How to deal with "Toxic People"

I seem to come back to this blog when something has been bothering me. When I feel the need to speak my mind about a topic, an incident, a trend, or other "happening" that starts niggling in the back of my mind. I've never been good at keeping a journal, and frankly I don't see the point of boring people with happenings of my every-day life. (when I look back at some old posts on this blog, I cringe a little!) But I keep this blog for times like this, when I feel I have something to say.

No, I'm not going to write about the American election, or Trump, or Clinton, or any of that. Although, there is a link; the whole "me first" attitude that has been prevalent in this election and the protests that have followed is very much a part of what has been bothering me lately.

I have seen several articles/blogs shared on Facebook, all about being happy and having a happy life, and one of the main ways to do so is to cut "toxic" people out of your life. All around the internet, we are being advised to no longer associate with these people, essentially because they bring you down, and you don't need that in your life. Articles abound with titles like "10 Toxic People to Avoid".

This bothers me.

Those who know me well, will likely know why this bothers me.

Being friends, or even just interacting regularly, with someone who is "toxic" is certainly no walk in the park. It's tiring, draining, doesn't appear to be particularly rewarding, and can lead to a lot of discouragement and down-right heartache. Hence the clarion call of modern society, "Cut them out of your life! You don't need this!"

It seems that the main thrust of this advice is that a toxic person will never change, and nothing you can do will ever make a difference.

I must disagree with this point of view. A toxic person certainly will change, and you will make a difference. By cutting them out of your life (especially if they were once a friend), they will become worse. By investing in them, you can help to make their lives better. And you can also make the lives of their families better.

One of the most important things to consider, is that this person is the way they are for a reason. Something (or things) happened in their life for them to develop this way. Yes, they likely had a natural disposition to be rather self-centered and difficult to get along with, but most often the reason for their behaviour is a deep-rooted belief that they are actually worthless. That they can't do anything right. Their self-esteem and self-confidence is in the toilet, and their outward behaviour is an attempt to compensate and cover up their deepest fears.

They are often the loneliest people you will ever meet.

The most oft-heard comment about this is that they have done it to themselves. As my Dad used to say, "they are the architect of their own misery." Why should we feel any kind of sympathy or empathy toward them when their own behaviour is the reason for their isolation?

Believe it or not, they don't realize it. They actually cannot see that they are the problem. One of the more prevalent attributes of a "toxic" person is their tendency to blame everything on everyone else. Once again, it's a defence mechanism, protecting what is left of their fragile self-esteem. They don't even realize they are doing it, it is so ingrained. And on the occasion when they are presented with irrefutable evidence that the problem is indeed their fault, the emotional effect is often catastrophic. Their protective bubble bursts, and the psychological consequences of realizing that they truly are in the wrong are all-encompassing and far-reaching. If and when they do recover from this, they build the defensive walls ever higher and stronger, and even purposefully drive people away to keep it from happening again.

And the more they are driven from the social groups around them, the more isolated and toxic they become. One of the saddest off-shoots of the spiralling toxicity and isolation is that it is the families - the spouses and children - of these people that are affected the most. They become more isolated as well, finding that old friends no longer want to associate with them because their spouse/parent is difficult to deal with. It's often the spouse that bears the brunt of the actions of society cutting a toxic person out, not the toxic person. And pressure is actually often put on the spouse by well-meaning friends around them to end the marriage to "protect themselves".

It's a vicious circle that never stops.

But we can make a difference, simply by following the age-old (and scripturally based) instruction that we continue to teach our children today: "treat others the way you would want them to treat you." The old "Do Unto Others" edict is never more important than when you are dealing with a "toxic" person. Would you want people to cut you out of their lives? No? Then why do it to them?

You see, if you want a "toxic" person to respect you, then you need to show respect to them. Want them to be nice to you? Be nice to them. Include them in things. They may try to drive you away at some point. Don't let them. Continue to be kind to them, even if they haven't been particularly kind to you. I'm not saying let them walk all over you, you still need to make boundaries clear, but if they feel valued and respected, they will be much more likely to treat you the same way.

There are many who would argue, "they don't deserve to be treated nicely!" "They treated me like dirt! They need to learn a lesson!" And my favourite, "I'm not going to reward their bad behaviour!" Here the thing: They won't learn. They CAN'T learn. They won't change by being "punished" because they will not see the connection between their behaviour and your response. Very often, what we see as bad behaviour (usually in the form of what we would view as arrogance, finger-pointing, whining, or an out-right adult temper tantrum) is actually what they view as "standing up for themselves". And if people walk away from them, or cut them out because of it, it only confirms in their mind that the other person is a bad person, and it was a good thing they stood up for themselves.

Are you seeing the problem yet?

It's not easy to deal with someone who is labelled a "toxic" person. Believe me, I know. However, one big aspect of the situation to keep in mind is that, often, these people are dealing with legitimate emotional and psychological issues that they are desperate to keep hidden. There is so much exposure on social media these days regarding support for those suffering from mental illness, particularly with respect to depression and anxiety. And yet, it comes along with advice to cut "toxic" people out of your lives, when they are the most likely people to be suffering from a mental illness. How does this make sense? Usually the most obvious "toxic" people suffer from some degree of narcissism, which is a legitimate mental illness, along with depression and anxiety. Are we only going to support those that we find easy to support? The ones we find it easy to "feel sorry for"? No, it's not easy to feel sorry for a narcissist, mostly due to their tendency to take their issues out on the people around them. But again, it comes back to the defensive mechanisms that have become ingrained over years.

Here is my challenge to you: Love a Narcissist. Get to know a "toxic" person. Be kind to them. Include them. Let them feel "safe" around you. Leave your judgements at home, and treat them the way you wish they could treat you. It won't be easy, and you'll be going against the grain, so-to-speak, but you may be surprised at what happens.

1 Response
  1. Lloyd Boone Says:

    Thanks for this fine blog! Wonderful insight and comments! My thoughts and feelings exactly!