Are You Hanging With Turkeys?

Signs of Toxic Friendships, and What You Can Do About It

Written by Jenna Nocera, MA, MFT, CLSC, CPFT

Are You Hanging With Turkeys?

01 Jenna defines toxic friends, and why we tend to adapt to the people around us.

02 While assessing our relationships can be hard, it’s important to look out for signs of toxic friends and distance ourselves if possible.

03 Jenna also shares steps you can take to cultivate healthier relationships.

“You can’t fly with the eagles, if you continue to scratch with the turkeys.” ~Zig Ziglar    

Toxic friends are people that bring you down rather than support and enhance your life. They tend to zap your energy while denying responsibility for their own actions. Without realizing it, we can become influenced by our friends (for better or worse), adapting their ideas, behaviors, and attitudes. 

As humans, our desire for love and acceptance is hard-wired in our brains. It is difficult to spend a lot of time with someone and not accidentally seek their approval. We will unwittingly conform, to some extent, in order to fit in, so it’s important to ask yourself if you aspire to be like the people you have surrounded yourself with.  Choose your friends wisely.  Paraphrasing Confucius, if you’re the smartest one in your group, find a new group.

It is difficult to spend a lot of time with someone and not accidentally seek their approval.

The value of a strong support system cannot be overestimated.  If you have friends that tend to make you feel tired, depressed, resentful, angry, or guilty, it may be time to take an inventory of your  "friends" and decide whether or not they are toxic. Some signs that your friends are a negative influence include the following:

They frequently…

  • Complain
  • Lie
  • Drain your energy
  • Expect you to be someone you are not
  • Criticize and blame you or those around them
  • Overreact
  • Don’t reciprocate favors
  • Seem threatened by your achievements

You may also examine your own behavior to gauge the impact your friends are having on your life…

  • Do you find yourself gossiping more? 
  • Are you thinking or behaving in darker ways than you normally would? 
  • Are you moving toward or away from your goals?
  • How do you feel before and after talking with your friend(s)?
  • Are your friends exhibiting behaviors and lifestyles that you wish to emulate?

If you do an analysis of your current friendships and find that you are less than satisfied, it may be time to initiate some conversations. You may need to gradually decrease your time with a toxic friend, and set rules for what you consider acceptable behavior. Keep in mind that toxic people are good at making others feel guilty when they don't get what they want, so maintain your boundaries even if they try to convince you otherwise.  Resist the urge to defend yourself, which will only make the situation worse.

Realize that when a person is toxic, it is because of their own issues. It is not a personal reflection of you.

You might decide that it is time to "break-up" with your toxic friend. State directly that you no longer wish to continue the friendship. If you choose this course of action, take responsibility yourself and avoid blaming the other person. And before doing so, consider the impact on the other person. Are they stable enough for such a direct approach? If you cannot physically walk away, learn to detach and mentally "walk away." Develop the skill of letting go and learning not to care. Realize that when a person is toxic, it is because of their own issues. It is not a personal reflection of you. Sometimes — for whatever reason — a relationship is just not a good match.

Develop friendships with people who exhibit the same values, want the best for you, and challenge you to grow. However, addressing challenges in relationships and cultivating new ones can be easier said than done. You may want to find a coach to provide support and accountability, look for groups of like-minded individuals online or in-person, and read books and articles that exemplify the life you want to lead. Begin to take advantage of opportunities for personal growth. Your overall mental wellness will improve exponentially.



Coach Jenna Nocera, MA, MFT, CLSC, CPFT is a Life & Wellness Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer with advanced degrees in Behavioral Science, Psychology, and Marriage and Family Therapy. She works with clients to redesign their lifestyle habits and enhance mental wellness. To learn more about her services visit

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