A crucial element of effectively caring for ourselves is the development and application of discernment in our relationships. Unfortunately, many of us maintain relationships with people who drain our energy, resources, confidence, joy and/or dreams. These light-thieves show up as friends, family members, business partners, co-workers and even people in our spiritual community.
Identifying Toxic People
Toxic people do any or all of the following:
–Consistently leave you feeling tense, insecure, self-conscious, agitated, unworthy, guilty, depressed or anxious
–Express jealousy, resentment or disdain toward you.
–Complain incessantly and have a constantly pessimistic view of life. (This may not cause you direct harm, however pessimism is contagious. Spending time immersed in it can weaken your positivity and resolve to do and be better.)
–Get you to do things you don’t want to do
–Blame you for their unhappiness (unless you’ve actually harmed them, you know if you have)
–Feel unhappy when good things happen for you
–Fight unfairly – in disagreements they attack, criticize and belittle you
–Undermine and attempt to sabotage you or your goals
–Gossip about you
–Consistently are on the take side of give & take (minor children excluded)
–Expect you to rescue them and blame you when you don’t
My most recent experience with a toxic person was when a woman who I’ve known, at a distance, for years needed my help. I have never enjoyed this woman because I have yet to meet someone more intentionally miserable. Every encounter I’ve had with her was filled with complaining, nagging and interrogating me about my life. She cast a spell so negative over everyone and everything in her life that her world completely fell apart.
Well aware of the promise life destruction portends, I responded to her request for help during this time of crisis. I did some favors and spent time with her. It wasn’t long before it became clear that she was not interested in bettering her situation.
The experience became an almost daily phone call full of negativity about everything in her life. At first, I offered solutions and attempted to lift her high enough to see the opportunities around her. That only irritated her. Soon, I felt the old vapors of nastiness and negativity rising. The calls left me feeling contracted and tense.
Realizing that this situation would only bring grief, I explained to her that I was no longer willing to be in the relationship. I expressed it as kindly as possible and didn’t go into great detail. I didn’t need to hurt her. I felt compassion and sadness over the loss of the life I know she could have. Moreover, it was not my place to judge her past the point necessary to make a good decision for myself.
The best way to kill a monster is to starve it.
Over the next month, her attempts to manipulate me became progressively more devious and complex. When I stopped returning her calls, she left a dire message stating she was worried about me. Seeing that for what it was, an attempt to draw me back in, I remained silent. Then she left an urgent message saying she had to talk to me; it was an emergency. There was no emergency. She said she just wanted someone to “talk” with. That meant she needed someone to listen while she ticked off her list of what was wrong with every one in her world. No. Not for me. She may choose to sink her ship to the very bottom of the ocean; I won’t be on it.
Toxic situations take many forms. I know a woman whose mother repeatedly chastises her for her weight and life choices, a man whose boss belittles him and calls him names, a lady with a “friend” who berates her for being successful, a spouse who assaults the other with predictions of failure and doom should the relationship end, and a daughter who severely mocks and criticizes her mother.
Any relationship that consistently (as opposed to normal ups and downs) brings you down deserves your prompt attention and analysis. No tie reaches a plane high enough to justify constant negativity.
If the relationship is completely voluntary (friends, etc.), end it and make room for people who bring kindness, caring, support and enthusiasm. The best people for us are those who feel genuine joy when we succeed (we should feel that for them, too).
If the situation is more difficult to eliminate, learn to set boundaries and insulate yourself from its harmful effects.
Your obligation as self parent and protector requires you to place yourself in an environment conducive to your greatest growth and fulfillment. If you have children, know that they are learning how to care for themselves by watching what you do far more than by hearing what you say.