A Mouse's Tale

Random scurryings of a writer.

Toxic People

Back in high school, and after that in college, I learned that I couldn’t function when being surrounded by toxic people. Who can?  I read the an article on a whim this morning, for some reason the topic was in my mind when I woke up. The following snippet really grabbed my attentions.

Knowing what it means to “let go” of negative people, along with their personal demons and issues, allows you the strength and determination needed to live your life without the constant barrage of criticism that can easily erode your own self-esteem, health and well-being.

Dealing with family members and in-laws can be especially difficult and stressful. If there are family members or in-laws that treat you like their personal doormat, criticizing and ridiculing you for everything and anything, you may have to consider putting a strict limit on how often you associate with them, if at all.

Lately, it seems like they’re infultrating my life again. Most of it is through avenues I never expected; new friends, family, and co-workers who I thought I knew well enough to trust have turned out to only be toxic people. In some cases, this toxicity has not effect me directly, but instead has effected those that I love and hold dear. While in high school and college it was easy to cut those people out, how do you address the issue of toxicity if these people are family members, whom you’re expected to love each and everyday? Or co-workers whom you’re supposed to be able to collaborate with? It’s a constant puzzle, one that can really take a toll on the psyche.

Dr. Ben Kim’s website includes information on dealing with toxic people within the three levels of proximity to you. For myself, only groups three really counts as that’s the group I’m seeing the most toxicity creep from (and the group I least expected it from). I’m not changing any of the wording, simply because I feel it’s right on the money?

Group 3: Ideal to be close

Examples of people who belong in this category:

  • Immediate family members
  • Relatives
  • Friends that you have good reason to respect

How to protect your health against such people:

As before, start by examining your own behavior to see if you can come up with a reasonable cause for the other party’s unacceptable behavior. If you cannot come up with a reason for the other party’s behavior, find someone who you can trust to be as objective and honest as possible, and explain the conflict to him or her as thoroughly and accurately as possible. Ask for honest feedback on how you might have triggered the other party’s behavior.

If appropriate, apologize for your behavior. If you and your adviser have thought long and hard about the conflict and cannot identify anything that you need to apologize for, work on developing compassion for the other party.

Most will agree that people are not born to be mean-spirited and toxic to others. People can become mean-spirited and toxic to others for varying periods of time if they encounter enough hurt, disappointment, and/or anger in their own journeys. Maybe the other party is jealous of you and consumed by his or her own failures. Maybe he or she is just going through a really rough time due to a loss in the family. Maybe he or she has never truly felt cared about by another person. Maybe the other party has been treated so poorly by family members that sensitivity has been numbed and he or she has no idea that you feel like you have been mistreated. The idea is to generate enough compassion for the other person to overpower or at least quell your hurt feelings.

This doesn’t mean that you need to be a martyr or a doormat and go asking for another three tight slaps to your other cheek. Developing some compassion for the other party’s behavior is meant to prevent said behavior from causing you to stew and stay emotionally unbalanced for a long time after the actual moment of conflict. And if the other party has or develops the courage to apologize to you, having some pre-made compassion available in your heart improves your chances of offering genuine forgiveness and experiencing that much more emotional harmony.

While it’s important that you teach family members and close friends how you expect to be treated, in some cases, it may be necessary for you to seek out a make-up session even if the other party has not apologized for his or her behavior.

For example, if it was your spouse who mistreated you, and he or she has not apologized, if you know from experience that he or she is not likely to initiate a conversation that can lead to healing, and a top priority for you is to have your children grow up in a mostly peaceful and love-filled environment, it may be best for you to reach out first. By reaching out first in such a scenario, the hope is that you inspire your partner to edge closer to taking more responsibility for his or her actions during the next conflict. Clearly, this proactive and almost martyr-like approach to increase understanding and intimacy is most appropriate in situations where you are deeply committed to the long term relationship at hand.

I’m trying hard to deal with this the best way possible. I’ve apologized. I’ve addressed matters in terms of feelings, not actions. I’ve given forgiveness. I’ve tried to set up make-up sessions (which is something I’ve learned that some people are uncomfortable with as it admits that both parties were wrong). I feel right now that I’ve been slowly trying to “develop compassion for the other party.” It’s good to see that, according to Dr. Kim at least, I’m on the right track. Hopefully this will make the next encounter with this specific person much more easier.

The largest piece that I’ve taken out of my recent readings of toxic people is this: I need to accept that a toxic person’s behavior has nothing to do with me.

Blessed Be, So Mote It Be.


3 responses to “Toxic People

  1. Renata Torres February 15, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I’m going through similar situations right now. Thank you so much for posting this. I think this really helped me to think differently about what’s going on in my life. ;)

  2. habitsofamouse February 15, 2011 at 7:10 am

    Renata – I’m glad this helped! It seems to be something that many of us deal with on a regular basis, but it very seldom talked about.

  3. Desi March 7, 2011 at 5:41 am

    Wow. I really needed this. Thanks hun. I will try to continuously build compassion for my sister, even if she doesn’t want it. Hopefully doing so will help heal me. I can’t begin to tell you how often I think about it, dream about it, and feel guilty about it even though I’ve been told several times that it’s not my fault. No doubt it falls in the jealousy category. It’s just hard to keep your distance when you want to show you care. But you can’t expose yourself to that constant bombartment of toxic behavior. It’s something I’ve learned as well, but that doesn’t make it easy. I hope time will be kind to us and show us that we have made the right kind of decisions.

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