At some point in our lives we all have encountered toxic people. Perhaps it has been a parent, best friend or romantic partner. It can be very difficult to maintain positive relationships with people who seem to go out of their way to make your life more difficult. How can you have a positive relationship with a parent who consistently makes cutting comments in the guise of preparing you for the real world when their comments only break your spirit? Is it possible to call a friend a true friend when they belittle you and don’t support your dreams? Can you trust the declarations of love from a romantic partner who goes out of their way to undermine your self-worth?
These are questions that I have been asking myself while navigating life as a divorced mother who must exist in the world with a co-parent who seems to delight in making things as challenging as possible. When my six-year-old looks me in the eye and asks me “why life has to be this way” after the latest purposeful disappointment from her father, I find myself attempting to explain to her that we can’t control other people’s behavior we can only continue to be kind even in the face of disappointments. I see loved ones who are being taken advantage of by their parent’s then being quilted into relationships that I know will end with pain for them while their parents will continue to live guilt free lives. I have seen people betrayed by those that they considered to be close friends only to have those people use the inside information that they gained through the friendship to cause them harm.
Most people on the outside considering the above-mentioned situations would say the best thing that you could do for yourself would be to cut all ties to these people. However it is not always as simple as that. It is not easy to walk away from parents, close friends or romantic partners. Instead you have to define what those relationships will look like and how they will function. Based on my observations I have composed a toxic relationship checklist to help determine if a relationship can be maintained as is, improved or must be released.
I’ve seen people maintain relationships with toxic people out of obligation. Usually they will make excuses for accepting this subpar treatment or even blame themselves for the situation. These one-sided connections often lead to lowered self-esteem and expectations and can lead to a warped view of what is acceptable behavior and what they are willing to accept from other people.
Relationships can be improved if, and only if, the behaviors that have caused pain have been identified. Then an open and honest dialog needs to be had. That person then needs to acknowledge what has been said, apologize and make a real effort to not make the same mistakes. Then and only then can that relationship be maintained. Often it is better than it was before because communication and expectations have become clearer.
If the person who wronged you refuses to acknowledge the issues you have raised and instead chooses to deny or deflect then this relationship will need to be released. Once a person has recognized and identified toxic behavior and has attempted to reach out to the perpetrator but receives pushback and gas lighting, then it is a sign that this person has no real intention of being fully present in the relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial and that is not someone that you should maintain close ties with. As I have mentioned before it is not always easy to sever ties with people you have known for long periods of time or that you care for deeply. If you don’t want to completely sever ties with your mother, for example, it would be better to limit your contact with her. Modify the amount of time that you spend with her and in time you will find that it the peace that you feel away from that toxic relationship will far outweigh any thing else.
When it is all said and done we are in control of who we allow into our space. The world will try to overwhelm you with connections, opportunities, expectations and trials that we have very little control over. It is in our best interest to try limit our exposure to people who bring us more pain, anxiety and sadness than joy, peace and love. The choice is yours, choose wisely.