The world is is full of toxins – pollution in the air, chemicals in clothing – yet the one that probably effects us more directly is other people. To define what toxic people are is rather difficult, the characteristics are as diverse as the people that come carrying it. Generally I would summarize toxic people in two simple symptoms:
- They make you feel bad about yourself. Something they said or how they said it leaves you feeling bad about yourself, perhaps doubting yourself or thinking negative thoughts.
- You leave them feeling drained. Rather than feeling it was a good encounter, you feel used and low on energy.
Sounds familiar? I would say each one of us has this in our lives, or perhaps had it in our lives at one point. If it was a hobby and it made you feel that way- you would give it up. So why do we keep toxic people in our lives and secondly, why is it so hard to get rid of them? Here are some theories I have gathered:
The Social Factor
These days the sheer amount of friends you have seems to be a driving motivation in keeping people around that might not be of service to you. How many likes you have, how many experiences, how many followers or friends on facebook, this all determines your value in society. Quantity seems to play a higher value than quality. People you did stuff with, people you have made experiences with, that’s all that matters. Not the discussions and talks you have had or how you lifted each other up. Its more important to show that you are a functional, popular participant of society, since this is what determines your place in it. Or so it’s believed. “That’s why I believe we keep toxic people in our lives. They usually bring some other value, so you focus on that. For example they are your active friend who’s always doing stuff, or the friend who joins you for concerts” says my friend Jimmy. I guess we weigh out the pros and cons, and decide the toxicity is worth it.
The – They bring out the worst in me and I like it – Factor
In psychology they speak about three types of friendships – you are either friends with people who you deem as better than you, to constantly work on yourself to become better, people who are your equals or you have people around you who are not doing as well as you so you feel better about yourself on a continuous basis. I found this a little hard to understand, so I asked my friend Jacky to elaborate: “I think people keep toxic friends around cause they make toxic behaviors acceptable, like comparison, recklessness, disregarding relationships etc”. “Its hard to recognize them because toxic people usually comfort those bad behaviors you have yourself”. In other words, its like that girl or ex you stay friends with on social media just to see how they are doing and feel better about yourself because you are convinced you are doing better. A sort of feeling good about something negative. We all do that. We meet people and after we think: Wow am I better off than they are. A sort of very unhealthy pep talk.
The Not Notice Factor
Often when I talk to people, I don’t realize in the moment that they are toxic. But after I find myself pondering over why they said certain things or I ask myself why I am feeling down after I saw them. It only hits me later that perhaps their intentions were not coming from a good place. I tend to think people don’t mean no harm, that their negative behaviors come from insecurities that were brought upon them because life is hard, so I don’t go around assuming people mean ill. But it still has the same effect on me, toxic is toxic no matter if the person notices they are being toxic. Generally you should surround yourself with people that motivate you to be better, not make you feel drained and immobile.
The – They are Family or Coworkers – Factor
After asking around and causing a lot of bewilderment in the people around me, my friend Jay simply pointed out that a lot of people are toxic and we can’t avoid them. Simple as that. Family might even be easier to avoid than co-workers you have to see every single day. Like pollution – there’s just not much you can do about it.
So what can you do about it?
For one, avoid avoid avoid. I know negative comparison (They bring out the worst in me and I like it – Factor) might feel like its making you feel better – but its really not. Anything that comes from a negative space will not make you feel better in the long run – and won’t help bring out the best in you. Rather learn to accept that sometimes you have behaviors that are perhaps not explanatory – but that you are human and comparison, jealousy and other less ideal behaviors are just a part of you (hmm might make my next blog post about that). If you can, avoid the toxic people. You cannot change them and they will do you no good.
If you can’t avoid the people, because perhaps they are your co-workers, try to focus on how you are when you are around them. Whatever your protection strategy is – either being mindful and focusing on the emotions that arise inside, making jokes to deflect the situation, or put up a wall – do what you need to do to protect yourself. Just because someone else has issues with themselves does not give them the right to make you feel less worthy or used. You are not here to carry their luggage.
Adjusting Ice Cube’s lyrics to this situation: Protect yourself before you wreck yourself.