Reprove your friend in secret and praise him openly.

Leonardo da Vinci

A true friend doesn’t constantly make you feel guilty.

However, each situation is different and you need to distinguish between toxic friends and friends who make you feel guilty unintentionally.

Depending on your friend’s personality, his or her behavior may be hurting you, or make you feel uncomfortable, even though they’re not aware of it.

There are five main types of friends who tend to make you feel guilty, and we’ll have a look at them individually in this post.

I’ll also share tips on how to deal with them depending on the situation.

But before we dive in, here’s a key concept to keep in mind whenever you feel guilty, or uncomfortable, because of other people’s behavior…

No one can make you feel guilty

Unless you allow them to do so.

Easier said than done, I know. But the higher, and healthier, your self-esteem — the harder it will be for others to influence your emotions and perception of self.

This doesn’t just apply to negative feelings.

For example, if someone with a low sense of self-worth is given a genuine compliment, their reaction could be extreme embarrassment.

This is because that person allows others to define them, and therefore they will react to anything they say about them.

Whereas someone who’s already confident will not react, at least not as much.

So when it comes to the feeling of guilt, or shame, you must have the mentality where no one can make you feel guilty without your consent.

If there is no reason for you to feel guilty, and you’re being honest with yourself and you truly live by your values — then the only person who can make you feel guilty is you.

Obviously, friends are not strangers, and we tend to trust them and be influenced by them. And this is a good thing.

The issue is when we have friends who are not the right ones for us.

Or friends who are great but have a personality trait, or tendency, that is toxic to our mental health (whether they are aware of it or not).

This is why it’s so important to be able to feel good about yourself in the first place.

It’s not about having a thick skin. It’s about knowing your worth and being confident.

Types of friends who make you feel guilty

Shame is always unhelpful (I’ve talked about it in this post). But typically, guilt isn’t a very helpful feeling either.

There are a few situations in which guilt can be useful and helps us change and adapt to the external world (this would be “adaptive” guilt).

But in general, guilt is a toxic feeling, in the sense that it doesn’t allow, or facilitate, change — and it just feels awful.

If a friend talks to you and explains why they think you shouldn’t have done this or that, and that triggers feelings of guilt, your goal is to understand whether that guilt is justifiable.

Should you feel guilty in the first place? Or, does the feeling of guilt help you change at all? If the answer is a clear no, then you shouldn’t feel guilty.

Here are the five main types of friends who make you feel guilty, and why they do it.

1. Jealous friends

Compared to your friend or group of friends, do you have a happier, more fulfilling, more exciting life? Do you look better? Think better? Have more discipline and willpower?

Jealousy is, unfortunately, quite common. If any of your friends is jealous of you, or believes you have what they lack, they may find ways to make you feel guilty because “you don’t deserve all these things”.

This would help them feel better about their own life; and it would be much easier than to take responsibility and actually improve their situation.

2. Possessive friends

Another common situation is one in which a friend makes you feel guilty for spending time with another group of friends. Typically, this is a sign of an unhealthy friendship, and a sign that your friend is being possessive.

Because unless you’re hanging out with negative people (and your friend is trying to protect you), then there is no justifiable reason for them to tell you who you should or shouldn’t spend your time with.

Typically, possessive friends are very insecure; they are afraid of losing you and your attention to them. They may have a scarcity mindset and believe they must keep you at all costs because making friends is so hard. 

3. Opportunists

Then there are opportunists. These are clearly fake friends, because the main reason they spend time with you isn’t a genuine connection but a way to get what they want.

If your friend is an opportunist, they will usually ask for favors (anything from spending time with them, asking for money, advice, help) and then make you feel guilty if you refuse.

In this case the key is to ask yourself how much of your energy you are giving to them and how much energy they are giving to you. Friendship is about balance, and if you’re the one who keeps giving for absolutely nothing in return (besides “kind words”), that’s a red flag.

4. Energy vampires

All living beings need energy to survive. The main energy source for humans is, obviously, food. Energy vampires are people who have learned to take energy from others, by draining them.

Ever had a friend who would make you feel absolutely drained, who would be invasive and bombard you with all this gossip, drama, bad news? All their problems, their worries, their anxieties?

If you did, then hopefully you found a way to cut them out of your life. The issue with energy vampires is that they tend to be very determined. And one of their tricks to keep you is to make you feel guilty — for not listening to them, for not being so emotionally involved.

5. Controlling friends

And lastly, there are friends who are basically control freaks — they feel the need to carefully examine and judge all of your actions, not just in their own head, but verbally. This can range from annoying to pathological/abusive.

This almost always reflects their own personality and outlook in life. Control freaks suffer from perfectionism and all or nothing thinking, and have set very strict rules for everything they do.

So when they are around others, they project their own perfectionism onto them, and try to control them. This is right; this is wrong. You shouldn’t do this; you should do this. At best, their attitude is exhausting. At worst, it can create feelings of guilt and shame.

Friends make me feel guilty/stupid/insecure, what do I do?

Once again — no one can make you feel guilty without your consent. And the same applies to feeling insecure, stupid, inferior, awkward, you name it.

Be confident. Be disciplined. Be the best version of yourself, and live by your values. This alone will basically make you immune.

Also, learn to say no, and don’t be afraid to be a bit more selfish. Selfishness itself is a good thing anyway (the issue is when people are too selfish).

Now, if a friend or group of friends makes you feel guilty, or triggers any negative feelings or emotions, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they doing it on purpose? Why do they do it?
  • Are they even aware of what they’re doing?
  • When I talk to them, does their behavior change?
  • Is this person toxic to my mental health in any other ways?
  • Is this person really a friend?

When it comes to energy vampires and toxic people in general, my advice is always the same — don’t waste your time with them.

Logically, you may think it’s worth it to keep them, to talk to them and explain why and how they make you feel guilty. But in my experience, it’s almost always a waste of time.

Now, when it comes to friends in general, it’s important to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect friend (just like a perfect partner, job, etc.) and any friend will have good traits and bad traits.

Provided they are not toxic to your mental health, then your goal is to see the good in them, and to not let their negative traits affect you.

Always welcome their constructive criticism. Never be emotionally dependent on them; never allow their thoughts and views define you.

People come and go, and each friend you meet will give you and teach you valuable things. Don’t focus too much on their negative traits — we all have them anyway.

And if you’re not sure (whether to keep a friend or not), you can always take a break. Trust your gut and use your intuition — it’ll usually figure it out way better than your rational mind.