Toxic people are everywhere. We read about them in the news, or know them as neighbours or work colleagues. For some of us they are family, which means we are impacted by them badly.
We know we’re communicating with a toxic person, because they leave an impact so strong we are left shaking our heads hours later. They are unforgettable because they hold us to ransom, steal our peace of mind and leave us traumatised. They wreak havoc wherever they go, through words and actions so sharp, we are left breathless and unsure as to what we actually witnessed. The more toxic the person is, the more likely we are to be left second guessing ourselves, losing confidence and in the worst of situations, questioning our sanity.
Whoever you are in relation to this person – know this. You did not ‘get it wrong’, you are ‘not at fault’ and you are ‘not insane’.
Toxic people exist, and we’re not going to change them anytime soon. The best we can hope to do is manage them so that our lives are not less because of them. It’s always challenging, due to their cruel behaviour causing such damage and hurt.For those of us closely impacted, it becomes even harder because we have a duality of focus: Avoidance and Love.
Avoidance because we want to protect ourselves from further harm. Love because they are our family/friend and a part of who we are. And this becomes the issue. How can we get the balance right: live with the knowledge they are bad for us but feel guilt because deep deep down inside of us we do love them.
A secret belief we hold is – if they just loved us enough they would change.
I grew up around toxic people and it took a lot for me to recover from and heal the deep wounds they inflicted. I had all the beliefs and patterns of behaviour that made me the easiest target in the world for them. Some of those have been mentioned previously, but there was also a part of me that believed everything they said because they held the power over me, and what did I know anyway? On the inside it didn’t sit right, but I had to find a way to survive them, which I did by becoming maladaptive myself. As I got older, I would attract people in my life who reflected those exact same toxic behaviours. Why would you knowingly do that I hear you wonder? Because it wasn’t a knowing. It was unconscious, what I was used to, and therefore comfortable and familiar. Eventually I healed enough to recognise they were at fault, not me.
In the meantime, as I became stronger in myself, my anxiety and anger around them grew, and the next big step was to try and manage if not them, then at least ‘me‘ around them.
What if you, like me, have tried everything, been loving and supportive and still get ‘bashed around’ emotionally? Or have decided to face like with like and treat them as badly as they treat you, knowing that the guilt you feel destroys a little more of who you are every single day?
There is a way through if you accept that: You cannot ever change them but You can change yourself around them.
The approach I use is effective and understated. It’s referred to as keeping your heart open, but the door closed. I do this by picturing them in my mind, sending love to them and limiting my interactions with them, whether F2F or by phone.
This is effective because you finally have some control resulting in feeling somewhat protected. The part of you that gets so hurt shuts down a little, and gives you some hope. A realisation that helps is recognising that their ability to hurt is magnified because of how much you love them. Ouch!
Any communication you do have with them, you now take control of. For instance, if they phone you, don’t answer the phone immediately, you call back when you are prepared and ready. If they txt, think about what you want to say before responding. This taking charge behaviour can give you something you won’t normally feel with a toxic person – Power!
A friend of mine calls it a Management Issue.
As is true of life – nothing worked, till I tried it.
If you’re open to trying it it may just work for you.
If not, you’ll never know.
If you have any comments, wish to share this post or have a topic you would like me to write on. Please do let me know.