Friends, we have all dealt with toxic people before. In our workplace, random strangers, our family, our friend group, our schools…. and introverts or overly sensitive and kindhearted people are the easiest targets. It’s a jungle out there, and we all are slaves to our cave-person tendencies.
Toxic people are predators that can sniff out a willing victim from miles away, sometimes subconsciously. They spot out those people who are givers and intuitively know that this person will drain their own resources to make them happy. Be careful since they will never announce themselves. Toxic people know they have to be tricky and never obvious, seeping in to others lives to take advantage of their tenderheartedness. If you feel yourself constantly drained in that person’s presence, that could be a clue that the relationship is toxic. But what are other signs?
How to Recognize a Toxic Relationship.
1. They will take sides.
A toxic person will start a conversation about a conflict, or a dramatic situation, and talk as if from an area of concern. Once you express your own concern to join the conversation, it slowly tilts in to a conversation about opinions. Slowly and subtly, the person will ask if you agree with their opinion. Their opinion will have you ultimately taking sides with them and against the other person, maybe not in an obvious way. You will find yourself agreeing that the person is acting (adjective here) lately, and also agree you aren’t taking sides or gossiping with each other. Then in future visits or conflicts you will always be asked to physically go with the toxic person you “agreed” with if they leave, or verbally agree with their blanket statements about the situation. In a group the toxic person will single you out. You will be inexplicably drawn in to conversations with the toxic person when they say the sentence, “She/He knows what I’m talking about, and totally agrees with me! Don’t you?” You will become a “team” of unhealthy emotions against all others who don’t think like the two of you do. This works twofold. Making you a part of the “team” makes you feel proud to be included in their toxic (although you don’t recognize it yet) behaviour, as well as serving to alienate you from your healthier friendships.
2. Toxic people will call in favours.
Not only will they call in these favours, they will seem innocent at first and this will trick you in to thinking it is okay. For example, “Hey remember when I let you borrow my sweater? Maybe then you could let me borrow that jacket that used to be your father’s then, right?” These will only escalate (What do you mean you can’t drive me around for four days? I bought you a latte!) and you will always feel as if you “owe them”. This keeps you indebted to them and under their wing. They want to have power over you.
3. They will pretend to have your interests at heart.
This one is harder to pin down. They will be overly interested in what you are and will take your side in every conflict….until they don’t. Occasionally, they will take your interests and compliment you, but in a backhanded way. For example, when introducing you the toxic person will make fun of what you like, while pretending to be supportive, “Oh she loves it- even though it is soooooooooo…. dorky that people don’t usually admit liking it… but I just think that is so adorable.”
4. You will find yourself making excuses for their behaviour.
Other people may instantly recognize this behaviour as toxic or destructive and will pipe up about it. You find yourself constantly defending or explaining away the toxic person’s behaviour. You will say why it wasn’t rude, mean, underhanded, taking advantage, or sketchy behaviour until you are blue in the face, and you will find out it is exhausting to do so. This is a huge sign that person is toxic and is preying on your seemingly unlimited kind and/or passive behaviour.
5. Their love is conditional.
Their love will be the love of a thousand suns and you will feel as if you can do no wrong. Their love will be consuming and could potentially burn you out. You have lived this toxic relationship thus far with “yes exactlys” punctuating every sentence! You think the same (cuz they tell you that you do!) up until now. Then…..you don’t agree with how they are acting and their love dries up like a desert mirage. Toxic people hope that you are addicted to being liked and that you will try desperately to get back in to their good graces, in which case the whole needy and toxic cycle will begin again.
What Can You Do?
We do not always have the choice to cut this toxic person from our lives. Perhaps it is a coworker, your boss, a best friend’s partner, or a family member. You are stuck with this person in your life, so what can you do to identify these relationships early or survive them?
1. Set clear boundaries for yourself.
How many tasks are you willing to do for this person? How often will you have to interact with them? If they fish for compliments, how can you be polite without jeopardizing your moral compass? I find it best to write a list of your boundaries so you have a physical reminder of what is a healthy line for you. There is no need to be nasty to them, but know how far is healthy for you to go. You may want to distance yourself a little bit from them. Remind yourself that you are worthy of reciprocal love and friendship, and that you do not need to do everything for people who won’t return the love. You do not always have to be the giver and it is okay to say no sometimes. You do not have to give all of you. There is also a line of being polite and being fake. Stay on the side of polite. Do not spout falsities, but do say nice things when they are warranted. Instead of feeding in to a conversation that will turn out to be toxic, ask questions about their life, or lead them in to a different conversation altogether. “This weather is so nice! What’s your fave thing to do outside in nice weather like this?” The most important boundary you will need to set is how much sharing of personal information you will do with them. In my experience, the less the better. Tell them general information, but nothing they can bring back on you and potentially blackmail or hurt you with.
Maybe the relationship got so toxic that you must vent to someone, but are worried about that turning in to gossip. Vent to a page. Journal the crap out of that feeling. Do whatever you feel is best with the pages: hide them under your mattress, keep them to add on to, tear them up or burn them. Whatever feels the most cathartic. Do it in point form, make up names, write it out as a “fictional” story, use poetry or just a word cloud. Whatever feels right but get it out of your cluttered mind and get it down on paper so it can quit bouncing around inside of you, creating blackness and resentment.
3. Dance it out.
This is my personal favourite. A toxic relationship with anyone can be mentally harrowing. Sometimes the only thing that helps is to sweat it out. My choice is to put on a few really good songs and dance like the world is ending. Personally, I put on an angry song first and scream along, then a sad song to slow it down a bit and reflect, and, third, I put on a feel good dance or indie pop song to really move to. I play that third choice on repeat until I am tired and smiling. About twenty minutes later and I feel reborn! It is the cheapest therapy I’ve found for this situation and harmless. Plus, a quick workout is the end result and a happy by-product!
Sometimes meditation can help to center me and bring in to perspective what really matters. However, in these situations, it is probably best to do a guided meditation to help you focus and get you away from any thoughts that are circling. I use the Stop, Breathe & Think app for guided meditation. I am still new at meditation, but I do find that the more I do it, the less inclined I am to become a victim to toxic relationships. I feel that I know my own mind and I am more in tune with my gut feelings when I keep up meditation. It’s also a way to refocus yourself to your own needs, rather than theirs.
5. Don’t take it personally.
Remember that there must be a reason they are like this. Perhaps this is how their parents were with them, and it is the only way they know how to relate to people. Maybe their friends in high school were manipulative and they think this is how friends interact. Whatever the reason, remember they are human too. You do not need to take on all of their baggage, but you also do not have to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong in the toxic person’s life. You also do not always have to take their side. Recognize it for what it is and don’t take anything they say personally. Silently forgive them for their toxic behaviour and know there must be an underlying reason for it. Just don’t take it on as your own burden.
Nothing is altogether random. There is always a reason, but don’t excuse or pity them for their behaviour, therefore embracing their emotions as your own yet again.
To find the friends worth the love of your heart…..
- Why do they give you their time and gifts? Is anything expected in return or is it just reciprocal?
- Listen to their pattern of speech. Is it full of positive or negative words and connotations?
- Do they have the ability to listen without waiting for their turn to speak and without giving negative advice to you?
- Do they support you when you have new goals or do they sabotage any attempts to better yourself?
- Look at their five closest friends. Are they people you trust and would also want to hang out with, or are they constantly negative, gossiping, and nay-sayers? If they are people you would trust, that says a lot.
It’s not a foolproof plan, but a guideline that has worked for me lately and I hope it helps you identify negative personalities before they drain you emotionally.