“As I got older, I started to cut out food that was bad for me. As I got wiser, I did the same with people.” Steve Maraboli
Most of us have had toxic people and toxic relationships in our lives at some point. But recognising them can be tricky, especially if they hide behind the classic excuse ‘I was only joking’ when they hurt or upset you. If you have someone in your life that constantly makes you feel bad about yourself in some way or another, whenever you are with them, this is a good sign that that relationship is a toxic one.
The other ‘good’ excuses you may hear are ‘you are so sensitive’, ‘you just took it wrong’, ‘you always take things so personally’, ‘it’s just banter, get over yourself’
Sometimes these ‘excuses’ are valid (we all have bad days, where we are a little extra sensitive) but not if it’s always coming from the same person or persons. If you have told someone that it upsets you when they do or say a particular thing, and they continue to do it… that’s a very good indication that this relationship is doing you more harm than good.
A true friend will listen to how you feel and adjust their behaviour to not offend you. A true friend will be upset that they have hurt or upset you. A true friend does not continue to behave in a manner that distresses their friend.
“Be careful of the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful of the friends you choose for you will become like them.” - W. Clement Stone
A toxic person can also get you in other ways:
· they can be dismissive of the things that are important to you
· constant complaining
· talking detrimentally about people you both know
· not ever listening you your opinions
· only offering back handed compliments
· always defensive
· aggressive tone when you try to put your point of view across
· laughing with others about you, even when you are still there
· lack of compassion
· talk rather than listen
· act like they’re always the victim
We don’t always notice the toxic people and the toxic relationships we have as the toxicity can be very well hidden, particularly in the early part of the relationship/friendship. A great way to work out which of your relationships are healthy and which are toxic is to do a little quiz:
Let’s say you have made arrangements to meet up with your friend Joanne for lunch at your favourite cafe.
How do you feel? On a scale of 5 - -5
+5 = extremely happy
0 = could take it or leave it
-5 = anxious, self-conscious, stressed, self doubt, over thinking etc.
So now you have made the arrangement how do you feel?
Now it’s time to get ready and leave the house to meet Joanne, rate your feelings about it on the scale below:
Whilst you are having lunch, during the quiet moments take a second or two to think about how you are feeling right now.
Okay, one more time. How did you feel as you left Joanne? Did you feel sad that the lunch was over or relief that it finally had come to an end?
Take a look at your scores on each question, what does it tell you about your relationship with Joanne?
Put your real relationships to the test, to check out if some of the people you are spending your valuable time with are having a negative effect on your mental health and your wellbeing.
There are different types of toxic relationship, some where they suck the fun and happiness out of you and others that play mind games with you, gaslighting, passive aggressiveness, put downs disguised as banter or jokes. Once you discover how you feel about a relationship, you may uncover their behaviour towards you.
A few years ago, I had a friend that I used to meet up with for lunch occasionally. One particular day I pulled up at the café and as I locked up my car ready to walk towards the café, I saw her and smiled, “well, you’ll never guess how bad my week has been again” was called across to me, as I walked towards her I could feel my heart start to sink. She complained about her work, her family, life in general for the entire lunch.
I asked her if she was ok, she replied very abruptly that she was fine, she was not being negative, and that it was everybody else’s fault. She just wanted to blame everybody around her for things that were not going right in her life, she didn’t want to sound off to get it off her chest and let it go, she wanted to wallow in her anger. I tried to find positives and to steer at least some of the conversation to a positive one, unfortunately this seemed to have the reverse affect.
I came home feeling completely drained and a little bit sad for her. All I knew is that I would never have those two hours again.
She didn’t just want to sound off and get something off her chest, she wanted to complain for the sake of complaining. I thought back to other times we had met up, in hindsight they were pretty similar, although nothing quite to the degree of what I’d just experienced. If I said something that didn’t back up her need to complain or heaven forbid had a slightly different take on the subject she shut me down with a stern tone.
I know people are like they are for a reason, and to be that angry in general conversation there will be something that has made her like this, but that doesn’t mean I have to spend my weekend listening to it. It would be different if she was going through a bad time and just needed a friend to talk to, we need to be there for our friends, but when they take no responsibility for what’s going on in their lives and just want to blame their problems onto anyone and everyone around them, they will drag you down with them.
After this incident, we tried to meet up a couple of times. But I found my heart sink just at the thought of it. To spend even just a few hours of my weekend being pulled down into a spiral of negativity feels like a waste of precious time and energy, I would rather go to lunch alone than to be drowned in someone else’s toxicity.
“Stay away from negative people – They have a problem for every solution.” - Albert Einstein
Toxic people drain us of our energy, make us doubt ourselves, make us feel we are not good enough. Some do it in an obvious way, others do it surreptitiously, they cover it up by saying detrimental remarks in such a way it almost sounds like a compliment, these are the ones that will tell you it’s your fault for being too sensitive or that your making a fuss over nothing. These are the ones that are likely to cause the most damage as they are harder to spot therefore will more likely to have been going on longer, slowly chipping away at your confidence and your self-esteem, until you believe that it is you and not them.
Letting them go
Now for the hard part. It is one thing identifying which people or relationships are toxic and not helping us to be our best selves. But then we have to decide what to do next.
If it’s just a new, casual friendship it will be easier to distance yourself, but work colleagues, family members and long-term friends are much harder to pull away from.
You can still be polite about it, rudeness is not the way to answer rudeness. But if someone’s behaviour is sucking the life out of you or making you feel that you are not good enough it may well be time to say goodbye.
The decision to either cut them out completely, or just limit the time you spend with them, is yours to make. It probably won’t be an easy decision, and maybe taking a little bit of time away from them will give you the strength you need to tell them how you feel. But who ever they are, they have no right to treat you badly, no right to make you second guess you true worth, and no right to drain you of your positive energy.
Just because someone has been in your life for a long time or because they are a member of your family does not mean they have to stay part of your life. You are under no obligation to have regular contact with someone that constantly puts you down, and makes you feel worthless.
“Make sure everyone in your 'boat' is rowing and not drilling holes when you're not looking.” - Unknown
You cannot change other people, but you can change how you react to them. Who you spend you time with is up to you, you get to chose who deserves to be in your life and who doesn’t.
And remember this quote from William Gibson – ‘Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.’