The Myth of Toxic People
What are toxic people? This term has been thrown around a lot; the general idea being that there are people out there who are toxic to you, your life and the way you want to live it.
When you’re around them you find your energy waning until you feel drained, you won’t be your best self and they often make you feel like you’re not the amazing awesome person you are.
And the suggestion of the world is cut them out of your life… right now!
This can be true. Recovering addicts shouldn’t be around current users. Whether you addiction is drugs, food, media or technology, removing people from your life that still participate in that action will make it easier to not use. It is a moment in which confirmation bias can be a tool used to reaffirm your choices and eradicate self-doubt.
But the term ‘toxic people’ has been taken and morphed into a label that we give people who are simply difficult to be around. Google it and you will find articles like ‘8 Things the Most Toxic People in Your Life Have in Common’ or ‘Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them’.
These traits include things like them ‘they're being manipulative’ ‘they're making you second guess your decisions’ ‘they won’t own their feelings’ ‘they’re critical’ or ‘they’re not supportive’. Let me point out (in case the bold didn't do it) that these are accusatory statements and they can be reversed.
‘I’m being manipulated’ ‘I’m second guessing my decisions’ ‘I don’t agree with the feelings they’re expressing’ ‘I’m feeling criticized’ and ‘I’m not feeling supported’.
See the myth of toxic people is it has nothing to do with them. It’s about you, your relationship to them and how you react.
You have given them some sort of role in your life where they have power. Have you ever has the experience of being manipulated, second guessed or judged by someone you don’t have a relationship with?
For those saying yes, it probably felt kind of powerless, like you could feel their effort but it didn’t affect you. For those saying no, that’s kind of my point, people who you’ve given no power don’t have an effect on you.
To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, who put it so succinctly, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’. Or to use the linguistics: As with all things toxic, you have to eat them for them to have an effect on you.
I have a toxic person in my life and whenever around them, before I open my mouth to say ‘Hi’, I’m second guessing myself, imagining all the ways they might criticize me and so I’m tense, and there goes all my energy. They may say some negative things, but I will take neutral statements to be criticism as well and read into simple statements as insults.
Most of what happens when I’m around them is in my head. I’m worrying, I’m second-guessing, I’m tensing up, and I’m criticizing myself on their behalf. It is what I expect of them so I try and beat them to the punch.
Acknowledging your role in the relationship is important because it is not actually about this other person, they are just the mirror in society you’ve assigned this role for you.
Has anyone ever made an accusation of you that you knew wasn’t true? How did you react? If you tried to defend yourself there was probably a part of you who though it could be true. If you didn’t believe it you would just laugh it off.
And here in lies the ‘toxic person’. It is the voice inside you that believes them. This voice may even take on a life of it’s own outside of your assigned person and simply become the voice in the back of your head that whispers ‘you’re not good enough’.
That’s not to say there aren’t people out there who are perpetual naysayers. They exist. But they are not ‘toxic people’, that’s about your relationship to them. They are un-resourced people, and if that is how they talk to the world, just imagine how they talk to themselves.
If they’re manipulating to get what they want, do they know how to ask for it, and would they think they could have it without manipulating you? If they’re second guessing you, do they have a strong sense of who they are and what they want? If they’re not expressing their feelings, do they feel comfortable to do so? If they’re being critical, do they know how not to be? If they’re not supportive is it possibly because they don’t have the energy ability or knowhow to do so?
When we acknowledge the role we play in creating these ‘toxic people’ and ‘toxic relationships’ in our lives we can bring the power back to ourselves. Yes you can still cut them out of your life. It is a strong and respectable decision. But if they are only the mirror of your inner voice, then they’ll probably show up again in a different being. You may even find yourself saying ‘why do I attract so many toxic people?’
When we acknowledge that toxic people are a myth, we can return our focus to ourselves, our inner work and build better current and future relationships. I’m not saying you should stay in any situation where you feel uncomfortable, unsupported and unloved. But it is important to note your role in these relationships so that you are not in the victim state.
Or to put it very bluntly; If we start dealing with our own bullshit instead of judging people for their bullshit, we can move forward in a positive and truly changed way.
So here is my list as an alternative:
5 Ways to Embrace Toxic People
Take a moment to reflect and decide if this is a relationship you want to put effort into, so it can grow and change, or if it is better to just let it go.
Acknowledge your judgments of them and take a moment to reflect on how that can be true of you as well.
Consider what role you have assigned this person in your life and release whatever power you have previously given them in your life.
Acknowledge that they are not currently their most resourced and inspired selves. Model for them your best most resourced self so they can see they have other options.
Ask them how you can support and help them to feel comfortable and safe around you. Let them know how they can support and help you to feel comfortable and safe around them.
If you would like an example of how to do this please read ‘My Toxic Person: A Case Study’.