6 Signs of a Controlling Friend

Young girl looking sad while being excluded from her peers in the hallway of a school
LumiNola / Getty Images

Not every friendship is a healthy friendship. In fact, sometimes your friend might really be a bully masquerading as your friend, especially if they are trying to control and manipulate you.

While this can be painful to recognize, don't feel bad if you discover this is your situation. Likely, you're a kind and generous person who accepts people for who they are. The important thing is that you recognize the signs that your friend doesn't respect you and move on.

The best friendships are healthy and rewarding relationships. In these friendships, you not only bring out the best in one another, but you also enjoy spending time together and appreciate one another's differences.

Other times, relationships can be unhealthy and might include people who are fake friends. These relationships may start out looking like true friendship, but as time goes on, it can be draining to be friends with someone who tries to control or manipulate you, which is when it's important to learn how to tell the difference between healthy friendships and unhealthy friendships.

When people who claim to care about you are controlling and manipulative, this is abusive behavior—the epitome of bullying.

Remember, controlling people want to deceive you into believing that they are your friend and that they have your best interests at heart. But in reality, the relationship is based on their attempt to control you—not on mutual respect. 

When it comes to identifying a controlling person in your life, it's important to recognize the key behaviors of controlling people early so that you can end the relationship. Here are the top six characteristics of overbearing friends.

They Are Demanding

If someone places unreasonable demands on you and expects you to put everything aside when they need you, that is controlling behavior. They also may demand that you spend all your free time with them. Controlling people may even try to control what you wear, what classes you take, and who you date.

This type of controlling behavior is not healthy friendship behavior. In healthy friendships, a friend respects your right to make your own decisions and is not threatened by the fact that you might do things differently. Controlling friends, on the other hand, may accuse you of not being a good friend when you do not meet their demands.

If you feel like you are not in control of your own decisions in the friendship, then this is an unhealthy friendship.

They Lack Respect

If your friend doesn't respect you, makes fun of you, undermines your perceptions, or engages in name-calling, take notice. This is not a healthy friendship. Healthy friends respect one another and build each other up. They also are encouraging and supportive.

Another red flag signaling an unhealthy relationship is when the person tells you how you should feel rather than accepting your true feelings. Likewise, controlling people may accuse you of being too sensitive, especially when they make jokes at your expense. And they may even accuse you of being selfish if you communicate what you want or need, especially if it doesn’t meet their agenda.

Do not be deceived. This is not healthy. Not only are you in control of your emotions and feelings, but your friend should be respectful of how you feel even if they disagree.

If you are being ridiculed for feeling the way you do, that is a sign of an unhealthy, controlling friendship.

They Act Superior and Entitled

When someone expects or demands special treatment in a relationship, that is a sign of controlling behavior. They also may use sarcasm when speaking with you, and they might act as if they are always right—that they know best and are smarter.

Controlling friends may talk down to you or be condescending and rude. They may even tell you that your opinions are stupid or don’t make sense. In a healthy friendship, you treat one another as equals and value your differences. Likewise, you are kind and supportive of one another.

If your friend communicates that you are inferior in some way, this is unhealthy.

They Create Drama

Sometimes, controlling people will start arguments for the sake of arguing. In other words, they simply like to take the opposite position. They may also display drastic mood changes or have sudden emotional outbursts.

In general, they feed off of drama and will look to make a normal conflict or disagreement into a huge offense. They may also enjoy rumor spreading and gossiping. Meanwhile, in a healthy friendship, you might argue but it's done in a respectful way without trying to hurt the other person.

While disagreements are normal in a healthy friendship, if you feel like there is always an issue that needs to be dealt with in your relationship, this could be a sign that your friend is prone to creating drama. And while this behavior may not seem controlling, it's often a tactic used to keep you off balance and feeling insecure in the relationship.

When someone seems to always be stirring something up, this is not healthy behavior.

They Are Manipulative

Manipulative people use your compassion, values, fears, and other hot buttons to control you or the situation. They also may try to manipulate and control you by making you feel guilty in order to get you to do what they want.

Sometimes controlling people will even try to use your generosity and compassion to take advantage of you. But in a healthy friendship, your friend will value the kind and giving side of your personality without trying to use it to benefit them in some way.

Another sign of a controlling and abusive friend is that they have a tendency to exaggerate your flaws and humiliate you in public. It may feel like they want to make you look bad—even if they play it off as a joke. Remember, a good friend would never want you to be embarrassed.

A friend who regularly makes you feel uncomfortable or embarrasses you is not a true friend.

They Isolate You

Controlling people often attempt to control who your other friends are. They may also want complete control over who you spend time with and may even take your phone, read your texts and e-mails, and listen to your voicemail messages.

In a healthy relationship, a friend will respect your privacy and not read your personal messages. They also will honor the fact that you have other friends and obligations and, as as a result, will be understanding when you cannot spend time together. In fact, spending time with different types of people is healthy for your relationship.

But controlling people usually feel insecure and threatened when you have other friends or when you spend time with your family. So they might criticize you, your other friends, and your family members. They may even try to sabotage those relationships or use peer pressure to get you to do what they want.

Controlling people may look for ways to manipulate you into spending all your time with them and get angry when you have other friends.

A Word From Verywell

Cutting ties with a controlling friend can be tricky and may even expose you to more bullying before it gets better. Let someone you trust know about the challenges you are facing so that they can help you end the relationship in a safe and healthy way.

Remember, it may be hard at first to break ties with a controlling person, but with healthy boundaries and assertiveness, you can move on and find friends who respect who you are.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wolke D, Lereya ST. Long-term effects of bullyingArch Dis Child. 2015;100(9):879–885. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2014-306667

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.