A Psychologist Reveals 3 Signs of ‘Friends Who Always Make It Worse’

A Psychologist Reveals 3 Signs of 'Friends Who Always Make It Worse'

Research has shown time and time again how useful friendships can be for your mental health, life satisfaction, and overall well-being. Understanding what kind of social support you need, however, is a much deeper and nuanced conversation.

Sometimes, certain friends can actually stress you out or keep you stuck in your problems, rather than a comforting and uplifting presence. If you’re already upset or under stress, it can be hard to know if talking about it makes things better or worse.

Here are three ways to understand if your friends are stressing you out and how to choose the right people to talk to.

1. Pay Attention to How You Feel Around Them

Pay attention to your emotions and body sensations before, during, and after confiding in a friend. Do you feel anxious, tense or heavy in your body?

While it’s very possible that the topic of conversation made you feel this way, these feelings can also provide insight into how safe you feel talking to the person and how useful the conversation is to you.

You can also gauge your stress level by observing how you feel about yourself around them. You can feel insecure, worthless, and unhappy if your friend constantly interrupts, criticizes, cancels, or minimizes your experiences. While your friend isn’t responsible for magically fixing every problem you have or completely changing your mood, it’s important to know if you feel valued, encouraged, heard, and understood by them.

A 2014 study showed that participants who received active listening responses (such as expressing interest, paraphrasing the speaker, and asking relevant questions) felt understood better than participants who received simple advice or acknowledgment. Other studies highlight how high-quality listening from others can meet basic psychological needs, reduce defensiveness, bridge differences, and even motivate change.

This is why it’s important to remind yourself that you don’t have to be vulnerable or open up with anyone, no matter how close, if it makes matters worse.

2. Pay Attention If You Reflect With Them

Another sign that taking out on friends might be hurting you is when they reinforce your fears.

For example, if you reach out to a friend who is also struggling with mental stress and emotional regulation, they can trigger your anxiety and encourage you to imagine the worst-case scenario together.

A 2023 study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology who looked at how stress can spread through an individual’s social environment found that people tend to select and reach out to friends who are just as stressed as they are.

The study also found that people’s stress levels varied with those of their peers, especially when their circle of friends operated at similar stress levels. Researchers suggest that deliberately avoiding shared ruminations with your friends can help curb this transmission of stress.

A 2020 study also found that seeing your friend’s mental stress can also stress you out. If those around you are brooding, it’s only a matter of time until you too get on the hamster wheel of unhelpful thought loops and lose your objectivity.

It’s important to note the difference between empathy and an unhealthy lack of emotional boundaries between friends. Empathy has been associated with a greater quality and closeness of friendship and is necessary to feel validated and acknowledged by our friends.

However, there is such a thing as being overly empathetic, where even a well-meaning friend may talk about their own struggles instead of focusing on you. While some bias is unavoidable, it is important to know whether the person you are talking to can stand their ground and weigh what is objectively best for you.

3. Notice If They Are Emotionally Available To You

Do your friends call you from time to time or are they only available to you at certain times at their convenience?

While there’s nothing wrong with having a friend who you just have frequent long, deep conversations with, for more consistent emotional support, it makes sense to lean on someone who is more emotionally available.

Apart from their actual availability to talk, you should also determine how emotionally available a friend is by noting whether they shy away from deeper or difficult conversations, if they tend not to ask about your feelings, or if they avoid sharing theirs. own thoughts and emotions.

A final factor to consider is how a friend responds to you, as it can make or break an atmosphere of emotional security. For example, when giving you feedback, their honesty doesn’t have to be “brutal.” Also, they may also unnecessarily give unsolicited advice or try to “fix” a problem immediately.


Relying on your support system is fundamental to your well-being. The right type of support can be a great stress buffer. However, you may need to use some wisdom to understand what kind of friends to contact and when, as this can influence how you feel and process life events. Avoiding co-rumination and understanding the kind of emotional availability each of your friends brings to the table can help you avoid future stress and maintain emotionally healthy, supportive friendships.

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