08.23.12 Truth & Wisdom
In one way or another we have all been involved in toxic relationships, whether with friends, family, co-workers or siblings. However, what makes a relationship toxic? In my experience a toxic relationship is easily identified by a sense of dread about an upcoming date or visit with the person in question. You know that your energy is about to be dampened by perpetual negativity.
They come in many shapes and forms. Some toxic relationships are composed of hearing constant boasting, name dropping or “me, me, me” syndrome, as I like to call it. Others are the constant competitor or gossip or a person who loves to exaggerate and embellish the truth. We have all met them at one stage of our lives; however I am going to focus on the criticizer and the perpetual victim.
You would rather cancel or constantly reschedule instead of hearing self-deprecating questions such as “Why can’t anything ever work for me? Why am I so fat? I have no friends… No one wants to be with me…” This is asked when they have a friend sitting next to them whom is willing to help and listen. When you suggest a resolution or advice for their problem, a toxic person will have a dozen reasons why it wouldn’t work – instead of a reason why it might work.
Don’t get me wrong – a friend in need should always be met with support guidance and someone who can listen and understand. However after months and months or even years of positive advice, worrying and listening to the same self-deprecating you begin to notice that this person does not want to change or be rescued.
Rather than reflecting and assuming responsibility, they are quick to blame the world and society for their problems. It is the policeman’s fault if they were speeding and received a fine, the boss’ fault whenever there is a workplace disagreement or the teacher’s fault when they don’t excel in a project. Through their self-pity and cynicism they eventually push friends away and then ask “Why don’t any of my friends want to hang with me?” Quickly, you begin to walk on eggshells around them, quick to downplay anything exciting in your life.
Aside from wallowing in their own pity and blaming the world for their problems, toxic people or “energy vampires” consciously or subconsciously have a way of poking holes in your life. Perhaps by making you unhappy they make themselves happier. When something goes well in their life, they don’t identify it or they quickly smear it with cynicism.
Questions such as “So you still don’t have a job?” or “So why aren’t you engaged yet?” resurface promptly and they arm them with ammunition to criticize. However, when you do have a job or two jobs as was my case, you are quickly dubbed a “workaholic.”
Such friends are always present and feed off your misery, especially when certain aspects of your life are under construction. However when you succeed and when you are happy they are nowhere to be seen.
With the feedback of friends and from my own personal experience I have written a few guidelines for dealing with toxic people.
Never sacrifice yourself to make others happy or less unhappy. Toxic people can easily blame you for their various problems. Don’t allow others to make you feel guilty for your own achievements and happiness.
Set boundaries. Let toxic people you cannot listen to them whine about their problems at 1am.
Propose new activities or hobbies that are fun and minimise their need to complain (gym session, dancing class or seeing a movie.)
Don’t be afraid to say no. At time distance is needed to maintain your sanity. However let them know you care.
Let go of relationships and people you have outgrown.
Ask them what they can do to resolve problems.
Suggest sources of help without being too confrontational. However you cannot always expect a positive response. Be prepared to have your suggestions rejected.
Never stay with a person who is emotionally, mentally or physically abusive. A person who is damaging your spirit is also damaging your health.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person in question to friends or family members to gain perspective and identify if the problem is more serious than expected.
Stay positive. At times positive reinforcement compliments and laughter can go a long way.
Remember, no matter how much you try to help others through love or care – you can’t help anyone if they don’t help themselves.