What Is True Friendship?

Updated October 7, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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Friendship is defined as "a relationship of mutual affection between two people." While this sounds initially simple on the surface, friendship can be quite complicated. While true friendship is rare and something to be treasured and valued, fake friends are quite toxic and should be avoided. However, telling the difference between real and phony friendship is not always simple. Different people seek out alliances with others for various reasons. In other cases, money, power, and other influences can prompt others to form friendships. In most cases, true friendships tend to withstand the test of time, whereas fake friendships eventually dissolve or end unpleasantly.

True Friendship Explained

In all honesty, telling the difference between a true or false friendship can take time. However, Psychology Today explains the series of traits which generally coincide with true friendship.


Genuine friends generally show empathy to each other. In layman's terms, putting oneself in another person's shoes and understanding their point of view entails empathy. True friends will always show empathy, particularly in times of need. This could mean offering moral support during tough times or even just listening to a friend who may be going through something. Someone who seeks friendship with others for impure motives will likely struggle with being empathetic. This shows insincerity at best and sociopathy or psychopathy at worst.


Similarly to empathy, trustworthiness is another telltale sign of a true friend. Granted, it is not always easy to tell whether or not someone is honest about the initial development of a friendship. However, time will ultimately tell. The more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know them. It becomes easier to pick up on little things and observe behavior patterns. A trustworthy friend will not gossip about matters which are divulged to them in confidence. They also won't lie or misrepresent things to get something they want or fulfill ulterior motives. There are no bases for friendship without trust.

Mutual Respect

Within any true friendship, there is always mutual respect. Although both parties may not always see eye to eye, admiring the individual is what ultimately makes the difference. Even the best and truest friends will have disagreements sometimes. The respect, or lack thereof, that someone has for their friend often determines how they behave when contrasting outlooks collide with one another. Someone who has no respect is likelier to result to insults and lashing out. Conversely, friends who respect each other generally hear one another out, even if they ultimately agree to disagree.

A Closer Look At True Friendship

Empathy, trustworthiness, and mutual respect are paramount aspects of true friendship. However, genuine alliances run deeper than mere qualities. They consist of actions, explains Power of Positivity. How someone acts when they see someone winning, losing, succeeding, or failing speaks volumes about the sincerity and trueness of the friendship. True friends will stick around through good times and bad; they will not be secretly resentful when they see the person they care for doing well. A true friend will furthermore speak up and attempt to offer help when they see someone going down a dangerous path.

Believe it or not, each's gut instincts, or inner feelings about someone also plays a role in friendship. The majority of people can innately sense when someone is not what they appear to be. He or she could be the best pretender in the world, but if something simply doesn't feel right, that feeling should be heeded. When you're in the company of true friends, you feel comfortable and at ease. Frequently unpleasant emotions in the company of a specific individual are almost always indicative of a problem. Countless studies have proven the damaging impacts of being in poor company. Choose wisely.

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Allowance for other friendships and relationships is another sign of a true friend. Although possessiveness is more common in unhealthy romances, certain people demand those closest to them to be their only friend. While this may seem initially harmless, possessiveness is anything but. The fact of the matter is that healthy friendships are a part of life. Individuals who are sane and secure with themselves will not feel compelled to isolate their friends from other people. Connecting and building friendships with more than one person is normal; anyone who feels differently should be engaged with very cautiously, or even avoided altogether. Sometimes, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Friendship And Interactions With Others

The manner in which one behaves around the people they regard as friends or allies is very telling. There are a shocking amount of individuals who fail to realize this. For whatever reason, be it ego, naivety, etc., people tend to view themselves as the exceptions to the rule. Rarely is this view as accurate as most of us would like for it to be.

An individual who gossips spreads rumors, or complains about their friends in their absence is likely to carry this behavior into all of their friendships. This is not guaranteed, but it is highly probable. Time has a way of revealing one's true colors and intentions. The chances are that if he or she badmouths one of their friends in your presence, they will likely say mean things about you in your absence. Some complaints or expressions of displeasure are genuine. Some are even valid. Each will be tasked with making the judgment call as to whether or not they feel part of true or phony friendship. 

The treatment of others is an excellent strategy in determining the sincerity of a friend. Outside perceptions from the right sources can also make a difference as well. Sometimes, one can be too close to someone or something to objectively notice things or assess situations. These people can pick up on body language, behaviors, and their gut feelings to reach conclusions.

However, it is critical to note that outside perceptions are not always foolproof. Although outside input from others can be helpful, it should not be employed as a singular means to determine how true a friend is. Similarly to observing how a friend treats other human beings, deciding what to do with outside input ultimately comes down to a judgment call.

You Attract What You Are

Many people in this world seemingly attract toxic people into their life. This could be a friend with ulterior motives, a narcissistic friend, or someone whose intentions are impure. Regardless, one of the most common reactions to ongoingly negative relationships is to question the reason behind their existence. Unfortunately, this is something that each must figure out and assess for themselves; although, the following tidbits of information will likely prove to be beneficial.

Each person attracts what they are. This doesn't mean that people attract their doppelgangers, but it means they attract individuals and friendships which, in some way, coincide with their innermost beliefs. For instance, someone who is confident, self-assured, and content with themselves is likely to attract supportive friends who cheer them on. Positive, happy people are not immune from attracting negative friendships, but they are considerably less probable to do so.

In contrast, individuals with low self-esteem, unresolved issues, and lackluster confidence are much likelier to attract negative friendships. This often creates a vicious cycle because the company which one keeps directly impacts how they view themselves and how they view the world. Someone who habitually finds themselves in toxic and insincere friendships and relationships may do well to engage in self-reflection. Improving one's views and perceptions of self can make a wonderful difference. As the old saying goes, your vibe attracts your tribe.

A Final Word

Speaking with a counselor or therapist can truly help people who are looking to determine whether or not they are part of true friendship. Professional help can also provide aid to individuals who are seeking to form healthy friendships with others. Empathy, trustworthiness, and mutual respect should always be part of the equation. Healthily connecting with other human beings is what ultimately allows for true friendships.

Each person must decide whether or not they require professional guidance. Nevertheless, BetterHelp will always exist as an alternative for those in need of assistance, a confidant, or more. Help will always be available to those who ask.

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