Is it possible that someone we call a friend, or even a best friend, is the very person that treats us the worst? How can the person with whom we share jokes, snacks, and secrets be someone who hurts us?

With relationships, it’s natural to have conflict as we learn how to be friends and communicate. Sometimes we make mistakes with friends, hurt their feelings, apologize for what we’ve done, and move on. Through making mistakes in our relationships, we learn what to do with the people around us — as well as what not to do. It’s normal to have conflicts or disagreements with friends as we grow up; that’s how we learn to be better friends and communicators.

What’s not okay — and is never deserved — is when someone we are close to decides to threaten us, to hurt our feelings intentionally, misuse our trust, or make us feel less than who we are. If someone we call a friend repeatedly uses bullying behavior — such as belittling who we are, trying to control us, or attempting to tell us who we can be friends with — that’s no longer a friend. That type of behavior is outside of friendship in every way and has to be called what it is: bullying.

This is a painful and sometimes unacknowledged type of bullying that is hard to understand and even harder to endure. Here’s how to recognize when those we are close to are bullying us, even though we call them “friends.”

Below are some examples to help recognize if bullying is happening in your relationships:

  • You are made fun of, called names, or teased for your appearance or what you wear
  • You are mocked or mimicked for what you say or how you act
  • You are laughed at when people know you’re hurting from being teased or physically abused
  • You are told who you can be friends with or what you can and can’t do
  • You are purposefully excluded from events or get-togethers in which other friends are invited
  • You have told your friends to stop the negative behavior and they continue anyway
  • You are made to feel that you don’t live up to the standards of the friend group

If you or someone you care about is being bullied by a “friend,” please find an adult you trust and tell them what’s going on as soon as possible. Bullying like this often does not stop without intervention. Bullying like this doesn’t go away if you ignore it either. This type of situation will need assistance and advice on making a plan for what to do.

You’ll also need allies, people around you at school or in your neighborhood who will actively support you and have your back. An ally will stand up for you if she feels safe, or be a witness to what’s going on and be able to tell an adult what she saw happen. An ally can help you feel less alone, too, which is a very good thing.

Don’t hesitate for too long when someone you call a friend is repeatedly disrespectful to you and causes you pain when you’ve asked them to stop. If you find you’re always nervous and anxious around a friend because you’re worried about what they might say or do to you, talk to an adult and work out what’s happening. Sometimes it will be a normal consequence of learning to be friends, and sometimes it will be bullying. If it’s bullying, that’s not friendship and it probably never will be. You have the right to be around people who treat you like a friend, and that you can respect and trust.

Teen Perspective

The following is excerpted from a response to a question submitted for the JAMIE’s ADVICE column.

The question came from Scarlett, a 7th grader, who wrote, “I love my friends, but sometimes I feel like they don’t like me much. At school they call me names all the time, then they say they are just joking, but it feels mean and sometimes I feel excluded and sad.”

Ask Jamie’s response: It sounds like you have been facing bullying from your friends but feel unsure of how to handle it, especially since it is veiled as “just a joke.” This is something I, and many others, relate to. It is difficult to know how to respond to a friend who says hurtful comments, since oftentimes they will defend themselves with the “joke” cover.

A general guideline is: If you don’t find it funny but do find it hurtful, then it isn’t okay.

Your friend may very well have intended the comment as a joke, but it is the way it makes you feel that matters. If you feel hurt, unsafe, or targeted by the joke, then ask your friends to stop. If it happens again, and as long as you stay safe, say something like: “I know you probably think that you are just kidding, but the comments you have made are really hurtful, so I would really appreciate if you would stop. I know that if you realized how much your words affected me, you would stop.”

If they cannot respect your requests, then they are not being true friends and, therefore, may not deserve your friendship. Realize that you deserved to be treated with kindness, so any friendships that are offering meanness should be evaluated and its your decision about whether or not to continue the relationship.

Can a Friend Be Bullying Me? Student Response | PACERTalks About Bullying: Season 3, Ep. 19

Can a Friend Be Bullying Me? – 60 Second Response | PACERTalks About Bullying: Season 3, Ep. 18