WHY DIDN’T I CHANGE THINGS EARLIER?!
I often ask myself this question. One of the biggest things I wish I’d been able to change are some of the toxic situations I’ve found myself in, at different times in my life, much sooner. The short answer: I wasn’t educated enough about toxic behavior to identify the red flags early. In these situations, I always thought there was something seriously wrong with ME. I’ve researched this subject enough so that I feel confident I can understand and identify the behaviors much earlier.
Since I’ve mentioned stepping away from toxic situations as part of my weight loss journey, I’ve received countless messages and communications asking me to write about my experiences. It still surprises me that people are so interested in talking to me about this type of pain and hurt.
I’m also frequently asked what the game-changer was in my (healing) massive weight loss. What was the catalyst that started my transformation? This blog post is my answer.
Five years ago, I walked away from an engulfing toxic situation, that was slowly killing my soul. I tried to tell myself everything was ok but I see now how M-I-S-E-R-A-B-L-E I really was. Walking away from it, and the behaviors that went with it, freed me. I suddenly had an abundant amount of drive to improve my life, in so many aspects, and I was unstoppable. I started to feel so much better about myself. In the unraveling of the toxic situation, I found my inner strength, and discovered how resilient I can be. Somewhere in there I started to feel personal pride, and before I knew it, I was practicing self-care, which became self-acceptance, which made me happy. I am so much healthier physically too.
Oh, and I went from wearing size 28 to size 8/10 jeans.
I’ve never in my life been happier or healthier!
BEHAVIORS, RED FLAGS
(I understand the behaviors I’m writing about have so many labels, and fall on a spectrum. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to these disorders, or whatever they are, as ‘toxic people’ throughout this article.)
I’m not a mental health expert. This is only my experience, what I’ve done, how I’ve dealt.
These are some of the red flags with toxic people. They usually have many of these traits but not all:
- It’s ALL about them, extremely selfish
- Arrogance, big ego
- They lack empathy, and don’t consider what’s going on with others
- No one can stand up to a toxic person, or call them on their behavior–they’ll discard or there’ll be retribution
- Nothing is really ever their fault, excellent at displacing blame to another
- Extremely controlling, their way or the highway
- They don’t recognize boundaries, disrespectful
- Lots of drama
- They actually feed off of the goodness and love of others
- In the case of a narcissist: they idealize, devalue and discard
- Love bombing to win you initially
- In need of constant admiration, not giving it to them properly is cause for discard or retribution
- Sometimes extremely charming
- They have a short shelf life as friends
- They don’t have real meaningful friendships
- Extremely jealous and envious
- They demand unquestionable loyalty, but don’t actually give it in return
- Low self-awareness
- They don’t know how to love
Whenever I’ve stood up to a toxic person, or refused to enable what a toxic person wants–which is usually crazy or hurtful–the toxic person has lashed out. When I still didn’t do what they wanted, they’ve pitted friends and/or family against me. They’ve surprised me at how easily they can discard and defame.
I make it a point to never do the bidding of toxic people–any kind of bidding, even lessening my love or connection for the toxic person’s (perceived) enemy. Ever. I’ve been sent requests to unfriend people on Facebook, to not include someone for a celebration, to not give my attention and to cease giving love to someone. I feel these requests attempt to reduce my infinite and unconditional love, and my deep-seated humanity. So, no matter how much I love the requester, and understand their hurt, I never comply with these requests. Even when dear family has had break ups with partners, I never unfriend, de-friend, or lessen my love for either party. I don’t allow myself to be manipulated this way. I don’t think for a moment, someone asking me to lessen my love, support or admiration for someone else or to do something hurtful, isn’t manipulative behavior. It is.
People that do the bidding for toxic people are called ‘flying monkeys’–taken from the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Usually, a flying monkey doesn’t have both sides of the story, and simply acts on behalf of a toxic person, without thinking for themselves, to put the hurt on. Sometimes they do have both sides and they are still willing. Flying monkeys are enablers.
I, unfortunately, have to admit that I’ve behaved like a flying monkey. When I’ve realized this, I found the person and I apologized. One person I had to apologize to is now a very dear friend to me, and I’m so lucky she understood and forgave me. I love this lady so much. I’m glad I found the courage to talk to her.
In the past five years I’ve had a few of flying monkeys attempt to hurt me. One couple, when they realized their error, came and apologized to me. I totally understood. We are super close besties now. I’m so grateful for the apology, and the friendship.
The other person that behaved like a flying monkey was by best friend of 30 years. After this friend took acts against me, she couldn’t look at me the few times I ran into her. She looked as if she was in horrible pain every time I saw her, and couldn’t look me in the eye. One day, following one of these encounters, I showed up at her house to tell her how much I loved her, and that she didn’t have to be ashamed every time she saw me. All she could do was look at me with her beautiful blue eyes, and all her love, and sadly ask that I “forgive her ill behavior.” She followed up with a private message thanking me for forgiving her. She’s still in the toxic environment, with a really toxic person, so we can’t have the relationship we once had. I love my old friend so very much and I miss her every day. There is so much of my life that has turned beautiful, and I’ve wished so many times I could share my joy with her. She would have been the first person shopping with me when I bought my first pair of fabulous jeans.
Stepping away from a toxic situation is difficult but not nearly as painful and personally destructive as remaining in one.
Even though people that behave like ‘flying monkeys’ can eventually see their mistakes and apologize, toxic people can NOT own up to their behavior. Sincere apologies require courage toxic people do not have. Remember this: they can NOT take responsibility for the havoc they create. They are experts at twisting hostile situations they created, into ones where they are the victim. They create fantasies of how others wronged them, and they displace blame. I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s just part of the behavior. Because they are suffering so very much, and can NOT experience the vulnerability it would take to accept responsibility. They can NOT be wrong. That’s why it’s almost impossible to really clear things up with a toxic person. I realize that I can’t reason with crazy.
Toxic behavior is a chronic pattern. It is never a rare upset with a good hearted person, nor is it “rough patch.” There are extreme exceptions, but usually toxic behavior is a pattern I’ve been able to follow and see: drama, shaming, vitriol, threats, domination, forceful control, etc.
If alcohol, drugs or other psychological influences are involved, it makes them worse than toxic, it makes them radioactive.
Toxic people that are alcoholics (or are heavy drinkers), do drugs, or have serious psychological influences bearing upon them, are usually spinning out of control with many of their relationships. In these states people can sometimes become paranoid, and can be very nasty, controlling, and manipulative.
I didn’t think I could ever have understanding or compassion for toxic people until I read some books and lots of articles which gave me insight into the cause of these behaviors and how to deal with them.
A major take away: a toxic person = a suffering person. Always.
Nothing toxic people do–no matter how hurtful they try to be–is personal. Not. Personal. At. All. Because: suffering. The suffering and emotional pain are so much that the toxic person lashes out.
I’ve had to step away from toxic people to protect our family and myself. I never cut anyone off entirely, as I believe that’s inhumane and not possible since we’re all connected in this universe. I make it possible to have love flow through any channel in any direction. However, toxic people don’t recognize boundaries, so I’ve had to impose them.
If a toxic person has been in my life as a family member or friend, I probably love them a lot, and the decision to step away was not easy. I concentrate on loving them–a lot–from afar. And if I see them, I’m sincerely sweet and loving to them.
I’ve come to realize that I can’t save people, but I can still love them.
THE HIGH ROAD IS THE ONLY ROAD
I don’t engage in crazy. I learned a long time ago that I can’t talk to crazy toxic people about their behavior.
The only road out of toxic relationships is the high road. Really. I’ve had to put my emotional big girl underpants on a few times and be a brave strong girl, and NOT ENGAGE at all. This. Was. Hard. Really, really hard. Toxic people bait. They vilify. They attempt to suck the loveliness out of you. They’ve said things that are so wrong about me. They’ve twisted my kind acts and intentions to them or others into something bad. They’ve tried to to make me feel bad for being me.
Still, I don’t engage. I don’t drown in their suffering. Don’t sink down to that level. So, I take the high road.
Taking the high road: not getting others involved in taking sides, or in gathering sympathy, not becoming a drama queen myself about the upsets, or just ignoring it utterly (the best option) requires a certain discipline that comes from practice. Easier said than done. It’s very hard to do because sometimes I find the behavior of toxic people upsets me, and it gets to me. I have an urge to let them have it. Toxic people need drama, and want to entangle me in it, so me letting them have it, or engaging, just feeds it more. Taking the high road requires practice. Practice. Practice. The more I take the high road, the better I get at being a good person, and keeping my life on track.
DRINKING POISON AND EXPECTING AN ENEMY TO DIE
There’s an Eastern saying that I’ve come to appreciate: vitriolic behavior is “like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”
Toxic people consume vitriol, and attempt to serve it to others, expecting their (perceived) enemy will die. And sometimes they even drink copious amounts of alcohol, do drugs, or practice some sort of zealotry with that in mind. Their low self-awareness prevents them from recognizing they’re the ones drinking the poison.
Truth is that people aren’t our enemies, not really. The behavior of delusion, ignorance and greed are–and these make up so much of the suffering.
IT’S NONE OF MY BUSINESS WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF ME
I don’t believe every thought that goes through my head. And if I don’t believe some of my own, then I’m definitely not going to concern myself with what someone else thinks of me, or projects onto me. What people are thinking, or may be thinking, doesn’t concern me. Truth is that not that many people actually care about what I’m thinking or feeling. But a lot of people care about how I behave. And that’s why I have to remain on my side of the street, and take care of my issues and my business.
Seriously, I can’t concern myself with what crazy toxic people think. They think crazy toxic thoughts.
I’ve had to look back and reflect at why I stayed longer than I should’ve in certain toxic relationships. I’ve had to be honest with myself about what I was getting from the toxic relationship, and ask myself what were my attachments. Was it attention, identity, approval, to feel worthy, validation, crazy excitement, a sense of belonging, etc? In one friendship I had with a woman I had adored, I wanted to feel accepted by her. The friendship was actually stifling. It wasn’t until years later that I realized she was a fake with her love-bombing. My own sense of self worth was so low at the time, that I felt that if she accepted me, and gave me her attention and admiration, then I would really matter.
AND, YEP, THEY WILL SMEAR AND…
Standing up to a toxic person is tantamount to starting a war (in their heads). Toxic people can’t tolerate being stood up to. You can’t call them on their behavior, like ever. They can’t deal at that level. Even if it’s documented proof. They have melt downs and it triggers horrible things with them, and they take actions that seem incredulous to sane people. I expect real friends call me out on issues, it’s how we help each other. But toxic people can’t be called out. Like, ever.
I’ve noticed that once I’ve called the toxic person on their behavior, or don’t support the toxic person, they will try to turn people against me by smearing me. Yep. They do. What can I do? Nada. Nothing. I trust that just like I see the toxic behavior, others will too, eventually. In many cases, immediately.
Even with my bubbly personality and my great sense of humor ;), toxic people will smear me. I’ve come to understand that I’m not THAT special to be spared this behavior, even though I make a really yummy jam, and I remembered their birthday. It doesn’t matter how sweet, kind or thoughtful I’ve ever been, they WILL smear me once I stand up to them. Always.
They have. They do. That’s how they roll.
I just had to get over myself.
Since it’s none of my business what people think about me, I have to stay on my side of the street, and get busy with my own issues and my life.
I got wind of something being said about me recently by someone from my past. Nope, I didn’t contact anyone. I didn’t “clear things up.” Instead, I lost another ten pounds, and had a bunch of fun dates with friends and family.
That’s what I do. That’s how I roll.
TOXIC PEOPLE AND DOUBLESPEAK
If you remember George Orwell’s 1984, he uses the term “doublespeak”: toxic people use doublespeak in order to drive wedges between people. They say things such as, “Supporting me (in my toxic behavior) against so-and-so is supporting ‘The Cause’, ‘The Group’, ‘The Family’, ‘The Friendship’, etc. They’ll ask, “Where are your loyalties?!”
It’s some of the most manipulative and controlling behavior I’ve ever seen.
In truth, supporting toxic behavior and the driving of wedges does exactly the opposite: it destroys groups, causes, families, friendships.
Toxic people can sound so passionate and romantic in their destruction, and delusion.
Doublespeak is a trick of the toxic to confuse loyal people.
LIVE IN UNAPOLOGETIC JOY
It’s still hard for me when I have to deal with toxic situations–not fun, not easy. These behaviors serve to remind me the blessings of the joyful people in my life. I find focusing on the love and goodness of family and real friends to be most healing.
My biggest piece of advice is to never let anyone steal your joy. Live in unapologetic joy, and share it with the world!
In my life I have loving intelligent close family and friends that love me and support me, and it’s mutual, but that’s all I want from them. I’ve come to realize that no one can give me confidence. People can be praising but they can’t give me validation and self worth–or even make me feel beautiful. No one can give me a sense of belonging. I can’t get courage and strength from anyone else. It’s ALL an inside job. The great side of that is that no one can take away my self worth, my confidence, my value nor my innate goodness and deep-seated humanity. No one. Because: inside job.