Generally speaking, I am surrounded by awesome people. I have loving parents, a strong marriage, healthy relationships with extended family, and great friendships — for the most part.
I have, unfortunately, had a few people in my life whom I would classify as “toxic.” It’s a difficult term for me to use, as I tend to want to see the best in everyone. But as harsh as it sounds, it’s accurate. Some people can be a poison in your life, no matter how much you may care for them.
Anyone who has had a relationship with a narcissist or sociopath understands what that means. These are not simply challenging people. These are not people with quirks or annoying habits. These are not people merely struggling with emotional issues stemming from a dysfunctional upbringing.
Toxic people are master manipulators. They may be charming and endearing one moment and downright cruel another. They may be Dr. Jekyll out in public and Mr. Hyde in private. They are the people whose acquaintances have a hard time believing they’d ever hurt a fly because they have no idea the behaviors they display behind closed doors. Toxic people often suffer from undiagnosed personality disorders (which are rarely diagnosed because they don’t recognize that there is a problem).
Unfortunately, toxic people tend to prey on the tender-hearted. They hone in on those of us who want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, who believe in second or third chances, who feel like anyone can be changed if we love them enough. It’s a cruel irony that the kindest people often take the longest to realize that they are being taken for an emotional and psychological ride.
If you think you may have a toxic person in your life, here are some signs to look for:
– They ask for and take much more than they give in your relationship.
– They are self-centered, only seeming to be interested in others when it serves some selfish purpose.
– They always need to be right, no matter how large or small the topic.
– They act differently around others than they do when you are alone together.
– They seem to switch on a dime — one moment they are delightful, and the next they are excessively angry or cold for no apparent reason.
– They turn other people in your life against one another, or try to convince you that others are untrustworthy.
– They lie about small and big things, regularly and without acknowledging it. They may mislead people or purposefully withhold information to hide their personality flaws.
– They are never at fault and are always the victim.
Since sometimes it can be harder to see the signs in others (especially for those of us who want to see only the good and overlook red flags), here are some signs to look for in yourself:
– You constantly feel like you need to save or fix the person.
– You find yourself making excuses for their behavior.
– You feel drained after spending time with them.
– You never know how they’re going to respond to things, so you always feel a little on edge when you’re around them.
– You find yourself trying to avoid situations or topics of conversation that might upset them.
– You’ve had repeated occasions where you felt like you didn’t recognize the person.
– You feel guilty when they are upset, even though you can’t figure out what you did wrong.
– You never know whether or not they are telling the truth.
Toxic people can do a number on your head — and your heart. Unfortunately, some people truly need to be let go in order for you to stay sane and healthy. You do not have to stay in a relationship with a person who is manipulative, selfish, and either subtly or overtly abusive. It’s incredibly sad to realize that a loved one is a poisonous presence, but it’s also necessary.
It can take time to determine if a person really should be cut out of your life, but if any of this sounds familiar, give it some thought. Some relationships are challenging, and that’s okay. Some personalities clash, and that’s okay. But if a relationship is hurting you and affecting your well-being, that’s not okay.
Not everyone can be saved with love and kindness, and it’s not your job to change someone. Even if it’s a close family member, it’s okay to end a toxic relationship without guilt. It’s not easy, but it might be the healthiest decision you ever make.