Over the years, I have learned something that many do not understand.
If you are sitting somewhere with someone who is a friend of any measure and you hear them say “I really need to rid my life of the selfish people I continually support,” and your first thought is, or even worse, you actually ask, “Am I one of those people?” Yes, you are one of those people. You are a selfish person. There is no way around it. You instantly thought of yourself before asking if there was a way you could help. I know a lot of people in this state.
Toxic–adj. 2. harmful or deadly.
Notice that this definition is not a noun. It is not assigned to any thing. It is a result of contact with a thing. It is a characteristic of a toxic metal, a toxic plant, a toxic animal (there are frogs that live in forests of the Amazon which are deadly or sickening to the touch,) a toxic liquid, a toxic friend or a toxic family member. Whatever may be toxic to you must be avoided. Yes, friends, bosses, even family members fall into that consideration.
Whether you see the toxicity or not is a serious issue. You can spend years in a toxic relationship without knowing it because of guilt, or because of need, even because it feels familiar. Maybe even because you tell yourself it will go away in time. Guilt from thinking that a family member, or a dear friend, would never betray or berate you or defame you behind your back, let alone to your face. Believe me, they will do it, can do it, and probably have. Guilt from telling yourself that those people are inherently ‘good?’ That is not a healthy thought process. It isn’t. Toxicity should never feel familiar.
I am no ‘nut job’ running around thinking people are out to ‘get’ me. Quite the contrary. I am a very rational, sane, well-meaning, happy person. Although, in the past few years I have seen cracks in my character which allow me to be treated badly by people I have always cared about and that I have held dear, mainly because I have always thought, “They would never do that to me. They are my friends and family. If they didn’t like me or care for me I would know it.” Don’t fool yourself.
Don’t. Fool. Yourself.
Yes, after coming to the realization that there are toxic people in my life, I was amazingly surprised. How could I have not been aware of what has gone on for so many years? Always feeling terrible after phone calls, after reading e-mails from these people, even visits to my home. People whom I have let insult me to my face, on the phone and in e-mails, all the time I would think they were just having a bad day. Bad days don’t last for years on end. This from people I have helped for whatever reason when I saw that I could, me seldom asking if I could help, just doing it. “Hey, I can help you with that.” This has gone on for years. I guess I’m just a softie. Not anymore.
As I step back and look at this whole scenario, I really see how extensive this is in my life. At this sitting, I can name at least three people in my life that I do know are not toxic. My wife tops that list. Then a musician friend and his lovely wife. Surprising isn’t it. You’d think I could come up with an extensive list. Look at your life. How long is your “good” list. Be brutal. If there is toxicity in your life, regardless of how severe or not, it is dangerous.
“Toxic is toxic, regardless of the packaging.”
When I look at my life, at least four family members immediately come to mind with a degree of toxicity. I can see in my life how this could have happened. I have always been a meek type of person, as I said above, always ready to help. I have been rebellious, but really only after an incident when I was about 16. My mother had a very volatile temper. Maybe it was because her marriage fell apart, maybe because she had three boys that she couldn’t manipulate, maybe it was just her nature, her upbringing. She was not a strong personality.
Once, when I lived on Young St. at Mitchell St. in north Aberdeen with my two younger brothers, my mother became angry with me. We were standing in the kitchen. I don’t remember what the argument was about, probably a haircut for me or something. She reached down and grabbed a frying pan from the bottom drawer of the kitchen range and raised it to hit me. I stopped her, grabbed it out of her hand and just stared at her for a few seconds, then said something like “I am never going to let you treat me like this again. Ever.” Well, it scared her to see that I was done with letting her push me around. It scared her that I stood up for myself. It scared her to see that I was functional without her input. I was never really rebellious after that, but I knew I now had a bit of an edge and, possibly, a bit of respect, even if it may have been born of fear. I am still not a rebellious person and I abhor violence and oppression. I guess I had reached the snapping point. I wasn’t going to allow her to manipulate me with fear any longer.
I had an uncle who was toxic, I didn’t know it then, but looking back now, it was there. Actually, he was the youngest on my mother’s side, but still, he was a bully. He tried it on me once. I was 12 years old. Yeah, at 12 he challenged me to “C’mon, feel froggy? JUMP!” I remember exactly where I was, what he was doing, mom was with him, she just laughed. I can still see the entire ten seconds in slow motion in my mind, nearly 50 years ago. I will never forget it. He got red in the face, spit from his mouth when he yelled at me. What did I do wrong? I had smoked a cigarette. No, I hadn’t started smoking, but I smoked a cigarette, got sick, he heard about it and felt that threatening to beat me up was a wise move. Anytime after that, when he was around, I left the room. Many years later, after I had grown, I was in my early 40s, he threatened me again, from a wheelchair. I laughed and walked away. I never saw him again. He passed away about 11 years ago. Wheelchair bound. Up to the point when he threatened me the first time, he was the coolest. He looked like George Reeves. “Superman.” Too bad. Dropped a kid’s whole bit of respect in just one second.
Back to the subject.
People who feel they can speak to you in any way or manner they feel is right when they speak to you, whether it is good, bad or insulting.
People who feel they can treat you in any way they feel is OK for them to do so and have no concern whether you react to it or not. They don’t care if you do, but if you do, fuel on the fire.
People who feel they are above you.
People who are dismissive to everything you say or do.
People who will continue to treat you so as long as you stand silent and let them.
You are a commodity to them. Your time is worth more to them than it is to you.
You are one of many they have on a mental list of people who will never oppose their treatment.
The closer you get to the top of that list, the more you endure and the more they abuse you.
You are an addictive substance to them.
They will only abuse you to the point that you allow.
They will never cause you to draw back, because they would then lose you.
There would be emptiness where their emotional dart board existed.
Although, my consideration of being toxic is only if you feel these people are just having a bad day or they really don’t mean any harm, but they treat you the same way every time you see them or they address you. If that’s the case for you, you need to get away from those people who are so unstable. For them to become toxic just because they had to have a wheat bagel, instead of white, because their favorite Starbucks stop on the way to work was out of white bagels, is not acceptable. Because they just felt lousy when they woke up. You need new friends. These are not friends. Don’t kid yourself. These are people who need you to be there when they want to rant. People who need you when they want to yell at their spouse for whatever reason but are afraid of any rational response, so they find you, they know you will tolerate them, you will tell them that they ‘deserve better’ when they need to hear it, then stash you on a shelf till they lose it again and need a punching bag. You WILL be there for them until you make the move. They are not going to give up on you until you oppose them. Not until you say “No, I will not be here for you any longer.” You must realize that your inaction to stop what they are doing by not walking away, supports them.
“Damn, I am so tired of this. Where’s ( )? I need to rant.”
Don’t put your name in the empty space for them. If you put your name there, YOU will have to remove it. They will not do it. They depend upon you to submit to them on demand.
Are you afraid you may hurt their feelings? Really? If you answered ‘yes,’ then you are supporting their toxic nature, sheltering it in YOUR garden, fertilizing it and nurturing it. Letting it completely take over your garden. It looks a lot different now, doesn’t it? You can either continue to feed that weed, causing it to poison your soil and rule your garden, choking out the other beautiful flowers, or you can pull it from your garden and leave it behind. I know we all have thoughts of “Well, I care for this person,” or “We’ve known each other for so many years.” Don’t you think they would be much more endearing to you instead of becoming even MORE damaging over the years? If they have been toxic or abusive to you for all of those years, you have given them too much time. Way too much. I know there may be relatives who may be toxic, but you are using that place as an excuse not to be strong and be respected. I don’t appreciate being spoken to badly, and I certainly don’t like knowing that they will choose me to rant to because I will just take it. No, I will not allow it to go any further. When those who you drop realize that they are no longer allowed in your garden they will undoubtedly say nasty things about you, but who cares. They’ve already been at that for years, correct? Certainly you have listened to someone ‘bad mouth’ someone else and thought, “I am so glad that person is not my friend.” Are you really going to have sympathy for someone who has no reserve about dissing someone behind their back? Neither will I.
They don’t care for you. They don’t, but you may be able to show them that they should.
One of my family members calls me on my birthday, as I do on their birthday. When we speak, it is always clear that I must listen, not speak, not share, not suggest. This family member is younger than me. That member called me the other day, wanting advice about a seller on eBay that he wanted to buy an old NOKIA phone from. Actually, a ‘dumb phone.’ He wanted to know whether the seller was reputable or not and if I had any tips on how to find that info. I did not know who he was speaking of, but I didn’t shadow his doubts, I offered all the help I could with the small bit of information he had given me. So I suggested that he look at the sellers ‘feedback’ and note whether the seller had good ratings or not, how recently the seller had sold the last item, how recent was the last feedback he had received and was there an up or down trend present in his feedback record. I suggested that he should look into buying a smart phone because support for ‘dumb phones’ is waning and will, at some point, stop. That was the trigger. The conversation changed from day to night. “I don’t want a smart phone. I have my reasons.” This meant, “Don’t even think of asking why.” I said “OK.” I can respect his requests, but it was much more than that. Now I have been warned of something to not talk about when we do talk. That’s just wrong. Essentially, the conversation was over, but I allowed the dead air. See what I mean? I allowed the toxicity to continue.
At this point, the conversation took a drastic turn, as I considered it may. He became the dominant one at that point. Prior to that, it was just me providing tips and info for his needs. It was just a conversation. He proceeded to steer the conversation as he saw fit. I chose to let him because I am tired of hearing it. Needless to say, even after my move 2,558 miles away, I still am abused, and I’m older than he. It will soon come to an end and I will not think twice about it.
Now, is the window starting to become easier to see through?
This conversation went on for about ten minutes. At the end, the ‘goodbyes’ were rather stilted. After letting the call drop after he said goodbye, I couldn’t help but think, “No more of this. I am no longer going to be steered or manipulated like this.”
(I severed the ties and extinguished the toxic relationship on January 20, 2015. Two days after our father’s death. Yes, the family member is my brother. I could no longer allow the toxicity to remain in my life. It affects me in more ways than just missing a phone call, sadly. Before and after I released him.)
The next relative on the list I have written about before and is the impetus for my starting this blog page. He is my father. (*See below.)
My father practices no discretion in my presence. Insulting me is a joy for him. It has been a joy for him since 1971 when I lived with him and my step-mother while I was finishing high school. Now, it has been 11 years since we have seen each other. It has been a few years fewer than that since we have spoken on the phone. When we spoke on the phone, same thing. “How does your wife endure being around you?” Yep. Right over the phone, and of course, I played right into his hand. I was afraid to question him. That is how you become the patsy, the target, whipping post for toxic people, and in this case, relatives. Disgusting, isn’t it? I must add that my wife and I are quite happy around each other. We talk, we laugh, we discuss politics, neighbors, family, pets, anything. We get along well. We are best friends. We laugh, long and hard.
Well, the month my father passed, I turned 61 years old. Yes, amazing that I have allowed this to go on for so long. The fact is that it’s been nearly 40 years since we have had any father-son contact. Actually there really wasn’t any before that, but he has always been somewhat accessible. Now, I live nearly 3,000 miles away and there is no longer any excuse for allowing this to happen. We have no contact at all any longer, and it really doesn’t bother me. I would much rather have a toxic relative be available to me when I choose and not be pounced upon when they see fit to do so. I have removed the bull’s-eye from my forehead.
OK, a slight bit of history here. Another family member and myself, actually, two other members, all have Facebook accounts. I found out years ago that I could find family members on Facebook, so I was happy about that. I went searching for my family members. Yes, members who had insulted me and had been toxic to me, to see if we could connect. I located both of them. Things went well for some time, but, as things do, I saw the situation go sour by trying to talk/chat online about family matters, even though our communications were not public. As you know, people see their computer screen as being bullet proof. If you don’t play into that, you are the wing nut in their eyes.
I don’t get it either, but, see how it is? If you don’t look at the big picture, you feed this situation. As I stated, you are that ‘one’ that people seek to rant to, to abuse, when all others have done what I am writing about here. When you refuse that toxic person, of course, you will be the hated one if they do not realize that they are using you, but regardless of what they think, you have elevated yourself in your own heart and in the face of others. Don’t continue to be a passive victim, it WILL invite other participants. If the people who are toxic to you do not realize that they are, they will not learn to stop being toxic. They certainly will find their circle of victims shrink without understanding why, probably not even caring why by continuing to be so.
There is one who is my youngest sibling. Not exactly toxic, but a very hard-headed, non-learning member.
He knows it all. You can’t tell him anything. I was once such a kid. I knew everything and you were fortunate to be in my presence. Wow.
You know something? I actually love these people, but how do I tell them, “Just stop it!” They don’t listen. They see me as the guy who is wrong, but why do I see these things and they do not? I am not imagining what is going on. Being joyful that a phone conversation has ended or that a person has left the room is not imagined, nor is it desired.
This whole thing is rough. How does one love someone who insists on being toxic? Being so abrasive that you just can’t stand to be around them? I know that I can’t have it in my life any longer.
My daily routine is based on being decent and nice to people. This is not something I have to remember to do or think about all day. I run a photo restoration business from my home. I wake up in the morning, I wait for my lovely wife to get ready to go to her job. I make sure I am available to help her with anything she may need help with before she leaves this house and my office. There have been times when her truck wouldn’t start. I jumped at the opportunity to help. Once she fell in the driveway of our home. It is on a slant down a slight hill to the lower garage doors. It was a bit cold, she slipped and fell. I knew nothing of it because I can’t see that side of the house from any window. She came back in the house that morning, after lying there a few minutes, picking herself and her purse, lunch up, walked up to the house, came in and told me what had happened. I felt so bad for her that I hadn’t known what had happened. Now I check to see her leave. I watch from the master bathroom window. Had I been a toxic, terrible husband, I would have told her to shake it off, or to take a pill for the pain. I didn’t. I felt terrible. I hugged her and asked if she was OK. She told me I was a good husband. I told her I had to be, she deserved no less. She is the sun and moon in my sky. She eclipses them all.
The obvious path to freedom.
If there are toxic people in your life, whether you see them on a daily basis, or just a monthly meeting with friends, they need to be taken aside, tell them how you feel. If they balk and call you crazy, you win. If they tell you they are sorry and didn’t realize that they were being so, you win. Speak up, you can’t lose. If you feel that they are unapproachable, don’t bother. You win. Just tell them to stay away from you. Don’t feel bad for doing what is best for you. If you don’t tell them to stay away, expect to regret seeing them again. Above all, do not feel bad about letting them go. Have no remorse for people you remove from your life that are treating you badly and who have no remorse for treating you so.
Now, if you still feel that these are people you need to stay in contact with, you don’t see what I am saying, nor do you see what I am seeing. We all are used by others at some time in our lives. Most times, we see that we are and bring it to an end. Many times it really isn’t harmful in the terms I have outlined and talked about here, but it still exists, regardless of its degree of toxicity.
But those who you really don’t like to see “walking up to your door” are the ones that are using you.
Letting them do so is also harmful to your self-esteem. If they are treating you badly, you WILL internalize it. You WILL begin to feel that you are responsible for those issues they are projecting upon you. Unless you are being paid to solve other people’s problems, their issues are not your issues. I know this all sounds cold and heartless, and in some light somewhere, it is, but, for me, I refuse to be walked on and used.
Do this to see if your assumptions are proved or disproved.
Make a list of things that friends do, or represent, to you. Good on one side, destructive on the right.
In that list, write the names of friends who do those things. Those whose names appear on the “Do good” list the least amount of times are the toxic people. Or, make a list on the left side of the page of things you expect friends and family members to do. On the right side, a list of things you would certainly hope no one would do to you. At the bottom of each list, write the names of the people you know under the list that have the most amount of things that they do in it. Whomever appears in the list of good things deserves your friendship. Whomever appears in the list of terrible things? See the big picture now?
Don’t let this continue. If you do allow this to continue you will see this as acceptable and you will pass it on to your children. Don’t let that happen. Look at my page title, “Break the lifelong cycle of inherited practices and trends that lead to heartache and failure.”
Finally, regardless of your relationship with those toxic people, they are wrong. When you strip all family relationship from the people in your family, they are just people. When you remove the titles from everyone that you know and care for, they become people. Everyday people. They are friends to others, associates to some, bowling partners, voters, business owners, etc. The only thing more than that they have going with you is family. Honestly, that should exclude toxicity. Many times it does not. It doesn’t in my family, which makes this tough for me. But if it isn’t realized, it will never have the impact it should have and that you and I deserve.
In my life, these people need to be advised. They need to be revealed, they need to be exposed. If they decide that I need to be ostracized, so be it. That just tells me that they either understand and decide that they don’t want to face what they are doing or they don’t see it, or have just come to understand it and don’t want to change. Either way, they are wrong to do what they do and I have accomplished what should have been done long ago. I will not allow it any longer in my life. I am going to make a stand. I am going to hope for the best, I will be as tactful and diplomatic as I can, but it may not turn out as favorable as I hope it will. I know with whom I have to deal with in this, and they do not feel that they are below anyone. I DO know that I have no right to treat others badly, regardless of how I feel about them or what their accomplishments are or are not. I put others before me in all things. I see no one as a receptacle for toxic assault.
Look around you. Make an assessment. Decide who needs to stay and who needs to go. If you come up empty in the “No” hand, you are better off than you may think. If you are heavy on the toxic side, get busy taking inventory, jettison what needs to go and cherish what you keep.
These things I have written are not for the denigration of anyone, they are for the purpose of getting my thoughts and issues on paper, sorting them and moving forward. They are to incite thought in you. If these ideas and suggestions do you any good, I have accomplished what I set out to do.
Thank you for your time,
*Edit. March 2014. Since first writing this, I have let go of my father. He has abused me verbally and mentally for 41 years. He and his toxic abuse are no longer a part of my life. He is still living, but will never hear from me again, and I will never open my door for him. He is not welcome in my life. His opportunities to rectify this issue have all been exhausted by him. He has never made an attempt to rectify what he knows is the issue. At one point, I would have accepted his overtures. He actually apologized to me recently, at which point, I granted him access again to view me and to comment my Facebook page, at which time, he resumed his toxic nature and abuse. He used my compassion to get in and abuse me more. There is no turning back now. There will never be a change of heart from me. I will not allow him or anyone to abuse me.
On my birthday in 2014, he sent me a birthday card. A 25¢ birthday card. He wrote in it, “Happy Birthday.” He didn’t sign it. He did, however, take the initiative to write on the outside back of the envelope, “This isn’t from your dad because you don’t have a dad. This is from Kevin’s dad.” Kevin is my next younger brother.
The packaging isn’t important. The toxic contents are still dangerous.
Thanks for reading,
*Edit. January 18, 2015. My ‘father’ passed on. There were no answers or resolutions. There now will never be.