Hello, dear ones. I hope this week is treating you well and you are practicing good self-care (which means both relaxing and tending to things like responsibilities and relationships). I trust that you are doing the best you can 🙂
Today I wanted to address a word that gets used quite a bit but doesn’t seem to have a clear and easy definition. Language evolves, and often so that definition likely won’t last forever. There are many definitions that Merriam-Webster have amended because the colloquial use of a word is more important than the original use of the word. However, when it comes to mental health care, it’s helpful to have a definition that gives us all a sense of being on the same page.
I’ve heard a lot of “she’s toxic” or “our relationship is/was toxic” recently. This word can give a very real, almost tangible feel to relationships that drain us emotionally and people who seem to have no consideration for our needs. However, sometimes we’re the toxic person without knowing it. Please don’t let that bring up shame in you. It happens. Learn and move on.
Here are some signs that a person/relationship is toxic:
- their problems are always more urgent or important than yours
- they only ask how you are as a formality, they never seem interested
- they expect you to have answers to all their problems and if you don’t, they get angry
- they demand or expect advice or validation again and again but take your advice
- they don’t ask for help with their emotions, they demand it
- they get you to do what they want by using guilt, shame, extreme anger or sadness (they manipulate)
- they always have something negative to say (whether that means they shoot down all your ideas, have an “at least it’s not”… story, or just complain all the time)
- they consistently gossip about you or to you
- they criticize more than they support
- they always seem to fall into a victim role
Ultimately: they don’t take responsibility for their problems and emotions; they splash them on others.
If you dread seeing someone, there’s a good chance there’s a toxic dynamic going on. If you read this post and recognize some of the bullet points in yourself, seek out counseling to help you figure out how to get out of these patterns. Chances are you’re there because you lack confidence and/or coping skills. NOT because you’re an unkind monster. Being toxic shouldn’t be an insult, it just means you’ve got some growing and owning up to do.
On the flip side, if you’re seeing these signs in a relationship and it’s not you, be careful. Calling someone out on being toxic is likely to be a sensitive conversation and if they’re not ready to see it, they might get angry and defensive. They have to be ready to see it and own it. Set some boundaries. It’s okay to say “I’m feeling drained and not able to have a conversation right now- can we talk about it later?” or “I don’t feel like this is something I want to discuss with you”.
It’s tricky though; if you’re the one saying “I don’t want to talk about this”- are you setting boundaries or you refusing to own something that’s yours to own? Does that make sense?
Let’s play out two different conversations so that you get a feel for what’s toxic and what’s healthy.
Emma: I’m just so exhausted all the time. If my boss would just get off my back I could get more done. I’m too good for this stupid place anyway. (let’s say you’ve had this kind of conversation 3-4 times before and Emma is a less than stellar employee. You’ve given her validation in the past.-toxic)
Dylan: I’m sorry you had a rough day. I actually did too and don’t have the energy to talk right now. Catch you later. (healthy)
Emma: You never want to talk about my feelings! I can’t believe how selfish you are. You’re really not a good friend and I don’t even know why I hang out with you (toxic)
That one seems pretty obvious. Now let’s see what it looks like when Dylan isn’t owning his stuff.
Emma: Dylan, I’m really let down that you canceled on our lunch again and without much warning. I feel like you don’t care about our friendship.
Dylan: I don’t want to talk about this right now.
Emma: Then when are we going to talk about it? I just want to understand what’s going on. If our friendship isn’t important I want to know that but if there’s something going on with you, I want to know that, too. Maybe I can help.
Dylan: I just need you to leave me alone! You’re always so demanding!
The differences can be FAR more subtle than this. People who survive by manipulating the emotions of others and have spent a lot of time in the victim role have gotten really good at staying there and flying under the radar. A therapist can you help you untangle your feelings about a relationship (maybe the guilt encouraging you to stay) from what you truly want and what’s healthy for you. Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services to discuss how to deal with toxic people.
Thanks for reading and have a fantastic week!
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.