Every day we interact with people around us, and we have different kinds of relationships with each of them. Some relationships are casual, such as the clerk you converse with briefly at the grocery store every week, or a fellow passenger on the bus you ride to work. Other relationships are more intense and personal-these are the ones we have with family, friends, lovers and even co-workers. Some of these relationships are by choice, others not.
In spite of our best intentions and efforts to get along well with everyone, not all our personal relationships are good or healthy ones, and some simply cannot be fixed. What is important is to recognize the difference. Basically there are two kinds of people in every relationship: those who consistently fill our cup and those who drain it. Those who drain us can only be classified as toxic.
It’s a rare individual who has never encountered a toxic personality or had to deal with one either at school, work, in social situations or even at home. They are everywhere. How do you recognize these people and how do you know if any of your relationships are toxic? You know by how you feel when you are around them.Toxic people drain your energy and leave you feeling drained and depleted. If you feel absolutely exhausted by constantly having to deal with someone’s temper tantrums, mood swings, manipulation, complaining, criticisms or demeaning remarks, most likely this person is toxic, at least to you. Other people may not react to that person in the same manner. Why? Probably because their buttons are not being punched-yours are. However, truly toxic people behave the same everywhere they go, and it is unlikely you are the only one who finds them difficult to be around.
Toxic people are extremely negative. Regardless of what someone says, this kind of person always manages to find a way to counter with a negative opinion or viewpoint. Every attempt at changing the topic of a conversation to something positive is met with resistance, and the subject being discussed is inevitably turned back into something negative.
Toxic people are constantly fixated on doom and gloom-everything in life is black and there is no white. When faced with a problem, they zero in on the issue itself rather that coming up with constructive ways to deal with it. They adopt a self-victimizing mindset and will complain regardless of what happens. These people have a general disdain for life and manage to see only the dark side of everything. However, they are not necessarily malicious or deliberately intending to harm someone else. They are simply so immersed in their own negativity they have little or no concept of how they affect others. Toxic individuals tend to be extremely narcissistic-the entire focus of their lives is centered on what they want and need. They are consummate takers who are incapable of giving anything back unless they want something, or it serves an immediate purpose for them.
Even in the best of relationships there can be conflicts and differences of opinion, but if a relationship is healthy, most conflicts and unresolved issues eventually get worked out. In a toxic relationship, regardless of all attempts to address differences and work through problems, the problem is ongoing. Conflict and friction can become so severe that one or more persons in the relationship continue to get hurt, and inevitably there is a loser.
What is the definition of a toxic relationship? According to Dr. Lillian Glass, author of Toxic People, a toxic person as “anyone who manages to drag you down, make you feel angry, worn out, deflated, belittled or confused.” Dysfunctional and painful relationships can develop for a variety of reasons. At worst, there are those who will deliberately hurt someone else simply out of meanness and a desire to control or be superior. These people intentionally use, abuse and damage others, usually to make themselves feel better or more important. Other harmful and toxic relationships can develop, less from a desire to cause pain, but because of a person’s own emotional wounding, a stressful lifestyle, mental illness or an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Coming to the realization that a relationship you value may be destructive and unhealthy is often a painful process. It is easy to be blinded by denial and an eternal hopefulness that “somehow he or she will change and all of this will get better.” It is difficult for us to see or believe that our parents, spouse, children or friends do not really have our best interests at heart and might actually be harmful to us. People can remain in denial for as long as a lifetime, often with disastrous results, or they may become increasingly aware that a relationship is unhealthy. Once a person becomes aware of the true situation, the temptation may be to slip back into denial hoping for the best, or to throw oneself into a desperate attempt to “fix” things. Non-toxic partners may even blame themselves, thinking “If only I had said, done… he or she would not have… “
Sadly, even if the non-toxic person in a relationship makes all the changes the toxic partner requests, it is still not enough to bring peace to the relationship. Eventually, the non-toxic partner becomes exhausted from trying to be perfect and from trying to do anything and everything to bring normalcy to the relationship. His or her sacrifices go completely unacknowledged, and both parties continue to focus on serving the toxic partner’s needs.
It is a vicious pattern, and when reality can no longer be denied and it becomes apparent that there is no “fix” for a relationship,” despair begins to overwhelm the healthier partner. The loss is profound, as it represents not only the loss of the other person, but the loss of an ideal and the shattering of a dream. It is a heart-rending process to finally realize and acknowledge that not all parents are loving, not all spouses remain faithful, and not all friends can be trusted.
If you are in a relationship with a toxic individual, you have been well-trained to put that person’s wants and needs first, above all else. If you consider yourself to be an intelligent, self-sufficient individual in other aspects of your life, it can be particularly shameful and embarrassing to admit you are in a toxic relationship.
Once you are willing to step out of denial and take a hard look at the relationship, you have to ask yourself what, if anything, you are getting out of it. If the answer is “nothing,” you have two choices.
1. Stay in the relationship, continue to surrender your power, and keep meeting your partner’s wants and needs at the expense of yourself
2. Assess your alternatives, reclaim your power, and make the decision to either change the relationship or get out of it.
Only you know what the right decision is.