So much of our roles in the world revolve around our interactions with other people. We have to connect with people through work, school, and often just as we go about our daily lives. Interacting with those we are close to, then, our friends and our families, often form a major aspect of our daily existences. They are the ones we rely on to bring us joy when the rest of the world seems as though it is bent on breaking our spirits. But what happens when the people who are supposed to love and support us unconditionally end up contributing to our misery? Toxic people feel like a concept we should all be familiar with, we shouldn’t associate with someone labeled as “toxic”. But this can be a surprisingly difficult thing to do when we love these people. Toxic people might be more difficult to identify when we are close to them, but their effects on our lives are just as, if not more devastating. I, myself, have gone through several cycles of toxic relationships and though I thought I had released on toxic loved one from my life, another simply took its place. So, how can we identify these people who bring us down, and how, when we love them dearly, can we decide to let them go?
I was a shy, introverted child. I could make friends easily but keeping them was a problem because I felt uncomfortable with putting myself out there beyond initial meetings. Meeting people in the first place was just as difficult because putting myself out there was too difficult, so I ended up waiting around alone for someone to take pity on me and decide to be my friend. Obviously, this led to several cycles of me becoming friends with people opportunistically, and not because I actually liked them, and indeed, I found myself hating the people I associated with, not even realising it until we had been friends for potentially years. How was I finally able to identify them as toxic?
The first big clue that someone in your life may be toxic is that the prospect of interacting with them gives you a sense of dread. You may not be able to identify this feeling as such initially, maybe you think you’re just more tired than you thought or that you’re stressed about something else in your life. But if you eventually notice a pattern, that every time this person contacts you you’re rolling your eyes or avoiding the conversation, this is not a person that brings you joy. However, this is simply the most obvious clue. There are several more subtle ways someone might behave in a toxic manner.
Someone might put you down under the guise of joking around, such as the friend I had in high school who used to tease me about her exes developing crushes on me by telling me I’d always end up with her “sloppy seconds”. You want to laugh because it sounds like a joke, but your feelings are hurt. If you feel unable to talk to this person about how they’ve hurt your feelings, they are definitely toxic to your well being. Someone might only want to be your friend when you’re alone and not when they’re around others, or begin to act clingy and ask you to cancel plans to be with them more often. Perhaps a partner will offer ultimatums disguised as heartfelt conversations or someone close to you tells you that you aren’t the person they became friends with or they don’t feel they know you anymore as a way to guilt you into doing things their way. There are many different ways to demonstrate toxicity. But the important thing to think about is that if a loved one’s action upsets you or hurts you in any way, they may be toxic. And that might be hard to accept, especially if you were once very close, but identifying these people are the only way you’ll be able to fix things.
The obvious solution to this problem is to cut the person out of your life. This is probably the most effective solution in the long term, but it’s important to first confront the person about the way they’re making you feel. If they truly are your friend they will apologise and change their behaviour. If they do not, or act offended that you would even bring it up to them, that’s when it’s time to cut them out. And you don’t need to be abrupt about it, either. Just stop texting them first, perhaps, except on holidays and wait to see if they want to communicate with you. Never be rude to them in public, but just avoid interacting with them unless it’s particularly necessary. From my experience, many of these people hardly notice that you’ve stopped communicating with them. After a while, you will be able to phase them out of your life to the point where you don’t even notice they’re gone.
There are some obvious problems with this solution: maybe the toxic person is a family member or a long time best friend. Maybe they’re a partner you do truly love, or even a parent. Sometimes, especially if the person is related to you, you won’t be able to cut them out completely, but simply avoiding unnecessary interactions may just be enough to get some relief. If you do truly love someone, however, removing them from your life can be as hard on you as a breakup. Just because someone doesn’t treat you the way they should doesn’t mean you don’t still care for them. Removing them from your life might cause you intense grief and sadness, even loss, because you will miss the person. But like the pain from a breakup, this grief is only temporary. Once you get used to the loss of their presence, you will cease to care that they aren’t a part of your life anymore.
Another problem may be more that you’re like me, and you are very introverted. Perhaps you don’t have very many friends to start with and you worry that removing this toxic person from your life will make you feel even more alone or isolated. And perhaps, at first, it will. But to only have yourself surrounded by those who bring you joy and not those who bring you pain will be healthier for you in the long run, even if the number of people around you is fewer. It is far better for your health and well being to have fewer, loving and supportive people around you than many people who only bring you pain.
Removing toxic people sounds both easy and daunting. It is not the former and it certainly is the latter, but that does not mean it isn’t worth doing. People are such a large part of our existences, and we can’t cut every negative interaction out of our lives. Some things are simply out of our control. But the people we choose to associate with is entirely within our control. This is not simply a matter of positivity or happiness, although only surrounding yourself with those who bring you joy will lead to a happier and more positive existence. Instead, this is a matter of health, especially mental health. It is simply unhealthy to be constantly put down by those meant to love you.
You deserve more. So give yourself more.