They exist, but you don't have to tolerate them in your life
“People with big problems deserve attention, but past experiences and dramas don’t absolve them from making the effort to work on their problems instead of attempting to pull others into their issues and dramas.” — Abigail Brenner, M.D.
What is a toxic person? Modified from an article by Abigail Brenner, here are eight things to look for:
1. Toxic people are manipulative. A toxic person’s primary mission is to get what they want from you, or to get you to do what they want you to do.
2. Toxic people are judgmental. They criticize everything, even when no good reason for criticism exists.
3. Toxic people never take responsibility. It is always your fault, or someone else’s fault.
4. Toxic people don’t apologize. Why would they? It isn’t their fault.
5. Toxic people are inconsistent. Reality changes to suit a toxic person’s needs. Everything else is “fake news.”
6. Toxic people are never satisfied. You will never do anything well enough to make them happy in the long-term.
7. Toxic people demand perfect loyalty. You have to choose their needs over your own every single time.
8. Toxic people are extremely selfish. It’s all about them, 100% of the time. If they aren’t the center of everything, there will be hell to pay.
Toxic people are beacons for those who have empathy and compassion. They love it when people feel sorry for them. The term emotional vampire springs to mind. An emotional vampire is someone who drains other people of their energy, leaving them emotionally numb. The terms toxic person and emotional vampire are interchangeable. You know if you have a toxic vampire in your life. They leave you feeling exhausted and out of control. They may even cause panic attacks when they enter the same room you’re in. A toxic person breaks your world, and shatters your self-confidence just by opening her mouth. You will never cure an emotional vampire. Don’t bother trying.
The elaborate schemes of the emotional vampire never end
You cannot reason with a toxic person. Trying will only waste the time of every person involved. A more productive solution is to put whatever distance you can between yourself and the source of the toxicity. Emotional vampires lack self-awareness. They aren’t consciously thinking about the damage their existence in the world is doing.
You can’t fix someone else. You can barely fix yourself. Thinking otherwise is foolish. Compassion is a limited resource for an individual, which is what you and I are. Individuals. Single entities with limited mental resources at our disposal. Focus on you, and not the vampire in your life. It’s the only way to stop the train from going completely off the tracks.
No one can make you feel anything you don’t invite in. Your mind is the last bastion you have, and you should defend it fiercely from interlopers.
Anyone can be toxic, but our instincts don’t allow us to categorize these cancerous people correctly. Because culture. Blood is thicker than water. The old saying comes from a Bible verse. “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” Words matter. Ideas matter. Bad words and bad ideas can corrupt us, just as much as good words and good ideas can enrich us.
You have no obligation to anyone who is feeding you toxic words and ideas. Say that out loud. I have no obligation to your toxicity. How good are family ties if those ties are slowly or quickly poisoning you? You have my permission to leave. Get a divorce. Now, before not doing so kills you. Give yourself permission to get out.
If you have someone toxic in your life, do whatever it takes to get yourself out of the relationship, or get the toxic person out of your environment. Don’t delay. Who you spend your time with is the difference between life and death. Your life, or your death. Toxic people are endlessly willing to use you up. It’s your choice, even if you don’t think so in those moments when you are trapped in the gravity well of the toxic person. Experiences have a tendency to create their own gravity, and many of us get pulled in, never to escape. There are ways out of a toxic gravity well, and every path starts by acknowledging the problem.
If you have a toxic person slowly drowning you, they will be on your mind at every moment, because instinctively, you know that the person is sucking you dry.
Did you invite them in? Those first members of your tribe? The ones who gave birth to you, or adopted you, or happened to be your uncle or your second cousin, or that family friend no one knows how to say no to, even though everyone knows something is wrong with them? It doesn’t really matter how the connection started. What matters is whether the connection is helping you thrive and find meaning, and if it isn’t, why you stay. Cut that cord. Now. Events don’t damage us, it is our perception of events that does long-term damage. It is quite easy to destroy someone’s life if that person lets you do it. Actively or passively. Easiest thing in the world. Hurting is always easier than healing.
It’s so easy to let things stay the way they are. Toxic. Just fail to resist. Fail to fight. Don’t scream as loud as you can and use all your might to push back and demand that they get out. Of your life. Because of course it is yours, and you have every right to demand that your life be respected. If you have trouble determining who someone is from moment to moment, they are probably a toxic individual. Do they talk behind your back? Do they have hidden agendas? Do you get the feeling that what they tell you and what they tell others are two or more different narratives? Consider that you might be dealing with someone toxic.
What to do about the toxic people in your life
If you want to be the best version of yourself that is possible, bear in mind that your best you cannot happen with toxic people around. Learning to say no is one of the most important things you can do as a human being. Learning to fight or flee when your no is rejected is even more important. Emotional vampires are addicted to ignoring no. If you allow them to, they will always go ahead with what they want regardless of obstacles you put in the way. Your choices always boil down to fight or flight when it comes to the emotional vampire.
Here are a few ideas for getting rid of toxic people:
• Avoid trying to get them to change. Ignore them whenever possible. If you can’t ignore them, confront them. If you would lose in a confrontation keep away from them in the first place.
• Create and enforce boundaries. Write down the behaviors and actions you are unwilling to tolerate. Stick that list somewhere that is in your face constantly. Look at it often. Memorize it.
• Refuse to participate in his needs. Your emotional vampire will “need you” but you do not need them. Remain conscious of the fact that an all take and no give relationship is unhealthy.
• Know your own triggers. Toxic people know what makes you tick, and they take advantage of it. To defeat them, you need to know yourself as well as they do. Make a list of where you fall short and start working on getting better.
• Refuse to let a toxic person project herself. Toxic people make their problems your problems. If they have a sex addiction they will claim that you are the one who needs to stop sleeping with everyone. If they are a compulsive liar, they will claim that you have a problem with the truth. Next time a toxic person starts projecting herself onto you, shut down the conversation. If you don’t have what it takes to do that, just leave the room. Do this every single time your toxic person starts projecting their flaws onto you. Eventually they will stop trying. This could take a while, but it is worth the effort.
• Embrace the concept of strategic conflict. Everyone needs to fight at some point. Choose your battles wisely. Fight when you can win, and run away when you can’t.
• Find positivity wherever you can. Look for things that bring you joy, and make sure your toxic person(s) are excluded from those hobbies, activities, and events.
Ask for help from non-toxic people. The best thing you can do is enlist positive and caring people in your efforts to get the toxic person out of your life. Remind yourself often that no one has elected you to be the mayor of Martyrville. That is not your destiny. If your life is going to be worth living, it has to have meaning and purpose for you. Focus on relationships with people who acknowledge that. Surround yourself with people who want to help you find more of that meaning and purpose.
Finally, toxic people are still human beings, but they do not have the right to exist by feeding off of you. You owe them exactly nothing of yourself. Let the professionals deal with their problems - it is time for you to live your life free of their influence. Make room in your life for yourself and what you need.
Arabi, S. (2018). “Seven Ways Emotional Vampires Drain Empaths And Highly Sensitive People." from https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2018/03/7-ways-emotional-vampires-drain-empaths-and-highly-sensitive-people/.
Brenner, A. (2016). "Eight Things the Most Toxic People in Your Life Have in Common." from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201608/8-things-the-most-toxic-people-in-your-life-have-in-common.
Brenner, A. (2016). "Toxic People: More Thoughts." from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201609/toxic-peoplev.
Foroux, D. (2018). "Stop Giving Toxic People Your Time." from https://getpocket.com/explore/item/stop-giving-toxic-people-your-time.
Weiner, Z. (2017). "Seven Tips for Eliminating Toxic People From Your Life." from http://mentalfloss.com/article/93521/7-tips-eliminating-toxic-people-your-life.
West, B. (2018). "How to Know if You’re the Toxic Person Everyone’s Trying to Avoid." from https://medium.com/personal-growth/how-to-know-if-youre-the-toxic-person-everyone-s-trying-to-avoid-a38603f61e9f.