“Toxic people will pollute everything around them. Don’t hesitate. FUMIGATE!”
— MANDY HALE
We’ve all experienced a toxic human. This is someone who drains you, leaving you feeling exhausted or shitty about yourself or the situation. I like to call these people ‘Energy Vampires’. They suck you dry of your life force, and no matter how much you give, it’s never enough.
This could be a family member, a co-worker, a friend or a romantic partner. Regardless of the relationship, they are in your life, and they are not contributing to your overall wellbeing.
These toxic relationships are so draining because there is an imbalance in the exchange between you. They have taken more from you than they’ve given. Whether that is your time, energy, money, or attention, you are left in a deficit.
So what do you do about this? How do you protect yourself from the Energy Vampires?
First of all, admit to yourself this is happening. You have an Energy Vampire on your hands, and it is depleting you. Recognize that you are not at fault. There is not anything MORE you can be doing for this person because it will never be enough. Absolve yourself of that guilt, and recognize that their issues lie within them.
Next, express to them how this relationship is impacting you. Point out the imbalance you are feeling, and use examples. In some cases, this person may be able to hear this feedback and make adjustments to their behaviour. If so, Hooray! You just encountered the best-case scenario.
If you are dealing with a deeply toxic person however, you may be met with resistance, defensiveness and possibly even an attack thrown back at you. This is an opportunity to really assess how this relationship is impacting you. How does it feel to encounter this person? Do you want to continue to engage with this person in this way? Do you believe there is a chance they will change for the better? How long will that take/last? There is lots of room for questioning here. Get REALLY clear on the TRUE nature of this relationship, and its impact on your life.
Next step is to change the nature of your relationship with this person. It might be clear that you need to remove this toxic person from your life. If you determine that there is nothing to be gained from keeping this relationship in your life then let them go. Free yourself!
Now I understand that it’s not always that easy, especially if this is a family member, or a co-worker. The circumstances of your life dictate that you must encounter this person. So what do you do in that case?
The answer is Boundaries. (My favourite ‘B’ word after Balance.)
Boundaries are an agreement you make with yourself about what you are willing and unwilling to accept from others, in order to maintain your wellness.
Get clear on what exactly is happening in this relationship that is draining you. Maybe they are super negative and complainy, continuously talking about their own problems without ever asking you about yours. Maybe they always turn to you for help without ever expressing genuine appreciation or returning the favour. Maybe they are abusive to you, emotionally or otherwise, and have manipulated you into feeling like YOU are in the wrong. There is a broad spectrum of toxicity, and the sooner you detect it, the more quickly you can protect yourself.
Once you are clear on the behaviours that drain you, make an agreement with yourself to no longer accept this behaviour and express this to them. Really commit to this! Be very clear and detailed with them about what you are willing or unwilling to accept. If you have expressed your boundary to the Toxic Person and they are not respecting it, you have every right to stop engaging in that way with them.
The final step in this process is managing your own reaction to it. You may feel some guilt around removing this person from your life, or not ‘being there for them’. Maybe this is someone you had/have a romantic involvement with and it brings up complicated feelings for you to create this separation. Regardless of the situation, if this process brings up negative emotions for you, remind yourself of the impact this relationship has on you. Get really honest with yourself about the pros and cons of having this person in your life in this way.
I want to be clear that I’m not referring to instances of helping people that are appreciative and conscious of your efforts. If it makes you feel good to offer them your resources, and doesn’t deplete you, then carry on! We like to feel useful to our community. This isn’t about that.
This is about endlessly giving your energy to those who don’t recognize or appreciate your efforts.
You do not have to accept behaviours that bring you down.
It is not selfish to protect yourself from toxic behaviour.
It is not your job to ‘fix’ people that aren’t willing to help themselves.
Remember this when the Self-Doubt Gremlin rears its head and tells you how ‘selfish’ you are. Instead of pouring your energy into an endless black hole, you are conserving your resources for where they can be of best use, for yourself and for others.
How have you dealt with toxic people in your life? Share your wisdom and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!