You know the ones I'm talking about:
- They dump their emotional garbage on the lawn of your heart.
- They tell you that they liked you better with more "meat on your bones," or when you drank, or when you were in that job you hated, or five years ago.
- They will race to your side when the chips are down, but they'll never celebrate your wins or share your joy.
- They sabotage your efforts to change your life.
- They minimize, overlook or make fun of your achievements.
- They use hurtful, cutting words and frame them with phrases like, "I'm just being honest," or "because I care about you," or "it's for your own good."
- They are quick to point out your flaws and judge your mistakes.
- They don't apologize with any sincerity. Their judgments are quickly made; their minds work in black and white. For instance, "you're wrong. I'm right."
- They make a real effort to keep you playing small and feeling small.
I'm pretty sure that most people who have traveled through the landscape of addiction or depression are qualified for PhDs in this subject, not only because they've risen from a world of toxicity and dysfunction, but also because they have been toxic themselves, in one way or another. They've sat on both sides of the fence, so to speak.
"Toxic" people are wounded, uneasy souls, unable- at least in the moment- to tap into their own light. Growth, change and faith feel like triple threats to them. Instead, envy, ingratitude and anger dot their path. Toxic people generally DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU DO WELL because it forces them to take a harder look at themselves, and that is very painful for them. Once you accept this truth- that they are not interested in seeing you flourish- it becomes a lot easier to move forward.
So, what can you do about "toxic" people when you're on a transformation journey?
1. Recognize that they are suffering. Wish them joy and healing in your heart; visualize them stepping into their highest, most loving self. A regular Loving Kindness Meditation practice can be very helpful in cultivating empathy and compassion toward those who are bringing you down.
2. Keep your distance. Your job is not to fix people. Your job is to practice self-care and self-love, to bring your creative contributions into the world, to be your most awesome and authentic self. When you invite toxicity into your life, you are unable to flourish. No matter how strong we are, hurtful people have a way of bringing us down. It doesn't matter if they are family, friends or colleagues- if they are constantly shooting bullets your way, you need to get out of the line of fire.
3. Surround yourself with positive people. Cultivate new relationships that are supportive, celebratory, and kind. Be discerning about the company you keep, and trust your gut! I always love watching dogs at the dog park; they inherently know who they can play ball with and who's going to bite them. Practice that wise canine mindset and sniff people out! Remember, people can be toxic to some, and not to others. Find and build your pack.
4. Work with a therapist, counselor or a coach to devise strategies for setting boundaries and dealing with hurtful, wounded people. If you need to build a high fence, that's ok. Allow yourself to experiment with boundaries and standards until you find what works best for you. Writer Danielle Laporte succinctly conveys this idea: "open, gentle heart. Big f&%king fence."
5. Keep a journal. It can be incredibly helpful to write or draw out what you're feeling and experiencing as part of the healing process. Did you know that journaling is shown to speed the healing of both physical and emotional wounds?
6. Don't go down the Google rabbit hole. Don't sit on the computer for days at a time learning everything you can about why someone is being the way they are, and don't diagnose them from your laptop! Again, it is not your job to fix them. Focus on cultivating yourself and evolving into the best person you can be.
7. Try thinking of them not as "toxic," but as "transitional." Perhaps they are on the cusp of their own breakthrough or transformation. They are people in flux, and flux creates chaos. This allows you to recognize their own earthly journey and learning process- a common bond we all share.
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin