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Op/ed: 8 Phrases That Signal a Toxic Friendship

UMD Psychologist Offers Tips on Knowing When to Move On

By Marisa G. Franco

two people with arms crossed and zigzag line between them

A friendship that's turned toxic can have some telltale signs, a UMD psychologist says.

Illustration by iStock

Where would we be without friends? But when a relationship with a pal turns toxic, the answer in that case might be, “in a better spot.”

In a new column on, assistant clinical professor Marisa G. Franco, an expert in grown-up friendships and author of the recent book “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—and Keep—Friends,” explains how to pick up on clues that a friendship has become damaging.

1. ‘You’re too sensitive.’
When friends say “you’re too sensitive,” they imply that your feelings aren’t valid and that there’s something wrong with you for having them.

But expressing your emotions is a healthy part of any friendship, and being told you’re too sensitive may indicate your friend lacks empathy.

2. ‘I was just joking. Can’t you take a joke?’
Good friends are responsive and try to meet your needs. When you tell a friend you’re hurt, responsiveness looks like them trying to understand why and adjusting their behavior.

In a toxic friendship, they may instead say things like “Can’t you take a joke?” as a defense to camouflage hurtful comments and avoid accountability.

Read the other six tips on



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