Friendships and 'frenemies'

Sometimes people who claim to be your friends can show bullying behaviour. We might call this a ‘frenemy’ or realise that we're ‘frenemies’.

How do I know if my friend is actually a frenemy?

  • They might say “honest” things to you which are actually unkind or hurtful
  • Put pressure on you to do things you don’t want to do
  • Be manipulative (e.g. ‘If you were my friend you would…’)
  • Put you down
  • Laugh at you, or encourage others to laugh at you
  • Talk about you behind your back
  • Deliberately exclude you from group chat and activities
  • Take the “banter” too far
  • Share things about behind your back
  • Make you feel bad about yourself

Banter vs bullying

Banter between friends can be fun, and when everyone’s in on the joke and enjoying themselves, it’s an important form of communication that bonds people together.

However it can shift into bullying when someone is upset, hurt or offended, and the other person refuses to stop. For example, if someone keeps teasing you about something over and over again, even if they can see you’re no longer finding it funny, it’s shifting into bullying behaviour.

Another form of banter that can shift into bullying behaviour (and sometimes prejudicial behaviour and harassment) is when friends pick on a physical trait or a characteristic of someone in the group and repeatedly use this as a focus of jokes or comments (e.g. someone’s weight, skin colour, ethnic background, religion, sexuality, gender). You may feel under pressure to laugh, but it’s still a form of bullying.

What to do if you have a frenemy

If you think you might have a frenemy or your friends have started to bully you or others in the group, here’s what to do.

Remember: the problem isn’t you

Hold on to that thought. Their behaviour might make you feel bad, but they need to change, not you.

Talk to them about how their behaviour makes you feel

Explain calmly what they have done and the impact it is having. Be specific, for example “I feel upset that you kicked me out of the group chat” or “I feel very upset when you say that about my hair.” Tell them what you’d like to happen - for example, setting a boundary such as certain topics being off-limits. Our guide to assertiveness offers you tips on how to sound calm and get your point across.

Their response will tell you a lot

Sometimes our behaviour hurts others without us realising. A true friend will be sorry that they made you feel bad, and not do it again. A frenemy is more likely say you’re overreacting or blame you for how they treated you.

If they apologise, give them another chance

If they mean it, they’ll change their behaviour and stop making you feel bad. However, sometimes frenemies might pretend to be sorry, and their behaviour afterwards won’t change. If they’re still making you feel bad despite what you’ve told them, it’s time to move on.

Make new friends

Moving on can be scary, but you deserve people in your life who support you and make you feel good about yourself. See our guide to making new friends for help.

Don’t retaliate

It can be tempting to encourage others to exclude your former frenemy, or to put them down behind their back. Don’t do this: you’re only showing the same behaviour you found difficult in them.

What if they retaliate?

After the friendship ends, your former frenemy might lash out, or spread rumours about you. In time it’s likely they’ll get bored and moved on, but if the bullying persists, our dealing with bullying guide can help you.

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