BOYYYYYYYY do I have a LOT to say on this topic. Now, let me preface this post by saying this: no, I am not trying to be hip and trendy and ~eXpOsE tOxIc PeOpLe ~ and beg you to ~ ReMoVe FrOM uR LiFe wHat DoEsnT SeRvE YoU ~ or some basic ish like that. The internet is already full of pity parties and sob stories about “toxic” friends, exes, etc. and I am not here to contribute to the fest. This post is not your typical Huffington Post read or Thought Catalog article… sorry to disappoint. 😦 I’m here to share some facts, some hard learned lessons, and some general info for people who may be struggling or have struggled in the past with difficult relationships.
I want to start by describing what a “toxic” person really is. I am including information provided by psychology based resources, as well as some anecdotal ideas.
I personally feel that toxicity is related to unresolved trauma or confliction within a person. If a person is not insightful about their emotions and emotional triggers, they are more likely to react in ways that could be problematic or manipulative towards other people. This could look like:
You talk to your friend about something hurtful they said to you. Instead of expressing empathy, the friend projects their own issues onto you and the situation, making you feel guilty for bringing up your hurt feelings, and perhaps causing YOU to apologize instead.
Your partner makes remarks about women, clearly expressing his interest and attraction to them. You ask him to consider your feelings when he does this, and he immediately responds with “Well, you should stop being so insecure!”
There are other ways to describe a toxic person or situation, obviously, but in these two scenarios it is very apparent that there are internal tribulations within your friend or partner. I want to remind people that this type of response to an issue (a immediately negative, harsh, and accusatory response) is NOT normal. An emotionally sound, empathetic individual will use listening skills to understand and communicate with another person they ‘care’ about. A person who instead responds in a reactive, manipulative way may be too blinded by their own issues to create a safe and productive space to communicate.
With this being said, “toxic” people are rarely insightful to their problematic behavior. Often, they use manipulative tactics to victimize themselves, deflect the issue, or otherwise find a way out of any blame or fault. These types of people are unreachable and unteachable- NO matter of persuasion can convince them that they are the “issue”. Toxic people like this usually have narcissistic qualities– a common denominator in many stories of abusive exes, parents, or friends. Note what I just said: abusive. The toxicity that these people bring is considered both emotionally and mentally abusive. While it is (unfortunately) common to grow accustomed to toxic, dysfunctional behavior, it is so incredibly important to understand that this type of abuse can actually result in emotional trauma. Experiencing ongoing, long-term toxic behavior can leave you feeling constantly on-edge, overly apologetic, and even untrusting and suspicious of people. It becomes an exhausting cycle, and can make you feel like you’re going insane.
Empathetic, emotionally intelligent humans have the capability to sympathize, reflect on their actions, and adjust their behaviors as needed. Toxic, abusive people lack this insight, and therefore are much less likely to think anything they are doing or saying is ‘wrong’. Without the ability to critically think about our own actions, it is virtually impossible to understand the impact we can have on other people. For toxic individuals, deflecting the blame and finding other people or things at which to point the finger is an easy opt-out. This is why being around toxic folk can be so emotionally, mentally, and even physically draining. Nothing can be their ‘fault’- it’s simply impossible! It becomes up to you to solve their problems, take the blame, over-explain yourself, and stress yourself out knowing that nothing you say or do can ever be enough for them.
I will give a few personal examples. I once dated a guy for a few months, years ago, who was genuinely a violent and toxic man. His toxicity grew exponentially as we were together; his ‘tick’ was this ridiculous and sexist idea that women and men couldn’t be platonic friends. Because of his extreme beliefs, he increasingly imposed his will on me and my lifestyle which included many completely platonic male peers. I was friendly with males from past jobs, from traveling, from highschool and even college. Obviously I did not need to explain myself to him, but because of his insistence I found myself more and more stressed out any time a male friend reached out to me, liked my photo, or commented on my post. The guy I was dating eventually became irate, screaming and throwing things (including my phone) and demanding I block every man I know, even my family. I consulted with my family, friends, and even my therapist about this absurd requirement and everyone agreed that it was possessive and toxic. When I confronted the guy about it, he turned the entire situation around on me, claiming that I was insensitive for not taking his feelings into account, and that I shouldn’t be talking about our ‘private issues’ to my outside circles. He claimed that if I would simply be ‘less slutty’ (apparently having friends makes you a hoe, PSA!). then he wouldn’t have needed to break my door, throw my stuff around, and cause a scene. I dumped this guy super quickly, but not without multiple back and forth arguments about how terrible of a person I was because I refused to give up speaking to my friends and my FATHER.
A different, long-term guy I dated was also incredibly toxic. He was a manipulator, a liar, a gaslighter, and an overall asshole. With no regard for anyone’s feelings but his own, he put not only me through hell but my family and friends as well. My own mother has cried because of things he has told her, or the ways he would toss my mental and emotional state around like it was nothing. At one point, he called my LGBTQ+ friend a slur because I chose to hang out with said friend instead of him. I wrote previously about how terribly he treated me when I experienced a miscarriage with him. Hell, at one point in our relationship he recklessly drove with me passenger side, nearly crashing us and telling me that he “wished a car would have hit my side”. Any time I tried to stand up for myself, he took it as a threat to his own ego and would either whimper and cry with the expectation of me apologizing and caving in to his manipulation, or he would victimize himself and yell and shout at me for making an issue in the first place. Although he lied, took, and finessed his way though our relationship, he was always the one being “hurt” or “mislead” in the end. All of his friends are under the impression that he has never done a wrong thing in his life- despite the loads of evidence of him lying about other women, amongst other things. If he didn’t have money, it was because “the world was out to get him”. If he experienced ANY repercussions for his actions (getting into car troubles, getting fired, etc), it was because of something *I* or someone else did. His reaction to EVERYTHING was anger- because, as I mentioned above, he had virtually no emotional IQ. His entire existence was based off blaming other people, taking advantage of others, and skidding through life while avoiding consequences. It was exhausting, and I literally am still in therapy because of the disastrous experience I had with his toxicity.
(I also want to note, that up until my husband, I was just incredibly notorious for choosing BAD partners and putting up with bullshit. So, while these folks definitely WERE toxic, it was also my fault for sticking around and trying to fix things.)
Many people I am close to have experienced toxic people in their life. Some of my friends have left abusive relationships, only to still struggle with the trauma left on them. I know some folks that are struggling right now during the holiday season because they stopped talking to their toxic family and are now alone. Let me not even get started on stories I have heard on social media. Tik-Tok, Twitter, and even Facebook has exposed so many truths and similarities that women (and men) face in toxic relationships. Again, narcissistic qualities are almost always present in the perpetrator. Inability to take accountability. Gaslighting. The list goes on, and seeing that other people have been victims to similar abuse makes me feel less alone in the issue. I have begun to see that this, unfortunately, is a common experience in modern dating, relationships, and dynamics between family and friends.
So… what is the point to this post? As the title suggests, I am emphasizing the fact that toxic humans usually will not change their behaviors unless THEY see the problem, accept it, and change it for themselves. No amount of love, sacrifice, or honesty on your behalf will convince them that they are problematic. Having children with a person will not make them change. Interventions with the person, ultimatums, and even leaving them will not convince them to change unless they want to. Even if they do see error in their ways, the getting up and fixing it (going to therapy, apologizing, taking accountability) is usually too scary, upsetting, and off-putting for these people. These people rarely want to make any changes to themselves or their lives before things are too late.
I hope that, for your own sake, you will understand the complexities of these toxic people and leave them be. It is not worth your mental or physical health to try to “fix” them. Your value and happiness is more important than waiting around for people who may never be who you want them to be! Lots of us have learned this lesson the hard way, and I encourage you to take our wisdom and save yourself time and suffering. This post is meant for education and awareness, not to expose or insult anyone. I just want to help people who might need it, if I can.