I remember the night when I had visited my mother and rode home by bus. My head leaned against the window and tears were streaming down my face. Once again the time spent with my mother has left me sad and miserable.
Why was she constantly attacking me? Why did she say such hurtful words? Was she completely oblivious to the pain she caused within me? Wasn’t the whole point of being in a relationship with other people to feel happier, not worse? Why did I go back to her again and again, well knowing how she was?
That night I decided that I needed to distance myself from her, simply because I couldn’t take it anymore. I loved her, but at the same time knew she wouldn’t change, simply because she could never admit a fault to herself or others.
I had tried to speak about difficult topics with her in the past, but she constantly tried to distract. She was not ready for a conversation about her behaviour. She just wouldn’t listen. I had to let go of her.
Does this sound familiar?
Are you, too, currently surrounding yourself with people who make you feel bad on a regular basis?
You are not the only one, however, if you have experienced a difficult childhood and the abuse and neglect that comes with it, you are especially prone to let friends, family, partners, coworkers, employees, clients and business partners treat you like a doormat or drain your energy.
This is due to the fact that as adults we all have a tendency to recreate and relive our childhood experiences.
If you had a rough childhood you will unconsciously choose people who display the negative characteristics that you had to deal with as a kid.
A child with a drug addicted parent will, in its adult life, often choose drug addicted friends or a drug addicted partner. This happens of course on an unconscious level.
So, what are examples of toxic behaviour? Well, the word toxic says it all. It means poisonous, and who wants to be poisoned? People with toxic behaviour have a bad influence on you, they are making your life worse, not better.
And as with real poison, the dose can be either very low and hardly detectable but nevertheless damaging to you in the long run or it’s so strong that it can kill you instantly.
People with toxic behaviour display a negative attitude towards life, where it’s all about taking instead of giving and dominance and submission instead of win-win solutions.
This mindset reveals itself through
- lack of conscience, lack of empathy, lack of consideration for others,
- arrogant, devaluing, derogatory or even insulting remarks about you or others during conversation,
- constantly blaming others for their problems and refusing to take any personal responsibility,
- parasitic lifestyle (expecting emotional support from you but never returning the favour, borrowing money but never returning it, laziness, refusal to work, want you to pay for everything without giving anything in return …),
- irresponsibility and disregard for their own safety and the safety of others (resulting in STDs, unwanted pregnancy, accidents …),
- unpredictable, erratic behaviour, extreme mood swings,
- constant creation of unnecessary stress and drama, constant attention seeking,
- overstepping of boundaries (humiliating you in front of others, reading your diary, taking money from your piggy bank without asking, hacking your social media accounts, unwanted sexual advances … ),
- dishonesty, manipulation, deception, slander, intrigues and lies,
- constant bitterness, resentfulness and hatred,
- controlling, angry, hostile, aggressive, threatening or even violent behaviour,
- criminal activities (theft, vandalism, fraud, drug dealing …),
- untreated substance abuse (especially alcohol and illegal drugs).
Even if you are fully aware of the fact, that relationships with toxic people are detrimental to your overall satisfaction with life, there are several reasons why you might feel unable to let go of them, the most common are:
- Fear of loneliness: Perhaps these people are the only friends and family you’ve got and you aren’t confident in your ability to make new acquaintances.
- Guilt: You think you owe them, because they have done so much for you and after all, they are your ageing parents or your disabled sibling.
- Financial dependency: Perhaps you are unemployed or in a low paying job and they pay for your expenses. Or they are important clients your business needs to survive.
- Fear of revenge: You are afraid the toxic person in your life will seek some kind of revenge when you leave them. He or she could be trying to destroy your reputation, your property or even your physical integrity.
It’s very common to have difficulties of letting go of a toxic person. Many people experience this in their life.
But for the sake of your healing from a much less than ideal childhood and your commitment to build a better future for yourself you need to find a way to detox from such negative influences.
You can’t have both, emotional wellbeing AND people who constantly bring you down.
This doesn’t work. Something’s got to give.
So let’s look again at the reasons why you might find it difficult to distance yourself from the toxic person in your life.
Fear of Loneliness:
I don’t think that being lonely for some time is such a bad thing. Especially if you are someone who constantly needs to surround themselves with other people I challenge you to ask yourself why this is so.
Loneliness gives you space to think about your values and goals and room to start building a better relationship with yourself.
A disconnect with yourself is usually the reason why as an adult you choose to spend time with toxic people in the first place.
Loneliness can be the starting point of self-discovery and self-realisation. However, if you absolutely don’t want to be by yourself, slowly start replacing toxic relationships with more positive ones.
Go to events where you can find people who are working on themselves or on their goals, people who are striving for something positive.
This can be a gym, a meditation class, a bible study group, a book club, a self-help group, a conference, a creative writing class or a meetup.
You need a lot of positivity to counteract the negativity that has been infused into your life through your toxic person.
A great advice I have once received is to surround yourself with people who have built their lives the way you want to build yours and use them as role models.
Go searching for them, if not in the real world then through books, blogs, podcasts or videos. Being surrounded with functional people also helps you to see the stark contrast between their behaviour and the behaviour of the dysfunctional folks in your life and you will become more discerning.
Being surrounded with functional people also helps you to see the stark contrast between their behaviour and the behaviour of the dysfunctional folks in your life and you will become more discerning.
After some time you will be more and more drawn to good company and forsake the bad one.
A word of warning: When you start socializing with new people, stay cautious and observant. Don’t trust anyone too easily or you will become a victim again.
Be realistic about people and don’t have too high expectations of them. We are all flawed human beings, some to a bigger degree than others.
Be aware of your tendency to attract toxic people and keep your radar on. Don’t dive too deep into new friendships and don’t become too dependent on one person only.
Especially if you are at the beginning of your healing journey I think an organized setting like a running group or self-help-meeting works best. It’s good to have a hobby or special interest at the centre of your interaction with others.
Everybody is responsible for their own behaviour. So if some people chose to display negative or mean behaviour towards others, this is their own responsibility and they are free to change their behaviour anytime.
Of course, these people don’t feel the need to change if they are surrounded by enough people who tolerate and therefore enable their bad behaviour.
Ask yourself: Do you want to be an enabler of dysfunctional behaviour? Because this is what you are if you stick around toxic people and don’t develop any boundaries.
No, you don’t need to feel guilty, even if these individuals have done a lot for you in the past. You wouldn’t feel guilty rejecting a delicious looking creme tart if there was rat poison in it, right?
If poison comes to you enveloped in some good stuff that does not change the fact that it still toxic and can harm you. Start limiting your exposure to it.
If a toxic person is paying your way and because of this you don’t dare to leave them, it’s time to become financially independent. Of course, this won’t happen overnight and it requires sacrifices from you.
It could mean that you start looking for a fulltime job and if you can’t find one that you need to start developing skills that are in demand on the job market.
It could also mean that you need to significantly lower your expenses, sell some of your possessions and get used to a minimalist lifestyle.
It’s also necessary that you start untangling your personal finances from those of the toxic person. Get your own bank account and savings account and make sure only you have access to it.
Depending on the urgency of the situation you might ask for financial assistance from your government.
Financial independence is a longterm goal and requires patience and endurance. It also requires financial literacy (learning how to save, spend and invest), which is usually not taught at school and something which you need to learn as an adult.
In 2014, as a result of improving my financial literacy, I have completely paid off all of my credit card debts and student loans and I can tell you being debt free is an amazing feeling!
If you are self-employed and are dependent on one specific toxic client, you need to improve your marketing methods and find ways to get more clients. You also need to build better boundaries within your business processes and interactions so that toxic behaviour does not stand a chance.
Fear of revenge:
This kind of fear is very real as countless victims can report. There are numerous ways a toxic person who feels abandoned might try to get back at you.
Disowning you, spreading rumours about you, mobbing you at the work place, hacking your bank account, harassing you via calls, texts or social media, stalking you on- and offline, threatening you with violence or threats of suicide, all of these are methods of revenge you might be confronted with.
In some cases self-defence is as easy as changing your passwords to more secure ones, getting a new email address and phone number or blocking the person online.
In other cases, you might need to get legal help, buy pepper spray, get an alarm system for your home, move to a different place or even involve the police to get a restraining order.
Whatever the case, it’s important to not let the enemy manipulate you. It’s also important to not throw any more fuel into your persecutors fire.
Try to stay calm and rational, do not engage in any heated fights that might stir things up even more, instead avoid communication with them.
Also start collecting evidence like malicious texts, emails, letters etc. that you might need in front of a judge. Keep a record of all significant incidents with a detailed description of what happened, together with videos, photos, screenshots as well as time and date.
Tell people you trust about what you are experiencing and ask them to not share any of your personal information with the toxic person.
To sum it up:
If you want to live a happy and healthy life, you need to spend less of your time with toxic people and more time building the life you desire.
Even if getting rid of toxic people is easier said than done, it’s nevertheless necessary and here are first steps you can take:
- Step 1: Grab your pen and paper and write down all the toxic people you are currently involved with and how much time you spend with each of them on a weekly or monthly basis.
- Step 2: Make a plan of how to spend less time with them. This could mean calling them only biweekly or monthly instead of weekly, visiting them only on special occasions like their birthday or Christmas or breaking up the relationship altogether.
- Step 3: Think about how you are going to fill the time that will be freed up with something meaningful that supports your goals in life.
I hope this article was useful to you.
Question: Did you ever consciously get rid of a toxic person and how did it go? Please tell me in the comments!
[Photographer: Monika “miniformat65/pixabay.com”]