A staff member recently gave me a list of 15 questions regarding toxic people and I decided the best way to go about this was to just directly answer each question.
1. What are the signs someone is toxic? The signs typically involve a pattern of behavior although this is not always the case. The pattern I am referring to is when a person repeatedly engages in a behavior designed to take advantage of you, make you feel badly about yourself, make you feel guilty, and make you feel the life is being sucked out of you.
2. What does it mean to be toxic? It means the person has been seriously damaged at some point in their life and maybe at several points in their life. Rather than dealing with their emotional pain internally, this person deals with their pain externally. In other words, they are spreading the pain and becoming an emotional cancer that will emotionally devour you and even possibly destroy your life.
3. What do toxic people do to our lives? They can, if allowed, actually take over your life. You may find that everything in your life revolves around their dramas and crises. A sense of entitlement may develop and may develop quickly, such that you may be punished if you do not rescue them or listen to them when it is demanded of you. Toxic people are typically master manipulators and use guilt as part of their control.
4. How does removing them from our lives help? Removing toxic people from our lives helps us have more stability in our lives, allows us to develop healthy boundaries with people, and takes the contrived drama out of our lives. It allows us to breathe emotionally.
5. Who deserves another chance? If someone harms you with the intent to harm you, think long and hard about keeping them in your life. If you keep them in your life and they intentionally harm you again, consider them malignant and cut them out of your life. Remember, toxic people engage in a pattern of abusive behavior. Anyone can have an occasional slip. The non-toxic person, however, will readily apologize and not blame you for their behavior.
6. What is the difference between a person making a mistake or using poor judgement vs. a person who is toxic? The toxic person engages in patterns of dysfunctional, harmful, malignant behavior with an intent to hurt you while someone just making a mistake or using poor judgement will take full responsibility and learn from their mistakes and feel genuine remorse for hurting you.
7. When do you put someone out of your life? As soon as you realize they are toxic and have overtaken your life.
8. What does it mean to cut out toxic people and what does that look like in how we handle ourselves with or around them? Cutting out toxic people is like cutting out emotional cancer. As with any cancer, we cut it out and never take it back into our lives. If you run into them, you can be socially polite, but do not give them any information about yourself they can use as ammunition to hurt you.
9. Why do people choose to keep people in their lives who they know are toxic and what does that say about us? It means they may have been trained by a toxic parent to tolerate toxicity in their lives and it is expected. People may not know what it is like to have non-toxic relationships. How calm and beautiful it can be. They may think toxic relationships are normal. Many people say that someone is their friend and it is really only a relationship based on history versus a true friendship. In a true friendship, the friend does not abuse you, use you or manipulate you into feeling guilty and doing whatever they want no matter what the cost to you.
10. What if you’re unsure a person is toxic? If it is a pattern of bad behavior with the same tired excuses that tend to blame everyone but that person, the person is toxic.
11. What if you don’t want to let go even if you know you should? When we care about someone we don’t want to let go. However, when we make a decision that is healthy for us it tends to be healthy for the people around us. In the long run, your toxic person has to learn that they are the common denominator and they are the one that needs help.
12. What if you want to let go but are afraid of backlash or just don’t know how? There is really only backlash if the other is in a power position over you. If this is a work relationship, document, keep your paper trail, and maybe even look for a position in another company. If the relationship is with a neighbor, just keep your distance. However, if the relationship involves family or friends, you really need to consider cutting that person out of your life. In these more intimate relationships, it is not so much backlash as it is punishing and guilt inducing, which really is more about their toxic agenda than it is about you.
13. What if you have to be around the toxic person, such as at work, in the family, at church, or a neighbor? At work, see if you can transfer to another department or look for another job, in your family keep an emotional distance and don’t get involved in their drama, and with church and neighbors, be superficially pleasant and nothing else. If you can’t get away from the toxic person, don’t engage these people or give them false hope for your involvement in their drama. They will eventually look for someone else to rescue them.
14. Is it even possible for a person to start out benign but become toxic later in life?
Absolutely, but not the most typical. Usually this type of dysfunction starts in childhood due to either or both an unsafe physical environment and an unsafe emotional environment. Toxic people typically present as charming and wonderful when we first meet them. If they are really good, they will draw us in slowly so we are sucked in to their drama before we even realize what is happening.
15. Can good people be toxic? No. Toxic people appear to be good on the surface to suck you in. They do nice things for you and then when they ask you for something, they remind you what they have done for you. Whatever they do for you will have strings attached. Even if they apologize, they find a way to make you feel guilty and wrong. If their bad behavior does not seem intentional but happens frequently, it is a pattern and a pattern of bad behavior is toxic.
When someone in your life has a pattern of using you, making you feel guilty, disregarding your needs, or making you feel like you are being sucked dry, they are toxic and you are their prey. If you do not want to be someone’s prey, don’t let them be your predator.