We all, at one time or another, have dealt with toxic people in our lives—you know, the ones who manage to drain you of every last iota of energy. They are our family members or people we may consider friends. Sometimes, they are simply people we know or interact with in a larger group of friends and acquaintances. Regardless of who they are, toxic people can be incredibly damaging if we allow ourselves to be hurt by them.
I know how difficult it can be to jettison a toxic person from one’s life, especially a family member. I know, because long ago, I closed the account with a sibling who did his very sociopathic best to wreak havoc in the lives of everyone he encountered throughout his life. Unable to explain to the rest of the family why I had eliminated this person from my life, when it became necessary to be in his presence again, I experience extreme revulsion. My children and then-husband couldn’t understand why I was “over-reacting” so.
The time had come to reveal the ugliness that led me to sever ties so many years earlier. Trust me, there are a thousand things I’d rather have done—even cleaning toilets—than to tear open old wounds. However, I was fortunate to encounter their love and support. On the other hand, I also encountered from some others the “blood is thicker than water”, “he’s your family”, and “you just need to forgive and forget” rhetoric, none of which moved me. He was simply an accident of biology. Forgiveness is one thing, but in my heart of hearts, I know, without a shadow of doubt, that I am not “enlightened” enough to erase history as though it never were.
Then there was the woman to whom my children and I referred as “Boobhead”. A very large, very loud, very intrusive woman with big hair and no friends, whose daughter was in my son’s class in early elementary school, she glommed onto me when I made the mistake of being nice to her once. Once was all it took.
I’m not a phone person; in fact, as a result of my interaction with her back in the olden days of land lines, I learned to turn the ringer off and let the phone ring, relying on the answering machine to do the job for me. But before I got smart, Boobhead began calling me daily. At the time, I worked in my own graphic design studio in my home. I just didn’t have time to listen to her recitation of the minutia of her day—itemized lists of what she was making for dinner, how many loads of laundry she was doing, her dating life (OMG)—but worse, a constant stream of complaints, hypercritical blather and negativity about nothing and everything, during which I made appropriate noises, but never did manage to get a word in edgewise. A few days of being nice left me feeling as though every last cell of energy in my being had been sucked out through a loooooong straw.
Her account was seriously overdrawn—no overdraft protection. My equanimity had been deeply disturbed. In self-defense, I simply stopped answering the phone and deleted her messages without listening to them. On the odd instance where I might run into her, I did my best to remain invisible.
At the time, I felt a bit unkind, but I realized much later that I had simply done what was necessary to protect myself from her negativity. It is not unkind to take care of yourself; it’s an absolute imperative. Recognizing and removing a toxic person from my life is an act of self-healing, moreover, it is an act of self-preservation. Allowing anyone to sap my energy and overwhelm my psyche is self-sabotage, and the sooner I end it, the healthier I am.
If, as I did at one time, you’re feeling unkind about cutting the ties to someone, keep in mind that you are simply acknowledging your boundaries and enforcing them. You are, in fact, loving yourself.
Now if I could just recognize them before they ever get started….