We don’t talk a lot about toxic people in our clever, politically correct society. We don’t like to offend, and sometimes this means avoiding terms deemed to certain groups of people or individuals. Parents tell their children not to “mix in the wrong crowd” in high school. University students are often warned to be wary of some people. Girls are told to watch out for predators. Yet, it’s rare you hear someone say “Be aware of toxic people.”
I know for me, it was a term I rarely heard and didn’t even recognise until years down the track, when I reflected on people in my life who had impacted me directly and indirectly. Jodie Gale, a psychotherapist from Sydney, describes a toxic person as “One who is deeply wounded and for whatever reason, they are not yet able to take responsibility for their wounding, their feelings, their needs and their problems in life.” (Psych Central)
A toxic person is often someone who displays toxic behaviour to cover their own issues, insecurities and shortcomings. Sometimes they don’t even realise the extent of their behaviour or are incapable of recognising it as wrong. Sometimes they can, but don’t understand how to deal with it; and sadly, too often they refuse to seek help.
I’ve been thinking a lot about toxic people as I look back on a few experiences I have had over the last few years. This isn’t an issue many 20-something-year-olds would be willing to write about, but I feel there is almost a taboo surrounding it. You can encounter these toxic people on dates, in friendships, in your own family even; and especially in relationships.
It took me two years to realise the extent of what another’s toxic behaviour can do to you. This realisation only really hit me somewhere between trying to throw up a meal and feeling too anxious to go to a dinner party.
It hit me when I stood in the mirror and mentally critiqued every part of my body.
“Your arms are looking a little fatter.”
“Is that another stretch mark?”
“5 kilos off would fix that.”
“When was the last time you went to the gym?”
It hit me when someone else came along and started to treat me with respect. I was shocked to realise that guys still open doors. I was surprised to meet guys who didn’t openly peruse my body the moment I entered the room. I was in disbelief that a guy could call you ‘beautiful’ and actually mean it and not want anything from you.
As I read my old diaries and realised the extent of sacrifice it takes to love a broken person, I realised two things.
1. I wasn’t a fool after all, I was in love.
2. You cannot save anyone.
Lust is blinding. Love can be confusing.
Together the two are powerful enough to ignite a fire that cannot be easily put out.
As I found myself reading more and more through my old journal entries, all I could hear was one thing in my own words–self-blame.
“It must be my fault.”
“I made him angry”.
“I must have hurt him.”
“I hate myself for making him feel like that.”
When in hindsight, if someone is hiding behind a mask of lies- they will do everything in their power to make you feel like it’s your fault.
It’s your fault you are arguing.
It’s your fault it didn’t work out.
It’s the first red flag. In relationships, in friendships- if someone is constantly and consistently blaming you for every problem, every fault and never taking any responsibility for their actions and words, be wary.
It takes two to tango, and I believe that owning responsibility in a relationship or a friendship is crucial for it to work. It’s important to acknowledge your mistakes and wrongs when you make them. But if you are consistently apologising even when you haven’t done anything to keep the peace and keep them happy- you have a problem.
The second red flag I missed big time; if you get into a relationship with a guy or a girl and they tell you at the beginning “a relationship isn’t the most important thing to me,” you probably don’t want to be a part of it.
Life is all about balance; home-work-life. It’s about making it all work together, but if you are in a relationship with someone you have loved for over a year and they turn around and tell you that- chances are they mean it. Value is one of the most important parts of any relationship and friendship, but so often it gets confused.
So often I see girls (and I’ve done it myself) get love and value confused.
“Oh he loves me, therefore he automatically values me.”
No. No he doesn’t.
To love someone, is to value them- yet so often as humans we get this confused.
Sometimes it’s because we don’t really understand the full extent of what it means to love someone. Sometimes it’s because we get in a relationship, and so because we “obviously love them,” we lose the value after some time or we never had a true appreciation for them.
To value someone is to treat them with the utmost respect; to show them that they are worth something precious and priceless. That you treasure your relationship more than chatting up other women at the bar when you’re out with your mates. That you respect him more than flirting with your male colleagues in the office.
I can’t emphasise this enough. If you are in a relationship with someone and you do not feel valued, I think you need to ask yourself what you are doing. This doesn’t mean relationships are all about you and how fulfilled you feel- not at all. It’s about what determines a healthy relationship from an unhealthy relationship.
If you are left constantly feeling like you are not good enough, that their behaviour makes you feel inadequate, disrespected and devalued- have a think about it.
Is this healthy? Is this me struggling with my own issues or is this their behaviour?
I’ve always been a pretty confident girl. I have battled my own insecurities and still do, but I clearly remember being constantly told that I was “insecure” and needed to “stand on my own two feet.” It didn’t make sense to me because I had been independent from a young teen age, and confidence was an attribute people often complimented me on.
Yet I took it all on board, and to this day I am still trying to rebuild confidence that was shattered by one person’s toxic behaviour. If someone is consistently tearing you down more than building you up, take a second look in the mirror.
The moment you realise you have lost your spark and your passion for the things you once loved is when you know something needs to be done.
Toxic people do not come dressed as the devil with red horns and a sign on their head saying ‘Run.’ They often come dressed as the ‘best thing that ever happened to you.’ They often come with charm, handsome looks and smooth words. They say all the right stuff, do all the right things, and slowly their own insecurities and issues seep out in the form of toxic behaviour that has the potential to destroy you.
I write this because it took me so long to see that I wasn’t the worst person in the universe. It took me almost two years to realise that I wasn’t left heartbroken because “I wasn’t good enough.” It has taken me months to rediscover myself and who I really am after losing myself for so long. It has taken years to realise that I deserve people in my life who appreciate me and who I am, not just what I bring.
This applies to relationships, friendships and families. If someone gives you that unfamiliar gut feeling that tells you something isn’t right, follow it. It’s usually right.
Every time I have had that instinct with people, I have always been right; even if it’s taken years to see.
“But I love him,” you say defensively.
Sometimes love isn’t everything…if you are compromising everything you are to please another.
This was originally published on Rachel Tonu's blog 'A Heart For The People.'