In the animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a couple sings about how their son fell into toxic water and now he glows. While that may elicit a few chuckles, toxic relationships are anything but funny. If you find that you’ve fallen into a toxic relationship — whether it’s a romantic relationship, a situation of a friendship gone awry, or a family matter — and are now glowing with the ill aftereffects, it’s time to rinse off and redefine yourself by who you don’t surround yourself with.
“I am frequently asked what the key is to…finding greater happiness in life,” psychologist Marc Muchnick, Ph.D., tells Psychology Today. “If you want to be happier and have less regret in your life, stay as far away as possible from toxic people.”
Toxic people come in many shapes and forms. After all, they’re human, and humanity is as diverse as the stars. They could be your best friend, girlfriend, neighbor, cousin or church deacon. However, you’re likely to encounter people who fall into the major categories of toxicity:
1. The Blamer: With this person, everything is your fault. You are somehow responsible for their problems, and they will point that out every chance they get. The truth: No matter what you do, it will still be wrong to them. In your constant struggle to appease them, you’ll give up too much of yourself in a vain effort that will only leave you completely empty. Even worse, you will start absorbing their criticisms until who you are is defined by what you’re not to them.
2. The Needer: Unlike The Blamer, in this case you’re responsible for this needy person’s happiness. They constantly need your affirmation, reassurance, time and energy. They are unhappy without you and unable to be satisfied on their own. The truth: If someone isn’t happy with themselves, they will never be happy with someone else. In your pursuit to make them happy, you’ll be driven to new levels of unhappiness.
3. The Chronic Complainer: They need to share everything that’s terrible in their life, from the trivial — the waiter totally messed up their order, again! — to the major. And if you point out something positive in life (“Isn’t today just beautifully sunny?”) they’ll point out the negative (“It is, but they’re calling for thunderstorms tomorrow.”). The truth: If someone is constantly focused on the negative, all they’ll see is the negative, and they’ll drag you down. Their negative energy will soon pervade the way you see the world, until you are proclaiming rainy forecasts on sunny days, too.
The Assessment Test
Often, people don’t like to assess their friendships or relationships because they have invested so much time and effort into it. And yet, just as an investment broker constantly reviews his portfolio for positive growth, you should also review the people in your world to check that they are bringing positive growth to your life, and you likewise to them. Assessing whether an individual is toxic or not is really a simple matter of asking simple questions, such as:
- Do I look forward to seeing this person?
- Am I doing something different just to please him, or does it also please me?
- Does she ask me to do things that go against my values or feelings?
- Do I feel happier and more full of energy after spending time with him, or do I feel drained and tired?
- Do I feel on edge or judged when I’m in this person’s presence?
- Do I ever feel like I need to lie, or at least not tell all of the truth, because I’m afraid of her reactions?
- Does this person hold me back from who I want to be or where I want to be?
Once you identify a relationship that is toxic, there is no need to confront the person or cast judgment on them. In a positive, energized life, there is no room for judgment or conflict, and most toxic people don’t even realize they’re toxic anyway. Instead, simply start to put distance between the person and yourself. And as you withdraw, don’t create a vacuum where the toxic person once stood. Fill it with new, positive energy, such as by focusing more time and energy on a nurturing, positive person in your life.