A relationship with a toxic person is kind of like drinking anti-freeze.
If you don’t know what you’re drinking, you might mistake it as healthy and sweet. But if you understand what you’re drinking, you’ll realize it’s poisonous.
You might believe you have a good, healthy relationship. But it’s because you’re too close to the other person to see that the relationship is toxic.
Once you step back and see how your relationship really works, you’ll discover the damage it does.
The Problem With Tolerating Toxic People
Toxic people are all around, but they’re more the exception than the rule. So, as you read this article, avoid the temptation to label every person who rubs you the wrong way.
Some of the healthiest relationships are with those who challenge you, question your beliefs, and disagree with your decisions. Often, those people help you grow.
And if you feel like problematic people surround you, you might be the problem. You might be one of the people described below. Take it to heart and change your ways.
If you realize you’re in a toxic relationship, remember the adage, “the dose makes the poison.”
One teaspoon of anti-freeze won’t kill you. One-third of a cup will.
Too much time with poisonous people can kill you as well. Maybe not physically, but they can kill your confidence, ambition, and joy. Over time, your relationship with them can kill the potential you once had for your life.
Sometimes, merely limiting your time with poisonous people is enough. For others, you might need to cut the connection altogether.
Toxic people cause you harm because they:
- Influence the way you think about and see the world.
- Drain your emotional energy, leaving little for others who need your time and attention.
Jim Roan is credited with the following quote, although someone probably realized this long before he said it:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Like it or not, you will become more like the people you surround yourself with than they will become like you.
Your emotional energy tank gets tapped when you spend time with them as well. You’ll be mentally worn down, and won’t have energy, creativity, passion or ambition to accomplish all you’re capable of.
So, carefully consider how you spend your time with those who fit the descriptions below. They’ll often take much from you, and give little in return.
Merriam-Webster defines a bully as a blustering, browbeating person; especially one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.
Childhood bullies torture others physically and mentally. They beat up weak kids, make fun of fat (like I was) and slow kids, and embarrass others whenever the opportunity arises.
Mental, verbal, or emotional abuse is often worse than physical abuse because only the abused individual can see and feel the damage.
Bullies attack your weaknesses and vulnerabilities to feel better about themselves. They also use your past mistakes or secrets to embarrass you or bring you down in front of other people.
Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.
– Paramahansa Yogananda
In essence, bullies feel inferior.
They bully people they feel inferior to, as an attempt to knock them down to their level, or they bully someone else to get other people’s attention.
Often, bullies are friends with, or family members of, the people they bully.
What better way is there to know your vulnerabilities and weaknesses than to know you on a personal level? If they trick you into trusting them, you’ll be more likely to share your secrets.
Part of you feels a friendship or bond to the bully. Another part of you knows the truth.
You know you’ll get hurt again by him or her, but you go along with it because in between the emotional beatings, they make you feel good.
Bullies have a need to control other people, because something in their own life is not in control.
– Gary Namie, Workplace Bullying Institute
Since the bully is perceived to be a friend, the bullied person gets a mixed mental message.
“I believe they like me and are my friend. So, if they care about me, maybe what they’re saying is true. Maybe I don’t deserve success. Maybe I won’t measure up. Maybe I’ll always make mistakes, do poorly…”
You get the point. The bullied person believes the bully because they think the bully shows cares for them.
A bully doesn’t always need an audience. A husband or wife can bully the other by continually reminding him or her of mistakes or flaws, or by putting down his or her ideas, or just disagreeing with everything the spouse says.
A parent can bully a child just by the physical difference in size between the two.
I’m hypersensitive to bullies since I was bullied as a kid. As I said to start this section, bullies suck.
Read also: How the Power of Others Influences You.
The Victim I’m referring to in this article is different from the victim that’s part of the growing “Victimhood Culture.” I’ll cover that type of victim in a future article.
This “Victim” is someone who believes, talks about, and creates a world full of people and circumstances that they thinks, are against them.
The Victim creates and tells stories of how others have mistreated him or her. Each time you talk to The Victim, she tells you a new story of how bad things are for her. Of course, the first few times you hear a story from her, you feel empathy and compassion.
You might even feel compelled to “rescue” The Victim. From the outside, you can see the changes she needs to make. As time goes on, though, you realize they don’t want you to rescue them. They don’t even want to stop the pain.
The pain is their story. The pain is how they get attention.
Some believe The Victim is addicted to the feeling she gets from living in her story.
She doesn’t want to deal with her problems. Suckituptitude won’t work.
If she dealt with her issues like most people would, she’d just be like most people. She wouldn’t be a special case, attracting everyone’s attention and sympathy.
The more time you spend with the victim, the more you realize that The Victim’s problems aren’t unique. They’re not even that bad.
Being a mature and mentally healthy person, you start to distance yourself from The Victim. You realize how much negativity they spread.
But when you do, The Victim blames you for abandoning her, “just like everyone else.”
Dr. Mark Goulston, in his book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, describes victims as pathologically needy:
“Pathologically needy people can gut you emotionally or financially, or both. These are the people who send the messages: ‘I need you to solve all of my problems.’ ‘I can’t function without you.’ ‘My happiness depends totally on you.’ ‘If you leave me, I’ll die.’ Unlike needful people— who ask for help only when they need it and appreciate it when they get it— needy people demand constant help and attention, use emotional blackmail to get it, and offer gratitude only if it keeps you on the hook.
“Needy people refuse to make decisions or handle issues on their own.”
“You’ll also feel depressed and incompetent if you spend too much time with a needy person, because you’ll knock yourself out and hear nothing in return except, ‘I’m still broken. I’m still sad. You’ve failed. You promised to save me but you didn’t.'”
You cannot rescue The Victim.
The best thing you could do is to pray for him or her, and then encourage him or her to seek and follow the advice of a trained therapist.
Gossip is defined as casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
Similar to The Bully, The Gossip gets temporary enjoyment from putting others down. But they do it “politely” by talking behind someone else’s back, instead of to their face.
They share someone else’s flaws, shortcomings, or secrets, or make up stories about them that aren’t even true, just to get the attention of others.
Gossip doesn’t stop in high school. You’ll find it anywhere you find cliques of people, and in my experience, it occurs more often with women than with men.
Gossipers often start their sentences with, “I bet she…,” “She probably didn’t even…,” “Did you hear what she…”
The main reason one person gossips to another is to create a short-term bond.
The Gossip believes, “If I tell you a secret, or something hurtful, about someone else, you’ll feel like I trust you enough to share it. You’ll reciprocate by leaning in and listening, which will make me feel good.”
Brené Brown says this about gossip:
A lot of times we share things that are not ours to share as a way to hot wire a connection with a friend.
– Brené Brown
Most people who gossip about others to you, gossip about you to others.
In corporate offices, employees gossip about their boss because they think they could do a better job, not understanding what their boss actually does.
In network marketing businesses, gossip occurs in groups of business builders who believe they could do better than those who’ve reached higher ranks than them, even though they have no idea what that person actually does.
The Gossip judges other people and thrives on the drama it creates. It doesn’t even matter if what they say is true as long as it produces tension.
If you gossip, stop. Just stop.
The Gossip leaves a wake of broken relationships behind her. However, most of those people move on.
Eventually, the only people left in the Gossip’s circle of friends are other gossipers each talking about the other when they’re not around.
If you listen to gossip, stop. You empower the gossiper when you listen to her, and you tempt yourself with fiction and facts you shouldn’t be aware of.
And, if you’re the victim, let it make you a better person. Take this advice from Stephen Pressfield (ladies, just swap “man/him” for “woman/her”):
The small man gossips. The average man lets him. The great man stays silent and allows what is said of him to make him greater still.
– Stephen Mansfield
I feel sorry for the person who finds enjoyment in gossip. None of us has a right to spread rumors about someone else.
Read also: How to Stop Shoulding Yourself.
Narcissists have an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.
Narcissists may display some of the same behaviors as bullies, but for a different reason. Where bullies put others down to knock them down, narcissist put others down because they genuinely believe themselves to be superior.
They don’t even intend to “put them down,” they just make them feel that way by acting as though they are the smartest person. In the room.
They don’t listen to others but expect others to listen to them. They expect others to treat them with respect, but don’t give respect to others.
They have expectations about how they should be treated but don’t treat others the way they expect to be treated.
They’d never intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. That would be bad for their reputation. But they do bulldoze through people and can find a way to justify their actions.
Narcissists pretty much care only for themselves. They may help other, support, or encourage others, but they do it to so they can “humble brag” about doing so.
Narcissists can even take “humble bragging” to a new level by bragging about how humble they are.
They aren’t all bad though. Since they see themselves as superior, they take action with a level of confidence that inspires others to action as well. They often succeed because they have no fear of the obstacles in their path.
You might even benefit if you have a narcissist on your staff or team, provided your success doesn’t depend on a team playing well together.
If you maintain a distance from them and become immune to the seemingly selfish and hurtful ways narcissists act, you may still find a way to work well with them.
One advantage is that they’re often successful. Their confidence and over-the-top belief in themselves helps them bulldoze through people and challenges. They’re unafraid of others who disagree with them because they believe they’re wrong.
The following narcissist questionnaire comes from Mark Goulston’s book, Just Listen:
Are They a Narcissist?
- How often does the person need to be right at all costs?
- How often does the person act impatient with you for no good reason?
- How often does the person interrupt you in the middle of what you’re saying, and yet take offense if you interrupt?
- How often does the person expect you to drop whatever you’re thinking about and listen to him or her— and does the person take offense when you expect the same in return?
- How often does the person talk more than he or she listens?
- How often does the person say “Yes, but,” “That’s not true,” “No,” “However,” or “Your problem is”?
- How often does the person resist and resent doing something that matters to you, just because it’s inconvenient?
- How often does the person expect you to cheerfully do something that’s inconvenient for you?
- How often does the person expect you to accept behavior that he or she would refuse to accept from you?
- How often does the person fail to say “Thank You,” “I’m sorry,” “Congratulations,” or “Excuse me” when it’s called for?
To score your inventory, add up the total:
10-16 = The person is cooperative
17-23 = The person is argumentative
24-30 = The person is a narcissist
Narcissists aren’t bad people. You just have to understand that you’ll never be in a reciprocal relationship with them. They are interested in their interests.
However, you can often leverage their drive and their self-interest to get stuff done in business.
Letting Go and Moving On
Dealing with difficult people is part of life. But discerning difficult people from toxic people takes practice.
The more you guard your heart, soul, and mind against those who suck the life out of it, the more life you’ll have left to give to those who need your love, time, and attention. And, you’ll feel much happier and fulfilled, rather than feeling defeated and depressed.
Pray for them. Love them. But don’t invest more time with them than you need to, or you might fill your body and mind with too much poison.