Why Frenemies Drain You and How to Handle Them

Not everyone has your best interests at heart

A queen knocks over a king in a game of chess.
Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Have you ever heard of the term frenemy? You can get the gist of the concept’s meaning if you see how the words friend and enemy are joined. Frenemies are disguised as pals, but they aren’t actually your friends. Instead, they compete with you and are your rivals, and they might dislike you.

Many people worry about toxic individuals and consider them the worst type of personality to come up against, but frenemies are more like vampires than obviously tricky individuals. Here’s why and how to handle the frenemies in your life.

The difference between toxic people and frenemies

It’s necessary to identify the frenemies in your life because you could be stuck with them for years unless you uncover them as antagonists. Unlike toxic people, who are repellent and injurious in easy-to-spot ways, frenemies are covert.

Toxic people don’t always recognize their poisonous nature, but you do. They act in ways that hurt or damage you, and there’s no ambivalence about whether they are friends or foes. So you can label them as enemies without having to think about it.

On the other hand, Frenemies pretend to be on your side when challenges arise and can be friendly. Yet, they don’t have your best interests at heart. They are more challenging to recognize yet, in some ways, more harmful than outright toxic individuals.

You can quickly identify a toxic family member, coworker, or so-called pal and know you are better off without them. But how can you spot a frenemy?

How to identify a frenemy

Do you get confused about whether a friend wants the best for you? True pals are on your side. They celebrate your wins and commiserate with you earnestly when you suffer losses.

Frenemies might acknowledge you when you get a pay rise, win a race, or meet another goal. However, what they say with words doesn’t always match their body language. For example, a frenemy might look annoyed and grimace as they say, “well done.”

Frenemies don’t offer kind words at other times, and they get vexed when you say you’ve something to celebrate. They might point out why your dreams are a waste of time or your new position at work is not as great as you think.

Real friends can’t wait to sing your praises and congratulate and encourage you. But frenemies point out obstacles, real and imagined, and rupture your mood like a pin bursts a balloon.

Why frenemies are dangerous

Frenemies are problematic because they give you just enough warmth, albeit in small ways, to make you think perhaps they are your pals.

But they also drain you of energy.

When frenemies don’t pierce your happiness swiftly, they slowly let you down until you’re deflated. Often, they leech your vitality with put-downs and discouragement that render you lethargic, frustrated, and downcast.

If you keep seeing a frenemy, your happiness will plummet. Your highs won’t be as high as they could be, and your lows will scrape the ground.

How to cut frenemies from your life

Many people keep their frenemies for decades because they don’t recognize them as antagonists or can’t see how to cut the cord between them. Also, you might get attached to a frenemy if they mirror the adverse treatment you met as a child from a caregiver.

We sometimes follow relationship patterns and unconsciously seek people like individuals we had problems with in the past. As a result, we may not recognize unkind behavior as detrimental if it’s familiar. Or we may want to solve relationship problems like those we didn’t manage to handle well.

Of course, the best way to manage a frenemy isn’t to try and improve their behavior and mend your relationship because it takes two willing individuals to do that. Instead, it’s wisest to recognize your frenemy is unworthy of your time and energy and give your relationship the snip.

If you feel awkward about cutting the cord between you and your frenemy fast, take a slower approach and drift out of their life. Be busy when they want to make plans with you and gently ease the relationship to a halt.

We all make frenemies; it’s part and parcel of seeking our tribe. Some people are soulmates, while others aren’t right for us, and we need to sift through our social circle to discover who’s who.

If you are confident and optimistic, you will likely attract genuine, positive people and deter frenemies. And any hangers-on will also drop away if you surround yourself with true friends.

Bridget Webber is a writer and nature lover, often found in the woodland, meadow, and other wild places. She writes poetry and stories and pens psychology articles; her love of discovering what rests inside the thicket and the brain compels her to delve deep. She’s appeared in many leading publications and ghostwrites for professionals who can’t spare the time to pen compositions.

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✨ Bridget Webber

✨ Bridget Webber


Writer, former counselor, author, and avid tea drinker learning how to live well.