One of the subjects most often brought up in my office is how to deal with toxic, psychologically damaging relationships. Kristen Fuller, M.D., writes: “I myself had all the tools to avoid a toxic relationship, but I entered into an emotionally and mentally toxic relationship with someone who seemed like he had everything: a great family, prestigious education, a successful career and apparently a kind personality. I quickly realized this was all a façade and learned how deep toxicity runs and why it is so hard to escape emotional and mental torture when someone looks so ‘perfect’ on the outside.
“As the saying goes, ‘Beauty is only skin deep.’ I learned the importance of recognizing toxic relationships and friendships and how to navigate these types of relationships. I have learned to cut the bad people out of my life and treasure those who bring positivity. In the end, I have become a stronger person in all capacities, even though it took being dragged through what seemed like endless amounts of darkness.”
Wise words! Toxic people seduce you with their good qualities. They count on your liking them for their objectively good qualities as a way to mask their negative qualities. Toxicity stems from false beliefs. For example, “If I’m charming or desirable with my material or social status, I can treat people however I want.” For a time, that might be true. But the kind of person who will only care about material status will not be a loving, reliable or loyal. And as time goes by quality people will be driven away.
What is toxicity? One article describes the toxic personality: overly critical; passive-aggressive; narcissist; “stone waller,” and antisocial. In essence, a toxic person is deliberately mean-spirited and seeks to play that out with others. Toxic individuals like to poison social situations because it gives them a sense of power and/or alleviates pent-up frustrations. It also can make the toxic person feel strong, even if only through irrational stubbornness – an example of “stonewalling”.
In short, toxic people are individuals who seem like they’re worth it, but they’re really not. Over time, observant individuals will begin to see what’s happening. The challenge is to not question yourself once you see it. Apply the antidote, as expressed by Dr. Fuller: “I have learned to cut out the bad people out of my life and treasure those who bring positivity.”
In a nutshell, see toxic behavior for what it is. Reaffirm that you don’t need it in your life. For example, your marital partner is toxic. Well, that’s what divorce is for. Don’t like divorce? Your only option is to stay put and spend your life with someone who’s sociopathic, narcissistic or passive-aggressive. The same applies to family: Where is it written that you have to spend time with them? Who’s forcing you?
There could be an important reason (business, finances, kids) where it’s worthwhile to keep such a person around, at least for a time. Then it’s your decision to make that your priority. In owning that decision, remember that you can change your mind at any time it becomes worthwhile for you to do so. We’re allowed to change our priorities and change our minds!
Don’t let toxic people wear you down. It it’s not immediately feasible to eliminate them from your life, at least minimize your involvement with them. Don’t be a victim. Keep your distance, not just from their company but from their whole poisonous way of thinking, speaking and living. Never feel sorry for them. They brought this on themselves, and on several levels they enjoy the negativity they create. None of that has to be a part of your own atmosphere. Maintain your benevolence and do as this wise physician I quoted suggests: “Treasure those who bring positivity.” It’s easier than you think, and it will make all the difference in your happiness.
Michael J. Hurd, Life’s a Beach