Toxic people can create negativity that seeps into all aspects of your life. They can affect your self-image, your mental health, your very sense of self and who you are as a person. So, how do you know if someone is truly toxic, and not just having a bad moment? When do you know when it's time to finally cut ties, and how do you go about it?
Pruning negative, toxic people from your garden of friends and family is essential, basic self-care, and never something you should feel bad about doing.
My experiences with cutting out toxic people are a little more extreme than others, so I speak with a lot of experience. Not only have I removed toxic friendships from my life, but I've had to cut ties with nearly all of my family-including my own parents. Losing them was one of the hardest things I've ever been through, but when I did finally break away for good, it was as if a light started shining on my life. I didn't feel bogged down by negativity and self-doubt any longer; I felt free, and able to move on with my life. Here's how I do it:
Step One: Identifying Toxic People
Everyone has bad days, bad weeks, even bad months sometimes. We all go through bad times when we're feeling negative, and our negativity can bring others close to us down. So, how do you recognize a case of the grumps vs. toxicity?
Take note of how often this person is negative to the point where it affects you. Do they just have bummer days every now and again, or is their negative effect on you a constant, consistent thing? Do you feel badly about yourself when you're around them? Do they negatively affect your self-image, or constantly disrespect your life choices? If the latter is true, it sounds like you have a toxic relationship with someone.
Is there something stressful going on in the potentially-toxic person's life that is making them act this way, or is their toxicity an actual state of being? Are they going through a traumatic life event like a divorce, marital trouble, problems with child-rearing or family? It's important to be supportive and understanding of friends and family who are going through hard times, but if it's getting to the point that it's negatively affecting your own life and sense of self, it might be time to distance yourself from their situation for a while as an act of self-preservation.
Does the potentially-toxic person have mental health problems that they're trying to cope with? The world of mental health is so murky and abstract, and it can sometimes take dozens of medicine changes and combinations and hundreds of hours of therapy before someone who has mental illness can properly cope with life. Personally, mental illness runs deeply in my family. I have family members with Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Autism, among other mental health diagnoses.
The line I draw is this: If someone is actively seeking help and trying to get better, I'll stay by their side and be as supportive as I can be while preserving my own mental and psychological well-being. However, if the person is sticking their head in the sand, ignoring their mental problems, refusing to acknowledge them or get the help they need, I refuse to be their victim and distance myself from them.
My mother was a very, very toxic woman. She was psychologically and physically abusive. As a result of the torment she put me though, I started trying to kill myself when I was seven years old. She was a sociopath. To the rest of the world, she seemed very Type-A; a gorgeous, bubbly, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, size 00 former model with a perpetual glowing white smile and infectious positivity. Toward me, however, she was constantly threatening suicide, drugging me with large doses of her Xanax so she didn't have to deal with my autism, making me feel terrible about myself, digging her nails into me until I'd bleed, etc. She was the definition of a toxic person.
Step Two: Making The Change
Cutting people out of your life is always painful, even if it's for the best in the end. I don't think there's really any way around it. You have to be strong and brave to realize that you need to do what's best for you and preserve your well-being by removing toxic people from your life.
I finally got the courage to stand up to my mother when I was in high school. When I started calling her out on her lies, abuse and manipulation, she realized that she couldn't control me anymore, and left. I moved in with my father, and she stopped answering my texts, my calls, refused to see me. A few years ago, I'd texted her and arranged a meeting at a coffeehouse, but she stood me up.
I felt as if she'd died; it probably would've been easier if she had. I went through all the classic steps of grief, and I mourned her loss even though I knew it was for the best.
Removing people that are detrimental to your well-being from your life is always hard, but you have to keep in mind why you're doing it and focus on the end goal of self-preservation and self-care. Remember, too, that removing toxic people isn't selfish; you aren't a bad person for doing what you need to do to be healthy and happy. This isn't your fault.
Step Three: Start Living
Losing my mother was probably the hardest thing I've been through, because the feelings of rejection, shame and self-blame stung like nothing I've felt before. Now that she's out of my life, however, I can finally live. Without her, I was able to discover who I am as a person and to pursue activities that make me happy. I met a man, fell in love, got married, adopted two beautiful fur-kids, all without her. I can say with utmost confidence that I wouldn't be nearly as happy as I am now if she were still in my life in any capacity. As soon as I cut ties with her, I started feeling better; like someone had opened a window and let the light and fresh air in. I started to slowly gain the self-confidence she'd tried to snuff out of me, and I became whole within myself.
I still have times when I feel bitterly angry at her. I know she's mentally ill and refuses to get the help she needs. I know she has addictions. I know those aren't excuses for her behavior, because she never even tried to work on them, and I'm a strong person for refusing to be a casualty of her poor life choices, even though leaving was painful. I've decided that living my life wholly and happily is the best revenge against her. She wanted me to be constantly tuned into her needs and wants at the expense of my physical and psychological safety. Getting out of that situation and saving myself was the best decision of my life.
The peace, freedom and happiness I feel let me know every day that I made the right choice by standing up to the toxic people in my life and letting them go. Identifying truly toxic people can be difficult, but if you really ask yourself some hard questions and examine your relationship with the person/people in question and deem them to be toxic, letting them go and moving on comes with such an exhilarating feeling of liberation that makes the pain of losing that person worth it. I'm happy, and that's something I never could've been if I was bogged down with ties to my mother and the family that chose to side with her in the split. That's something they'll never be: happy. Living my life and enjoying ever moment of it really is the absolute best revenge, and the perfect ending to the difficult journey of learning to let go.