Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Warning: Toxic!

"Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take." ~ Anthony Robbins

Debbie Downer...Judgmental Jims...Disrespectful Dannys...Neverenough Nellies...Insincere Illissas...Dream Killing Keiths...Narcissistic Nancy...Manipulative Mary. These are the buzz words you find online now to describe what is otherwise known as toxic personalities. I am not going to go into a lengthy description of each because well, my readers are very capable of doing that on their own and besides, most of them are self-explanatory. For example, a description of person who is considered a "Narcissistic Nancy" is someone who feels that the world revolves around them. They cannot see outside themselves and make that fact pretty darn well known. The end result is that they leave you feeling pretty drained and wanting to run away screaming...as fast as you can!

Let's face it. We all know someone who has a toxic personality so to speak. Most of us are even involved in some type of relationship with someone like that. It is a topic that I have been wanting to write about for some time but I am always hesitant. Why? Because first, I seem to struggle a lot lately with what kind of topics to blog on. I have so much that I want to write about, especially about relationships, but I walk a fine line between writing how/what I want and respecting people's privacy. Also, I am not big on the idea of someone sitting there wondering if something I am discussing is about them because most likely it is not. However in order to be the type of writer I want to be, I have to write with honesty, emotion, and integrity.

Second, my hesitancy has been over the phrase "toxic people" because it tends to put people into little boxes or compartments and that is not how relationships work. They are messy and complicated. They are grey, rather than black and white.  I have found over the past several years that the more I put myself out there in the world, the more complicated developing and maintaining relationships becomes. People are so complex; in good ways and in bad. I am not talking only about relationships and toxic people (I will keep using that phrase just for an easy reference) in the romantic sense; but in the context of all our relationships whether they are with family members, co-workers, or friends.

During the time I separated and subsequently divorced from my ex-husband I pretty much figured well, that is that. All the emotional drama is going to go away. What I came to realize though is that I have a habit of developing toxic relationships of all forms. I think this is true for many of us. By saying this I don't want to imply that I am somehow a blameless innocent victim because really, when a person is involved with another person that is considered toxic, we feed into it. We allow people with toxic personalities to have control over us when all we want to do is to tell them to stop draining the life out of us!

In my opinion, those with toxic personalities aren't necessarily "bad" people. I think at one time or another, many of us have displayed the traits of a toxic personality like I mentioned above. Truth be told, I know I have. There have been times in my life that I have probably unintentionally drained the living hell out of certain people I am close to in my life. Maybe you can call it being needy; maybe you can call it being toxic. Maybe those people would say otherwise, who knows. I do know for a fact that looking back, I know a time when I might have been considered toxic to a very close friend of mine. She and I have been friends for about 10-11 years now and there were YEARS that she gave and gave to me, expecting nothing in return. I tried to be as good a friend to her as she was to me during those years but reality was, I couldn't at the time. I don't think it made me a bad person, just not a very good friend. She stuck with me though and I hope that now, I can do our friendship the justice that it so richly deserves.

Toxic relationships do not necessarily have to be overt such as with physical or verbal abuse. There is no clearly defined definition for a toxic person or relationship so I would like to offer up my own definition of a toxic person in one's life. It is someone who drains you on a consistent basis; the key word here being consistent. We all go through difficult times when we need support and friends on a daily, if not hourly basis. Some people who are toxic though always take and rarely give. Others are possessive and behave in a passive-aggressive manner when you choose to spend time with someone else. Another example might be a friend saying something to embarrass you in front of a group of people, disguising it as a joke. Or someone who is constantly criticizing you or your choices. Yes, we are all responsible for how we let other people affect us with their words or behavior but to me, a toxic person is someone who on a regular basis just makes us feel bad. It's that simple. I am not even sure that it matters whether you are an oversensitive person (like myself) or someone who tends to overanalyze things and not lightheartedly take a joke. If being around someone consistently makes you feel bad about yourself, them, or the world in general, you've got a problem on your hands.

So OK, what do you do about it then? Well, there are all kinds of philosophies about how to handle toxic people and relationships. Some people say just get the heck out of the relationship which sometimes may be necessary and sometimes not always possible. I am definitely not a shrink, but I say the best way to approach these types of relationships is to take control and own it. Inundate them with positivity when they are negative. Give the relationship some distance for a while. Talk to them; maybe they are not fully aware of their behavior and how it affects others. Confront the behavior directly in a calm and rational manner. Don't feed into it especially when the behavior revolves around constant gossiping or complaining; negativity breeds negativity. Be the person to break the cycle. Be proactive in who you spend your time with to avoid getting yourself into a toxic relationship to begin with.

I can honestly say that the amount of toxicity in my life is the least it has been in a very very long time. This is not by chance. It requires a lot of work and thought. It has resulted in a lot of tears as well. I have had to reevaluate a lot of my interactions with those around me and just as importantly, my own behavior in order to develop and sustain all types of relationships that are nourishing, whole, and healthy. Because in the end, that is what we all deserve.

                                                                           Photo Courtesy Google Images


  1. Christine, when I was younger I used to tolerate a lot of toxicity from people. Now that I'm older, and I have a better understanding of healthy relationships, I don't tolerate a whole lot of crap from anybody. LOL! Well said my lady!

  2. Yes, as we get older, we learn enough about ourselves, and about who we want to spend time with, to make better relationship decisions. You are correct, it isn't always easy, but just like with bad feelings in general, you have to let certain people go. If it is a situation that you cannot get away from, such as a coworker, then disengaging as much as possible from said person is the best way to handle it. Char

  3. It isn't easy, but breaking away from toxic people is empowering. There are several family members I no longer have contact with. Besides being toxic, they were dangerous--physically and emotionally.

    Others, who are less toxic, I've learned to let roll off my back. It's definitely a balancing act, learning how to deal.

    Nice post.

  4. I hear you Leah and Char about the getting older part, making better decisions, and just not taking any crap! And like Jo said, that is also quite empowering as well!

  5. ah christine, not unlike so many sunday homilies i sit through, this speaks to me deeply and is quite timely. recently i was finally able to cut a toxic person out of my everyday life but will still have to deal with said person occasionally, which i am not looking forward to. like you, i am a very sensitive person, so not only is it hard to cut someone out on a basic human level (seems mean sometimes) but it's hard not to give the person another chance, and another chance, etc. generally speaking, people are good...i get stuck on letting them back in even when it's not good for me....

  6. The first place I look for help with "toxic" relationships is the mirror. After all, our own behavior is really the only thing we have control over.

  7. Anonymous ~ Yes, it can be quite difficult to make a decision as radical as cutting someone from your life, or even just trying to.

    Carla~ Very wise and very true, but wouldn't it be just great if we could control everyone and everything?? Ahhhh.... :-)

  8. I ended a toxic friendship about 10 years ago and I'm going to have to see her for the first time in a few months and it's really bothering me. So sad how 10 years later she is still toxic.

    Great post Chris!

  9. Good luck with your toxic person Karen!

  10. I admire your bravery in writing about this. I agree that as a writer, there will be times that others (even me) will not like what you write. In my opinion, if I read something you wrote and think "Oh no, is she talking about me?" then I probably said something I shouldn't have. Your job definitely requires a mental toughness that not everyone has.

    I have been very guilty of allowing toxic relationships to endure in my life which, in turn, also affected my childrens' lives. I have also grown to accept that I have been toxic to others. As I like to say: Like attracts like. The more I grow and learn, the less I attract toxic people and attract others who are more like the person I am working on: me.

    1. It is definitely an ongoing process that is for sure. Everyone says something they shouldn't have at one point or another; I think i do it quite often! But it is the people in the world who are continuously draining the positive energy out of others that I am STILL trying so hard to avoid. Not because I think I am a better person or anything like that. Just because it is such a waste of valuable time and energy. Life is too short!