Why do I sabotage friendships?

Here are some reasons you might be self-sabotaging or entering toxic friendships, and how to deal with the fallout.
sabotaging friendship

Why do I sabotage friendships?

You’ve probably got a “person.” That best friend you’re always turning to for advice, some laughs, or a good cry over one of your exes? Yeah — that’s your BFF. Whether you’re weathering the throes of rigorous courses, dealing with difficult work as an exec-level leader or navigating the complexities of your romantic relationship, having a strong friendship is a big part of staying mentally healthy. 

Why, then, is making and keeping friends so hard sometimes? If you’re constantly asking yourself why you sabotage friendships, there might be something wrong in how you approach and maintain relationships with those around you. And this next bit might sound controversial, but… if you’re consistently entering toxic friendships, you may be the reason for this.

Hold on, though. 

Even if that’s true, these things don’t make you a bad person. Instead, self-sabotage is just another defense mechanism people use to protect themselves when things get hard. For instance, if you’re constantly afraid that your friends will leave you — a mentality also known as an anxious attachment style — then you might not be giving new people a fair shot. Or, you might be subconsciously pushing people away to avoid feeling vulnerable.   

Either way, making changes now can drastically improve your approach to friendships. Here are some reasons you might be self-sabotaging or entering toxic friendships, and how to deal with the fallout. 

You create thinking “blockages”

In life, we often get hung up on specifics. If our friendships are fading, we start thinking that something we said, or didn’t say, caused a horrible rift (“Are they giving me the cold shoulder because I didn’t laugh at their joke?” or “Did I forget to thank them for the gift they gave me?”). 

The thing is, our problems are usually never about the specific actions we’ve taken. Instead, they’re more closely associated with the way we think about those actions. That’s because thinking problems bubble up in the form of fears, anxieties and self-doubts, and those thoughts then influence our actions. Thus, if we can change our thoughts, we can improve our actions. 

For instance, if you’re constantly telling yourself that you self-sabotage friendships, then you’re probably going to behave in accordance with that belief. Consciously or not, you’ll flake more often on your friends because “that’s who you are,” or you’ll refuse to make new friends because you’re “just a shy person.”

No! Not true. You are not the bad things you tell yourself that you are — more than that, you can simply tell yourself good things instead, and run with those. Try this now: say to yourself, “I am a good friend when I try.” “I know that I have the skills to form lasting and positive relationships.” “I’m willing to show up as much as possible for friends that matter.”

These are the kinds of realistic beliefs that will help you slowly, but surely, adopt a new mindset about how you make, treat and maintain friendships. 

You don’t seek out support 

“I’m too busy for a therapist.” “I don’t have time for a coach.” “I can fix myself on my own.” Listen: you can say “no” to help in as many ways as you want, but if you’re afraid of getting outside assistance, then there’s a good chance you need it. That chance skyrockets if your friends have ever told you that you could benefit from talking to a coach or therapist

While it might feel scary and vulnerable to tell someone outside of your circle about your problems, it’s worth it to end patterns of self-sabotage. After all, coaches are specifically trained to deal with things like toxic friendship behaviors. It’s like seeing a doctor for a bad cough — not only will your coach understand what’s going on much sooner than your coworker, aunt or bartender, but they’ll also be able to work with you to “prescribe” a solution that works specifically for you. 

You have unrealistic expectations

It’s okay to admit that you need more from your friendships. Many of us do, and it’s not a bad thing. Unfortunately, problems begin to arise when we start expecting things from our friends without making those expectations clear. In other words, thinking our friends should behave a certain way, without telling them how we’d like to be treated, is a recipe for disaster.

If you find yourself needing more support, ask for it clearly and kindly. You might just be surprised at how accommodating your friends are. And if they can’t always be there for you? That’s okay, too — life stops for none of us, but a friend that is mostly dependable and mostly there for you (despite the hecticness of everyday living) is a wonderful thing. 

You take out your dissatisfactions on friends 

We all get down. It happens. But when we do, something else happens: we often unload that dissatisfaction onto those closest to us. "When we ourselves are feeling stressed, not taking care of ourselves physically, not feeling in a good place with either our jobs, how we're eating or romantic relationships, and we're not feeling good enough about ourselves, we're more likely to lash out and not treat our friends so well," says Dr. Andrea Bonoir, clinical psychologist and faculty member at Georgetown University. 

If this sounds like you, it’s time to start talking about your challenges, not weaponizing them. This doesn’t have to be painful, either: you can engage in a positive experience, such as shopping, going out to eat or grabbing a drink, all while discussing the troubles you’re facing. 

After all, all troubles are easier to weather with friends, no?

Make better friendships in 2023

There are countless reasons why you might be self-sabotaging your friendships. Perhaps it’s flakiness. Perhaps it’s a refusal to seek out help. Perhaps it’s jealousy, or toxicity, or countless other things. The thing is, you really won’t know…

…until you talk to your friends. 

So, get out there. Talk to the people that matter. Talk to a coach. Talk to someone who can really help you see what’s going on under the hood — and then put yourself on the path to fix it. 

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