“An apology without change is just manipulation.”
Read that again.
I sighed as I finally closed the Instant Message on my screen, leaned back in my chair, and cast my mind back to the events of the past two weeks. It’s been a helluva two weeks, dealing with my own issues and listening to others deal with theirs. It definitely tired me out, as the turmoils of mental and emotional stress can take a lot out of one’s mind.
My issue? Having to watch some friends of mine invite a very toxic person back into their lives. My friend’s issue? Watching her meltdown as her boyfriend slowly and surely burned his bridges while he suffered some sort of psychotic episode that caused him to be borderline suicidal.
That’s just life for ya.
Yeah, yeah, I know. That sounded kinda crappy, but let’s just be real. How many of us has had to deal with something similar in the past? Unless you are a hermit living up in the mountains of Tibet, I would hazard a guess that 99% of you have had to deal with something that caused you untold grief. Or unhappiness. Or sadness for another human being. And if you really think about it, what does it all boil down too? Mental health. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not always the case, but it’s probably safe to assume that mental health plays a factor in these crazy moments of our lives. Or someone else’s life. Heck, even I can be accused of that very thing!
“So, are you saying…I’m toxic?”, a wheezy voice sounded behind me. I groaned. Sounds like someone has been crying.
I turned around to look at my sad self in his usual corner, and I shook my head.
“No, that’s not what I am saying at all.”, I said, trying to reason with him.
“But…you just said…”, he looked up, his face tear streaked. He opened his mouth only to be interrupted by yours truly.
“I know what I said!”, I snapped back and immediately wished I hadn’t. I sigheddddd as that brought on another round of tears and sniffles.
“Look, I’m sorry.”, I apologized, and I sincerely meant it. “I had a lot going on…well, you know. But anyway, no, that’s not what I meant at all. If you’d only let me finish, then you might understand what I’m trying to say.” I said slowly, as if I was talking to a child.
Dammit! He’s not a child!
I took a deep breath and started over again.
“So, you remember that time when I was just a wee young un, in my early twenties?”
“Yeah?”, he sniffled.
“Yeah, well, those days were rough. Just graduated from high school, working a full time job, and seeing just how ignorant people are. Then that happened. You know what I mean by that, right?”
“Yeah.”, he said somberly. “I remember.”
“That’s when you were born, in a sense.”, I mused. “Back then, I didn’t even know I had depression til the real world hit me. Everything just felt dark. Like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. Like I had nowhere to go, no one to talk to, no one who could understand my feelings. That no one would listen to me. I felt trapped.”
“Yeah…”, he repeated again, lost in his thoughts.
“Luckily, I had people to support me. Family. But, boy didn’t we put them through hell. Not on purpose, of course, but we still did. I can never forget the time I saw the look on my parents’ faces when they found out what I wanted to do. Can you?”
“No…”, he sniffled and shook his head.
“Yeah, neither can I.”
I paused for a moment and then continued on.
“But look. At that time, I was toxic. We were toxic. Toxic not only to ourselves, but to our family. To our loved ones. They hurt just as much as we hurt, if not more. But they stuck it out with us, and that’s what unconditional love is. Since then, I tried my best to not be that person again. To be that toxic, hurtful person that unknowingly hurt those who love me the most. But…here’s the thing. Mental health? It’s like a weapon, a gun even. Or heck, anything. Is the gun dangerous in itself? It’s just sitting on that table, right? It’s not doing a damn thing but sitting on that table, looking all pretty and shiny and polished. But if you pick it up and start shooting it at people for no reason, is that toxic?”
“Uhh, yeah?”, he looked at me incredously.
“Okay then. It’s toxic. But if you pick it up, only to defend your family and yourself from a predator who broke into your home, and you shoot him purely out of defense, is that toxic?”
“Okay then. So what you do with the gun matters, right? Right! Same with mental illness. Mental health alone isn’t toxic; what we do with it is, but oftentimes, we may or may not be able to see that what we are doing is toxic. So clearly, understanding, and getting help is the key to not becoming a toxic person in people’s lives.”
“I see…”, he said thoughtfully, wiping away his tears.
“It’s up to us to figure out if we are being toxic to someone else, and making the changes necessary to not be a toxic person to those we love. It’s up to us to also see a toxic person for who he or she is; even if that person may or may not realize it, it’s still toxic to us. It’s up to us to figure out whether we want that toxic person in our lives.”
He nodded somberly at that.
“When someone does the same thing over and over again, and apologizes for it, that’s manipulation. Run. Run like hell. Run for those hills and don’t look back. But when someone sincerely tries to make changes to his or her own behavior, then why not, help them out. Or at least try to be there for them, because if they are trying, then so should you. Right?”
Silence filled the room, and I looked over. Depression was gone, and so endeth this conversation. I shrugged my shoulders, turned around and started typing away at the keyboard…
According to Jodie Gale, MA, a psychotherapist and life coach in Sydney, Australia, it’s common for people with toxic behavior to : create drama in their lives or be surrounded by it; try to control or manipulate others; be needy (“it’s all about them, all the time”); use others to meet their needs (such as “narcissistic parents”); be extremely critical of themselves and others; be jealous and envious of others, bemoaning their bad fortune and others’ good fortune; abuse substances or harm themselves in other ways, and be unwilling (or unable) to seek help from loved ones, a therapist, or a recovery program.
Signs You’re Surrounded by a Toxic Person
- You’re emotionally affected by their drama.
- You dread (or fear) being around them.
- You’re exhausted or you feel angry while you are with them or after your interaction.
- You feel bad or ashamed of yourself.
- You’re stuck in a cycle of trying to rescue, fix or care for them.
- You ignore your own values.
- You feel like you are “walking on eggshells”.
- You emotionally “check out”.
- You feel like you are being controlled, or you’re being overly controlling.
What to Do With Toxic Relationships
- Set and maintain boundaries.
- Focus on taking care of yourself.
- Find ways to protect yourself from their unhealthy behaviors.
- Reflect on the relationship, and consider how you are caught in an unhealthy cycle of relating to the person. For instance, you might be making excuses or trying to fix them.
- Tell the person how you feel in an assertive way. Don’t be shy.
Moral of the story : Don’t be toxic, and you don’t need toxic people in your life. It’s bad for your mental health, and sometimes your mental health can be bad for others if left untreated.