."
Friendships are going to come and go, Nuñez says, and the more honest and open you can be, the more you can grow through the experience of the "breakup."
Sometimes an outright breakup isn't necessary, though, Leeds adds. "Ending the friendship may be as simple as no longer initiating contact or plans as frequently and allowing the connection to naturally fade," adding that it can be helpful to instead focus on investing your time in friendships that feel fulfilling and mutual.
The important thing to remember, Nuñez explains, is that one-sided friendships can be toxic, and once you recognize it, don't feel guilty if you have to end it. "You can support them from afar—the main thing is taking care of yourself and finding people that help support you."
The bottom line.
It's never easy to realize a friend isn't being the friend you need them to be, and it's even more difficult to realize you have to walk away. But at the end of the day, friends are meant to support us, not drain us. If a friendship has run its course, lean on your support system and try making new friends. And of course, going forward, always stay open and honest in your relationships, to avoid another one-sided friendship down the line.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.