Letting Go of Toxic People
It's Okay to Distance Yourself
On the one hand, I hate to call people "toxic." Everyone is a unique individual, and even the most difficult among us undoubtedly has a redeeming quality or two. We're supposed to always look for the best in others, and assume their motives are pure.
However, sometimes your mental and even your physical health dictates that you take a break from a certain person or situation. It might be temporary break or it might be permanent. In any event, spending less time with the source of your distress is the only sane option.
Some people are simply difficult to deal with. They drain us. We find that every time we see them we are exhausted and feel on edge. Although they may mean us no harm, being in their presence just doesn't feel right. So we might need to limit our time with them, or find a way to create firm boundaries that won't be breached.
Other people, however, may have a moral disorder known as "malignant narcissism." This is a condition in which people lack scruples and do not relate to others in honest, healthy manner. Manipulation, deceit and treachery are what we'll experience if we become involved. One you realize you can no longer trust a person, it makes no sense to keep them in your life.
Yes, we can forgive them and pray for them, but from a nice safe vantage point.
The Sociopath Next Door
Are People Becoming More Difficult?
This is a very hard question to answer, especially for me, as I have no formal training in psychology. But I do have first-hand experience with malignant narcissism because of a "friendship" I formed with another woman whom I had met at church. As strange as it sounds, disordered people go to church just like the rest of us. Religious settings are perfect for what's known as "covert narcissists" because they can appear very pious, which allows them to get away with a lot.
Although this was a very difficult experience, I did learn some lessons and I'm more than happy to share them, because so many others have had their lives turned inside out by a morally disordered person.
Sometimes narcissism is referred to as a "personality disorder." But I prefer the term "moral disorder" because these individuals freely and willing exercise bad behavior, and they know what they're doing is wrong, or else they wouldn't be so concerned with having their mask slip, and allowing others to see their dark side.
Some social scientists, such as Dr. Jean Twenge, PhD, believe we're seeing an upsurge in personality disorders such as narcissism. She lays this largely on our society and style of parenting, where we continually tell our children how special they are.
Dr. Martha Stout, PhD, author of The Sociopath Next Door, also believes sociopathy and other severe moral disorders are much more common than we'd like to imagine, as 1 out of every 25 people displays anti-social behavior.
Discerning a Toxic Situation
It's not always easy to tell when a situation is toxic, and this is complicated by the fact that it might have been alright, at one point, to spend a lot of time with a particular person. But, now, that's no longer the case. People move and grow in different directions, and, when this happens, it's alright to step back and to reassess.
Another reason it's difficult to discern if a relationship or a situation is healthy is because something that might be right for someone else is not a good companion for you.
Also, if you are dealing with a morally compromised person, this friendship is likely not operating on an honest level. There will be a big disconnect between what a person says and professes, and what he or she actually does. This makes it very confusing.
Now, as a middle-aged adult, I try to put much more stock in actions rather than in words. It's how someone lives that holds the key to their character.
People with malignant narcissism also play a number of mind games, such as gas lighting, where they purposely try to confuse you, and projection, in which they blame you for their faults.
Because everything is so foggy, it's hard to see clearly. You may wonder if you have the problem, instead of them. So, discerning a toxic situation isn't always easy.
How the Situation Makes You Feel
Perhaps the most accurate assessment of whether someone is "toxic" is how you feel after spending time with them. Are you angry, hurt, resentful or unsettled? Does this happen repeatedly? Do they insult you, mock you or put you down? Do they lash out at you? Do you start to doubt yourself after being in their company?
These are all red flags there's a serious problem in the relationship, and you shouldn't discount them. Your visceral reaction is something you can't ignore. If you feel deep down that something isn't right, but the other person keeps insisting it is, go with your gut. It usually doesn't mislead you.
From my own experience, I've found that this is the only way to really assess if it's wise to put some space between you and someone else. A slightly toxic situation may only call for a lot more breathing room.
The Perfect Comeback
Building Better Boundaries
If someone doesn't have a malignant personality, but is simply draining or overly demanding or critical, firming up your boundaries is a good step. This prevents you from over-extending yourself,and it also sends the message that you have needs as well.
Strong boundaries, I've found, are the best way to deal with difficult people that you otherwise love. You certainly don't want them to cut them out of your life. But you do need to establish some clear rules.
Prepare for some resistance though. Your rules, even if they're entirely reasonable, make upset someone who doesn't want to follow them. That's okay, but your boundaries still need to be respected.
Some Symptoms of Morally Disordered Behavior
Charming on the surface
Entitled to the Max
Morally disordered people are masters of the first impression. However, this is just a facade. Eventually you'll see their true self.
Malignant narcissists expect special treatment. You'll be expected to give a lot, but don't expect anything in return.
One red flag is someone who constantly belittles others behind their back. They will do the same to you.
Reacting angrily to something that doesn't warrant this is a big clue you might be dealing a character disordered person.
In Sheep's Clothing
Going No Contact
Morally deranged people can be dangerous, even if they do you no physical harm. That's because disordered personalities thrive on constant drama and conflict. Some are even sadistic, and experience pleasure if they can inflict pain. This includes sabotaging your other (healthier) relationships and/or your livelihood if given a chance.
Any information gleaned during conversations will be filed away and used to undermine you. It's impossible to trust someone with such a serious disorder because they have little regard for the truth. There is absolutely no upside to maintaining a friendship with a malignant narcissist.
If you've gotten close to someone who fits this description, chances are your life has become more chaotic than before. Under the circumstances, the best way to achieve a measure of peace is to go "no contact."
How to Spot a Toxic Person
Maintaining No Contact
Oftentimes, this is easier said than done. Narcissistic people are skilled manipulators and highly charming. They know just what makes it tick, and they'll try every trick in the book to pull us back into the relationship. That's because everything to them is a game and they desperately want to win.
They certainly don't want you to discard them. They'd prefer to end the relationship on their own terms. When they dump someone, it's typically done in the most tasteless, ruthless way imaginable. Once you've made made up your mind that no contact is the way to go, you'll need to resist their overtures.
Standing Your Ground
Chances are, you'll miss your narcissistic relationship because it occupied such a big part of your life. However, you are really much better off without the misery. You might fondly remember the good times. But, as the relationship progresses, they became fewer and fewer.
Resist the urge to ask mutual acquaintances how your former "friend" is doing. Delete any emails and don't respond to voice mail or text messaging.
The easiest way to move on from a toxic relationship is to do just that. Keep moving and don't look back.
For Additional Reading
- Why Toxic People Drive You Mad | Psychology Today
They'll drag you down as long as you let them. By Steve Albrecht, DBA...
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