The term toxic as applied to a friend, relative or colleague is relatively new to myself. Where have I been you may ask. Have I had a blissfully sheltered life? Definitely not, yet in all honesty I had never heard the term or pondered it’s true meaning until recently.
Being a trusting sort of person, I erroneously assumed others were similar to me. If I liked a person and became friendly with them, it was simply that. I liked them, trusted them and in return assumed it was reciprocal. The idea of fakery or having a hidden agenda never occurred to me. As a straight-talking direct sort of person, I took people on face value. I wouldn’t want to waste my time and energy pretending to like someone, what would be the point?
I would be open, honest and kind to that person as a matter of course, because that is the way I like people to behave towards me. It never occurred to me that my so called best friend was a devious, draining, two-faced individual who would willingly betray me to further their own ends.
Was I naive? Perhaps, yet growing up there were no courses on toxic people, or narcissists. Bad people were obviously bad; nasty, angry, violent, they displayed their true colours to the world for all to see. This does not mean I was unaware of so called sharks in the working environment; ambitious types who would stab you in the back to climb their dubious ladder to success. I was aware, yet having the kind of nature I have, I often didn’t spot their type and unfortunately I paid the price.
As someone recently said, a decent barometer for knowing if a friend / neighbour / relative is toxic is simply this:
After any dealings with such a person, you are often left feeling drained, depleted, exhausted or are left with an uneasy feeling of having been used. Despite their grateful thanks for your time / kind words / listening ear.
If you are honest with yourself, you are glad when they leave. Happy the evening / phone call / holiday is over. A simplistic definition of a toxic person could be selfishness; whether overtly demonstrating Me, Me, Me syndrome, or the harder to spot passive aggressive.
Parents’ needs come first, and woe betide anyone who doesn’t turn up with card and flowers on Mother’s Day. No angry words are spoken, just aggressive vibes transmitted across the room, comparisons of gifts are given, how soon the other sibling’s toed the line, how many lovely words were spoken etc. You are left in no doubt that you are being punished, compared and found wanting, despite explaining your reasons for being unable to attend at the expected time / event.
Your needs are not taken into account. Your mother’s needs / wants are paramount and you had bette not forget it. You can’t wait to escape, yet are left with a hurt / guilty feeling, for not quite making the grade. No mutual agreement, respect or consideration is reached.
The above is simply an example of a passive aggressive level of toxicity.
Moving on, to so called friends is an entirely different matter. There will be many amongst us who have suffered the misfortune of being betrayed when it comes to matrimony. The husband who disappears with your best friend and vice versa. The pain of such a betrayal is difficult to put into words. Knowing that the friend was acting a part, whilst deceiving you and telling your other half all your innermost personal thoughts is very difficult to come to terms with.
Anger is often not a good enough word to describe the emotional turmoil one feels after such deceit. We may blame ourselves, go down the ‘if only’ route. Yet, if we were more aware of toxic people, we would probably forgive ourselves far sooner and perhaps would have spotted the red flags and had we been more on our guard.
A toxic person will always be toxic. The why’s and wherefores of this state of mind is not mine to explain. They will have a myriad of reasons for being this way. Blaming oneself or trying to understand such a person only leads to misery. I am simply thankful I am not like them. When you are in their company. They will ask about you briefly, then the conversation always, without exception, centres on themselves. If you do want to talk about yourself they pretend to listen, briefly, then switch back to them as soon as possible. If however you have something they want – wife / job/ promotion then they will often fake interest in you as a person in order to gain your trust and wheedle their way into your life.
A healthy relationship whether business, friendship, family, romantic, is naturally reciprocal. Boundaries are not over-stepped, discussions and appreciations of each others needs are frequent. There should be no one-upmanship. Each person’s needs / ideas / wants are of equal value. Openness and honesty is vital.
- If you spend time in anyone’s company and find after they have left (almost every time) that you are glad to see the back of them, then ask yourself – Why do I engage with this person? What do they bring into my life? Is it usually one-sided?
- We cannot disengage from toxicity in the workplace but, when choosing close friends we definitely have a choice and exercising such choice and ridding ourselves of such people is often truly liberating.
- Remember not to blame yourself for getting caught up in such a toxic relationship. These toxic people or narcissists are often well-versed in manipulating people, and it takes a lot of courage and awareness to realise what has been happening.
As I have mentioned previously, the above notes are simply the musings of myself. I am not a professional, yet, have suffered from mental health problems and have experience of toxicity and it’s severely damaging effects.
Copyright JP 2015
Permission is granted for MEN HEAL to use this article.