It’s long been said that with age comes wisdom. For the majority of us who are north of forty and fifty-plus, that is the case. We understand the value of an education and the need for equality in matters of race, gender, and politics. Moreover, we have the benefit of hindsight to use the lessons learned from making mistakes to better our lives in the long run. There is an area that many of us still have issues with and it’s an area that has to do with our emotional lives and relationships.
All families have eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. Some of us have colorful uncles and aunts, outspoken sisters, cool brothers, fun dads, and moms who don’t take any guff from anyone. While we can’t choose our families, we can choose our friends. We migrate towards personalities that jibe with ours from the moment we enter school. Lifelong friendships are made in the halls of elementary school right on up through college.
However, as time goes on, people change. These changes happen within our families and friend groups, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Outside factors contribute and shape people over time. Some of the changes are for the better, while others are not. Sometimes friends and family members become toxic. A toxic person is anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life. Many times, people who are toxic are dealing with their own stresses and traumas, which should be kept in mind up to a point. Therefore, we need to educate ourselves to recognize the signs of toxic behavior, so that we can respond to it accordingly.
What Are the Signs of Toxicity?
The Talk Safe Blog lists six behaviors of highly toxic people:
Blaming. Toxic people endlessly blame others and seem completely unable to “own” their own contribution to any problem. They never see themselves as a part of the problem.
Passive aggression. Toxic people don’t fight, they jab. In other words, they throw punches, then pull back, and repeat it.
Criticism. Toxic people are highly critical. They critique your looks, wardrobe, work, food, etc. in a very nitpicky way that keeps you on edge when they’re around.
Negativity. They never see the good side of anything. They’re perennially glass half-empty people or Debbie/DeWayne Downers
In 3 signs a person with Toxic Qualities is Manipulating You (greatist.com) by Kari Langslet and reviewed by Janet Brio, Ph.D., LCSW, CST lists the signs as:
Being judgmental: The person may constantly pass judgment on you and others.
Obsessive neediness: They place huge strains on your time and energy.
Denialist: They refuse to take responsibility or apologize for their actions.
Not only will a number of us recognize these qualities in friends, we see it in spouses, girlfriends/boyfriends, and family members. So, what can we do to mitigate the toxicity they bring to our lives? According to Shannon Thomas, who was interviewed for the article in Greatist, start with detached contact, which means you still have occasional interactions but from a new emotional state.
“Getting a toxic person out of your life is all about setting boundaries, “For example, you may not return a toxic person’s call right away and, instead, wait 30 minutes to call back.” This can help you work through the anxiety of not jumping when they tell you to jump. Most importantly, the best way to remove a toxic person is by implementing no contact. All of it is wonderful advice, but what do you do when it’s a family member whose the toxic one?
According to When Family Becomes Toxic in Healthline, if you’ve experienced a toxic family dynamic, your feelings may go beyond frustration or annoyance. Instead, interacting with or even thinking about your family might cause significant emotional distress. Katherine Fabrizio MA, LPC, specializes in working with daughters of toxic mothers. She offers this general rule of thumb:
“If you end up feeling bad about yourself after most encounters with a family member, there’s probably a good reason for that, one worth looking into.” In other words, look back at your childhood, if you felt controlled, unloved, and criticized, you may want to examine how those feelings still affect you as an adult. You may have experienced some type of abuse that goes beyond physical to mental and verbal abuse. It’s important to seek professional help from a psychologist, therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist to help deal with these issues.
The best thing to do is to have no contact. If that’s not entirely possible, try to take steps to build yourself up to maintain your emotional well-being so you can handle being around that person. Beyond that, set limits. If you can share jokes and keep to topics that don’t elicit or trigger arguments, then do that. You are allowed to detach yourself from topics like religion, your dating life, relationships, or family history. Don’t allow yourself to be baited or drawn back into anything messy.
It’s okay to say No!
You have the right to decide on what you want to share and what you don’t. Set boundaries and don’t let them be crossed. Ultimately, if a toxic family member stays on that path and always wants to engage, then you may have to withdraw. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, but you have to love yourself as well. That means not sticking your finger in the socket. The old saying is “hurt people, hurt people.” It’s also been said, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Leopards don’t change their spots and zebras don’t change their stripes, until a toxic family member recognizes their toxicity, they won’t change. Therefore, you have to change your response in order to have peace within your spirit.
If toxic family and friends don’t respect your boundaries and aren’t bringing anything positive to your life, they don’t have to be a part of your everyday life. Surround yourself with the people in your life who are uplifting, encouraging, loving, and accepting. They are the ones who love you and want you to be happy. Like you want for them.
For more information check out The Talk Safe blog for more articles and to connect with mental health professionals.
For more about toxic relationships check out Healthline