Many people believe that if you are a good person and often feel stressed out, drained, and overwhelmed, it must be that you are surrounded by toxic people. You know, people who:
- Require constant attention (clingy) and act as if entitled to your instant help
- Disrespect you and what is meaningful to you in a consistent manner
- Fail to apologize or recognize their mistakes
- Seem always bitter, angry, cynical mood, and very much down on life
- Often gossip about others (and probably you)
- Tend to criticize, put you down or discourage your dreams
- Seem flaky (often being late, not keeping their word, not showing up)
- Deliberately withhold attention and affection from you
- Give orders and boss you around
- Are too self-focused to be concerned with your problems
- Seem very competitive
- Are not supportive of your goals and dreams
- Have active addictions
- Complain and whine about their circumstances but does not listen to advice
- Don’t celebrate your successes and down-play them
- Make you feel less than, or even worthless
- Create drama and chaos, and exaggerate on a regular basis
- React defensively
- Speak negatively and in a judgmental or insulting manner about people and things you care about
- Knowingly make comments that are contrary to your convictions
- Try to control you or change you, or to tell you what to do (think, feel, be)
- Have anger issues, rage, hate, bitter, vindictive, vengeful, or selfish
- Often act condescending, bringing up your flaws, shortcomings, or past mistakes
- Take and rarely give, only have time for you when they need you
- Challenge what you say and – even worse! – your boundaries
Are you surrounded by toxic people? Chances are that as you went down the list, you recognized these traits on friends, parents, siblings, colleagues, or even your children and spouse. I know many will disagree with me; however, I believe it’s time to stop labeling the person and labeling the behavior instead.
As imperfect humans, we all have the tendency to experience negative emotions, think negative thoughts, and act negatively in our relationships with other. We are not all good nor all bad, we are not all healing or all toxic… we are the sum of our choices.
If you are imperfect like me, you’ll nod your head when I say I have made some very questionable decisions and said some things I’m not proud of. The ugly truth is that as I go down the list, I can also see myself in different times of my life in which I have had these traits with different people, even if for a moment.
The topic of “getting rid of toxic people” or “dealing with toxic people” in your life is a bit complex. Not everyone has manipulative tactics to ruin your life, bring your mood down, or annoy the life out of you. Sometimes these people are simply projecting their insecurities toward you, because they are indeed suffering, hurting, or doubting their own self-worth.
Even when we’ve decided to take a look at them with compassion, we must assess whether their effect in our lives is actually real. It’s easy to blame someone else and say: “it didn’t work out, she/he/they were too toxic and I’ve cut them off my life.” However, it takes two to tango. As tempting as this may be, taking personal responsibility is more empowering, because you can’t change others, but you can change yourself.
Having been in a toxic relationship before, I do believe there are people who are toxic for each other. I love what James Allen says in one of my favorite books of all time: As A Man Thinketh:
“It has been usual for men to think and to say, ‘Many men are slaves because one is an oppressor; let us hate the oppressor.’ Now, however, there is amongst an increasing few a tendency to reverse this judgment, and to say, ‘One man is an oppressor because many are slaves; let us despise the slaves.’
The truth is that oppressor and slave are co-operators in ignorance, and, while seeming to afflict each other, are in reality afflicting themselves. A perfect knowledge perceives the action of law in the weakness of the oppressed and the misapplied power of the oppressor; a perfect love, seeing the suffering, which both states entail, condemns neither; a perfect compassion embraces both oppressor and oppressed.
He who has conquered weakness, and has put away all selfish thoughts, belongs neither to oppressor nor oppressed. He is free.”.
Taking personal responsibility for the toxicity in my life, and especially, in my relationships, helped me let go of the victim mentality and take charge of my life… and even love my EX! I have understood the part I play and become conscious of who I am and how something or someone triggers me and in which way. Just like two very harmless substances can mix and cause an explosion, a relationship between two good people can turn explosive.
I strive to practice the Second Agreement as expressed by Don Miguel Ruiz:
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering” ~ The Four Agreements
Before you come to the conclusion that someone is toxic and decide to cut them off or drop them with no warning, make sure that indeed they meant to hurt you. In my experience, most people simply:
- are fighting their own battles and don’t know any better
- awaken the terrible parts inside of me, and reflect them like a mirror
- are treating me the way I taught them, whether consciously or unconsciously
If this is the case, how do we deal with these toxic behaviors? There are 3 main ways: being true to your vision, setting clear firm healthy boundaries, and practicing self-care.
Be True To Your Vision: My dad always says “not everyone is welcome to enter in my kingdom,” and that means being mindful of people’s energy, assessing where people are in their journey before inviting them to join your circle of influence.
Jim Rohn is famous for saying “you are the average of the five people you spend more time with.” He’s not saying you can’t be friends with everyone and will take this principle as a way to discriminate a group of people. It means that you will guard yourself and your standards.
When I met Taylor Bare, he had been “trying” to quit, so I was not aware that he was a smoker, and after we started spending time together, he told me he had relapsed.
I said something like:
“I love your company, and I love my lungs, and my kids’ health. If you quit, we can continue to spend time together in person, if you don’t, I still value our friendship, so you can call me anytime and I’ll be there for you from a safe distance.“
He understood I wasn’t rejecting him or cutting him off, and that I wasn’t in any way judging him. I didn’t come to conclusions about why he was addicted to cigarettes, I simply knew I didn’t want to inhale anyone’s second hand smoke. It wasn’t because we weren’t like minded, because as a vegan, I have many friends who eat meat, but spending time with them while they eat their beef doesn’t have the potential to kill me or make me or my kids sick, making all my efforts to keep us healthy counterproductive.
He quit smoking instantly and hasn’t since. Besides the fact that he wanted to preserve our friendship, it seems I inspired him to love his lungs and his kids’ health a little more. And he’s been able to save lots of sanity, energy, time, and money. Win-win-win, etc. Your standards will inspire some people, and they can make some people upset, too. I say, strive for authenticity, not for approval.
When I approached him about it, I wasn’t really married to the outcome and understood that to get something, you sometimes need to let something go. It’s just the way life works.
Sidebar: ultimatums about personality are a completely different game. Saying “we can be friends if you’re more positive about life” is not healthy. A request to change a destructive habit is not like a request to change who they are.
Repeat after me: I am ONLY responsible for my own happiness.
Being selective about who you allow into your space is not discriminating, it’s knowing exactly what you want, what your standards are, and your vision of where you are headed, then having the courage to stick by those ideals. I have reminders about what my Top 5 Passions are everywhere so I can stay focused about what I want from life and to constantly align myself with that.
Instead of being afraid to lose people, be afraid of losing yourself. After all, not everyone you lose is a loss.
Set clear healthy firm boundaries. Boundaries can potentially heal a toxic relationship, however, it is better to set them before the relationship, friendship, or partnership starts.
I have relatives who love to gossip, and what they choose to do with their time is none of my business; however, they know better than to come gossiping to me. It’s not about changing them, it’s about changing how they treat you and changing yourself.
If someone chooses to be a downer no matter how much I try to cheer them up, I respect them, I just let them know we’re going to talk about something different because I am not interested in much complaining (because more often than not, they are not planning to do anything about it). Much of the time, I don’t cut negative people out of my life, they choose to leave on their own because my positivity annoys them to no end. LOL I have a rule about that: when people walk away from you, let them go.
I have learned that many times, when someone continued to disrespect me or do something that really annoyed me or frustrated me, I had not really spoken up and told them EXACTLY how I felt about it. I would judge their “toxic behavior” but didn’t really give them an opportunity to realize that’s how I perceived it. Sometimes it’s not bullying, it’s merely a misunderstanding.
Practice Self-Care. Sometimes people, places, and situations trigger us because we are unwell. When I haven’t slept, or needed to pee hours ago but didn’t, or I’m starving so much I could eat an 18-slice pizza, I don’t react to little annoyances the same. Lack of self-care really makes us moody, grumpy, and resentful. Other ways to refuel, de-stress, and center yourself are: prayer, meditation, positive affirmations, yoga or any other type of exercise, massage, or pampering yourself.
When you are relaxed, focused, and rested, you can develop the courage to cancel your subscription to someone else’s issues.
Your energy is precious and being a mom is already exhausting, draining, and depleting enough. If you take care of your needs FIRST, you will be replenished and will be less infected by other people’s poison. You’ll think more clearly and will say no without feeling guilty and will not be influenced to join the toxicity club.
SOMETIMES you DO need to LET some people GO.
If you have indeed self-examined to take responsibility and went through the 5 steps of setting firm boundaries, and the toxic behavior continues, and doesn’t seem to get any better, it’s okay to give yourself permission to remove yourself from the equation by limiting your interactions with that person, avoiding one-on-one time with them, or, in some cases, walk away and terminate all contact.
You are not meant to keep people around who disregard your legitimate feelings, ignore your reasonable boundaries, and act like it’s justified. You are allowed to treat yourself fairly, kindly, and with respect, without feeling guilty.
Not everyone who comes into your life is intended to stay, and I’ve come to know that if I’m being honest, my behavior is probably as toxic to them as theirs is to me, because allowing someone to mistreat, disrespect, and abuse you is not a favor to them either. Break ups can be a blessing in disguise for BOTH parties. Some people are not good for each other, no matter how much they love each other.
I am unapologetic about my standards and about respecting the standards of others. We can love each other and disagree… and there’s no need to drag each other down with toxic reactions. I have fired clients, ended relationships, and blocked people on Facebook, and I am proud of that. Self-care is creating an environment that is balanced and nourishing to your personal growth.
Don’t waste your energy on people who are committed to misusing it. Don’t waste your time explaining yourself to people who are committed to misunderstanding you. Don’t waste your life trying to live up to other people’s expectations of you!
How do you deal with toxicity in your life? Have you ever been bogged down in the spiral of negativity? Do you believe there are toxic people or toxic behaviors? I’d love to hear from you!