Toxic people are everywhere – and their effect on workplace, family, and personal morale can be devastating.
Who’s a toxic person? Someone who sucks the energy and the motivation out of you in favor of advancing their own agenda and “best interests“. Often they might be disguised as “friends” who abuse you, family members who need to dominate you, or co-workers who demean you. At a distance, it is easy to recognize toxic people in other people’s lives, yet sometimes it’s not so easy in our own life.
Why do we put up with abusive behavior from others where our own sense of well-being is jeopardized by these people?
I believe that some of it stems from our upbringing where our tolerance for unhealthy people is encouraged (such as the momilies like: be nice to your elders because they are older; you have to be a friend to have a friend; if two or more people are against you – it must be you; etc.).
About ten years ago, I was so surrounded by “toxic people” in my personal life that I thought I was going crazy (in fact, one of the most toxic people in my life tried to convince me that I was!) At the time, I thought that I needed to be more tolerant of this behavior (including abuse) in hopes of eliminating sadness and feelings of being used.
What I really needed to do (and am now doing) was to be less tolerant of abusive behavior and to cut out toxic people from my life.
AND, I realize that toxic people do not handpick people to befriend and abuse – they simply are so self-absorbed (and often downright mean) with everyone in their life. They make their way into the lives of others quite insidiously – they start by innocuous demands and offers of friendship (making you feel needed) and then proceed to take your energy, your self-esteem, and your optimism.
When you are surrounded by toxic people, you can end up feeling like you must be crazy – after all, how can the world be crazy around you? Realizing that toxic people use others without it being personal – they will use family, friends, acquaintances, spouses, anyone to advance their self-serving agenda – can make it easier to deal with them in the long-term. (It’s not personal!)
How do you know if someone is toxic in your life? Once you recognize the behavior and how you feel when you are around them, it becomes a matter of identification and elimination (if you value your health).
- Verbal abuse: Toxic people will berate you, insult you, call you names, and disparage you. (Friends don’t let anyone abuse their friends.) For example, I once knew a toxic person who would disparage my clothes at every chance in front of colleagues and co-workers. If I wore a pair of shoes with a heel higher than an inch, she’d alert people by announcing “Look everybody, Carol is wearing hooker heels.” Not someone I ever needed in MY life.
- Lack of respect for your time: Toxic people will call you and demand support at all hours of the day and night – one toxic person I used to know called me repeatedly in the middle of the night for support when her adult daughter got arrested for drunk driving, and again when she thought she violated her suspended license. At first I thought she really needed support at those times, then later I found out that she started calling people for support earlier in the evening and didn’t care how late it got as she continued to call people on her list.
- Lack of reciprocity: Toxic people are energy-suckers who will drain your energy and then turn their back on you if you need support. I have an entire garage full of abandoned mattresses from a toxic person who begged me to share my garage space with her desperate and broke daughter, then turned her back and refused to remove the items she no longer wanted after I asked for the space back. To date neither the person nor her daughter have said a word of thanks nor have they returned phone calls asking them to remove their garbage from my garage.
- Self-centeredness: Toxic people know how to get their needs met first by relying on the generosity of others, but do not give back. One toxic person I knew used my time and support to soothe her broken heart during a divorce (I spent weeks doing so including trips at my expense), but does not notice when others need or ask for her support. Self-centered people simply do not see anyone beyond their own immediate circle of people and their own needs.
- Lack of consideration: When toxic people are short of money or resources, they see no problem taking (or more likely asking for) your money, time, resources. When their situation changes and they come into the money, toxic people usually forget your generosity and will insist on equal division of costs going forward. Sometimes these people will even take advantage of any weakness on your part to gain financial advantage over you – with no regard to fair treatment.
- Bully behavior: Toxic people often bully others and then justify their behavior by touting that they are only asserting their will on others. I once knew such a toxic person who believed that there would be no bullies in the world without ready and willing victims. How deranged!
What’s the best way to deal with toxic people in YOUR life? It is never an easy situation – even when you identify who they are. My advice is to stop tolerating the behavior and make plans to move them out of your life. Sometimes they may change as a result, but usually toxic people are ignorant of their toxicity and simply go on to find others they can use and abuse.
What is life like without toxic friendships? For me, I’m finding that the solitude and satisfaction I gain from new, non-toxic friendships far outweighs the companionship that toxic people used to provide. Feeling good when you are with people who are emotionally healthy is a beautiful thing!
Toxic people – it’s really not a personal thing when they treat you badly! But it is personal if you choose to keep these people in your life!
Have a great week!
p.s., Thank you to my current friends and my son and my daughter who have never been a part of the toxic influences in my life!