I talk about detoxing, simplification, and minimalism a lot here. Typically we think of eliminating things like excess weight, material things that no longer serve us or that we’ve outgrown or no longer enjoy. But what I want to talk about today is eliminating or downsizing out of toxic relationships.
This is a tough subject, especially for those of us who are sensitive, especially highly sensitive people (HSP), or empaths, because many of us have spent our lives wondering how we could change and mold ourselves to fit others’ idea of who and what we should be so that they will tolerate or like us. When you’re used to feeling like nothing you do or say is “good enough” for anyone around you, you try to become anything but who you really are.
As hard as that is to admit, it’s the truth, and not just my truth. Roughly 15-20% of the population is estimated to be highly sensitive (HSP). There are a lot of folks who spend years of their lives, especially their younger years, wanting to crawl out of their own skin simply for being who they are.
Herein lies the reason that we easily attract toxic people into our lives. It’s not that we don’t know they’re not the types of people we want in our lives, it’s that we can’t necessarily put our finger on why. A toxic person shows all the signs we should pick up on, but what we sometimes do is internalize it to mean, “what is wrong with me that they don’t like me?”, rather than, I do not like this person or how they make me feel, and I don’t want to enter into any type of relationship with them.
One of the most liberating parts of being an adult (now in my forties) is that I’m finally at a point in my life where I feel confident enough in saying, “nope, I don’t like her, she’s offensive, she’s brash, she’s a grown-up bully and she says things that hurt me and the people around her. I don’t want to get to know her better”, or, “I didn’t like the way he spoke about his wife, I didn’t like the way he addressed the waiter, and I think he’s arrogant. I’m not taking a job offer from him no matter how nice it sounds on paper.”
Now, I’ll admit, I’m a softy, I tend to love easily, forgive easily, and I’m a big fan of the golden rule. I also have a deep, inner hippie who tells me that at a soul level, we are all connected, and what you do to a part, you do to the whole. I think this is probably true. But what is also true is that we don’t need to give our time, our trust, our friendship and pieces of our lives to toxic people.
I’m not just talking romantic relationships, these folks are everywhere, and can be sucking the life force right out of you before you realize it; neighbors, co-workers, your boss, your sister, the new woman your friend brought to girls’ night out, a board member.
Recognizing Your Relationship Is Toxic
How do you know you’re in a toxic relationship? Here are a few warning signs (that really get my blood boiling):
- The relationship is one-sided. I’ve had more than a few friendships wherein my friend knew nothing about me. Literally nothing. These are the folks who know nothing about what is going on in your life, who your family is, how things are going at work (if they even know what you do). You could be at the end of your rope with hopelessness and they’d still prefer to talk about their own problems.
- They love to make you jealous. This tends to happen more in romantic relationships, but it can happen in friendships and in family dynamics as well. When someone wants to see you squirm, wants to make you feel defeated, or my favorite (that I have actually heard people in my real life say), “you’re so lucky to be with me, do you have any idea how many other people would love to be in your shoes and I chose you?” Cue the running as far away as possible.
- They take advantage of you. This is commonly seen with a toxic co-worker. Someone who is a grown-up bully. These folks have figured out your weaknesses. Especially if you’re not someone who speaks up for yourself. If they know you’re a hard worker, and that you won’t say anything when they dump extra work on you, you may be in trouble. They love to take credit for something you did, but have that fake-sugary “OMG, you’re just the best” attitude to your face, while simultaneously using you to make themselves look good while they cut corners, leave early, and enjoy the promotion you deserve.
- You aren’t yourself. This is the one that bothers me the most. When you find yourself conforming to a version of yourself people will like, you’ve given yourself away. You’ve chipped away or hidden parts of yourself until you’re a shell of who you know yourself to be. (For anyone looking to explore warning signs of toxic relationships in greater depth, I found this article to be really helpful.)
Please know that I say this with great love: Your life and your happiness are important enough to show up for. Every day, all the time. You are not everyone’s cup of tea, and some people hate tea all together. This is fantastic news!
Moving On From a Toxic Relationship
It has taken me a lifetime to learn this. My sensitive and empathic people, you can do this. We can do this. For those who aren’t quite so sensitive, you may still be struggling with toxic relationships. Most of us at one point in our lives or another will encounter them. What are we to do?
You don’t need to peel off the Band-aid in one fell swoop. In the case of most relationships, you may need to create a plan. Especially if we’re talking about family members or a boss. And let’s be honest, if we’re talking about breaking up with someone, there’s a truckload of emotional baggage, physical property, and some memories to sift through. We’re not talking about a clean break.
You may need to assemble a small army of friends, counselors, people you trust. Or, you may be confident you can do it alone, but take the time you need to make clear-headed decisions step by step. For example, I wouldn’t march in to the office of your jerk-face boss tomorrow afternoon and tell them you’re quitting. You may want to polish off your resume first. And your clingy, needy, pessimistic friend who couldn’t tell you your child’s name if her life depended on it? Don’t accept her invitations to lunch anymore. She’ll move on, and you’ll feel a thousand pounds lighter.
None of this is to say eliminating toxic people from our lives is easy. It isn’t, and it’s painful. Remind yourself that this pain may be what’s necessary to make your way back to you.