“She was healthy twenty pounds ago. You just wanted her to be hot, especially if you were gonna move in with her, right? You didn’t love her! You just didn’t want to be alone. Or maybe, she was good for your ego. Or maybe she made you feel better about your miserable life, but you didn’t love her, because you don’t destroy the person that you love!”
— Dr. Callie Torres, Grey’s Anatomy, Season 4: The Heart of the Matter
If you are a Grey’s Anatomy fan, you may remember these words from a season 4 episode, The heart of the matter. In this episode, Callie Torres has a female patient so obsessed with losing weight, she ends up killing herself. The girl wanted to lose weight so that she could move-in with her boyfriend who had made the move conditional on her being 40 pounds thinner.
Believe it or not, while this scene is from a show, things like these do happen in real life. Men and women alter their bodies and personalities to please their partners. Children grow up incapable of forming stable, functional relationships because of childhood neglect. Some of us end up with toxic people at the workplace, and a lot of us have “friends” who mock, humiliate, and batter our self-confidence in the name of fun.
Toxic relationships come in all shapes and sizes and a lot of us don’t have the ability to handle the poison. Those of us who have managed to build some semblance of emotional strength and awareness may spot a narcissist, ego-maniac, or a bully when we face their abuse, but so many of us spend years getting battered and bruised, completely unable to defend ourselves.
We must all learn the signs of a toxic relationship. If you don’t feel loved, cherished, and actively happy in a relationships, get out! Happy, functional relationships don’t just exist in movie or television shows, they’re a possibility in real life as well. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have bad or bad months, but nobody should make you feel like you’re not enough. Nobody should make you feel like you’re hard to love, or that you can’t be trusted. Criticism is part of life but you’ll know when someone is trying to use your flaws to take you apart and when that happens, get out.
Related: Signs of a toxic personality
If you can’t end the relationship and eliminate the person from your life, here are a few things you can do –
1. Don’t be a willing victim
I know all about childhood neglect leading to dysfunctional relationships in adulthood. It’s forgivable because children are defenceless, but it’s not so forgivable when an adult accepts abuse.
There is always a reason for it but there is also a solution. Here’s what you cannot do –
Don’t expect things to change. When you have spent a long time with a certain person and endured the worst aspects of their character, you start waiting for payday. So much time has already been invested that it makes you stay on in the hopes that the next day or the day after that will be different. This is referred to as the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.
Don’t expect the person to change. I went from an emotionally insecure, self-sabotaging mess to a confident, decisive, stable woman. It didn’t happen because of a movie, ted talk, or a person. It happened because I DECIDED to be better. I wanted to change so I did. My motivation was my need to be someone I can be proud of, no other person entered that consideration. If you have a toxic person in your life, you can leave them or accept their awful behaviour because no matter what you do, you will NEVER change them. Most importantly, you must understand that a toxic person doesn’t see their behaviour as toxic. They are incapable of recognising the damage they are causing to the people in their life.
Once you see that a person is toxic, you need to quit that relationship or you become an accomplice to your abuse. You are then, a willing victim. We all deserve better than that.
2. Recognise your worth
No matter what you choose to do or who choose to be, to live a happy, healthy life, you must see yourself as someone of value. This is also your best defence against toxic behaviour. If you see yourself as worthy of love and respect, you will eventually expect and demand both in every partnership you enter.
Cultivate better self-awareness. Recognise your flaws so that they can never be used to hurt you. Understand your strength so that event at your worst, you know your power. If you’ve had a neglectful or abusive childhood, seek counselling. The issues we face as adults have their root in our childhood.
3. Make yourself a priority
Cultivate a lifestyle with self-care an integral part of it. Prioritise your physical, mental, and emotional health. Exercise, consume positive content, maintain a journal. Self-care activities are like an act of respect for your body, mind, and soul. They affirm your identity and improve your self-esteem.
Also, when you eat a healthy meal and get adequate sleep, you’re better able to deal with stress and you’ve better self-control.
4. Create and reinforce boundaries
If ending the relationship is not an option than to limit the influence of a toxic person over your life, you must establish boundaries. Let it be known that you will not tolerate abuse of any kind. At the workplace, no personal comments should be entertained. Criticism should be constructive and focused solely on work. If your boss is toxic, you should clearly spell out your boundaries and professional needs in an email, and add another superior to that email. You can speak to someone in Human Resources about how best to handle the situation.
In a family situation, limiting access to a toxic person can be a lot harder because they tend to use our emotions against us which makes boundaries all the more important. State your need for respect and a healthy home environment. Do it calmly. The toxic person will try to push you into a confrontation, don’t let that happen. When we lose control and get emotional, we weaken our arguments. Don’t get agitated. Create and practice a script if you must.
The best thing to do with a toxic person is to simply not engage. Once you’ve established your boundaries, if the toxic person doesn’t respect them, walk away. Constant non-engagement will take away their fun. They might be forced to direct their toxicity elsewhere.
All of this is often not a permanent solution. The best thing to do is to end all contact with toxic people.
5. Don’t play mind games
Don’t try to beat them at their game, it will leave a bad taste in your mouth. If a toxic person enjoys ridiculing you, trying to mock them in return will not help. It will encourage similar behaviour. Toxic people are manipulative and selfish. They cannot look at issues from any perspective other than their own. You will never find the right words to win in argument or make them understand your side of things.
6. Find a support group or build a network of understanding friends
There are a lot of support groups for people struggling with toxic relationships. You can find them online. If you’re religious, you can seek comfort from prayer by joining a similar group.
The best thing would be a tribe of like-minded friends. If they’re trustworthy, you should discuss your issues with them. Discussing things with an uninvolved party can give you some much-needed perspective. More importantly, you know that someone is willing to support you if you need it. Friends that truly care about us can enrich our lives in the best possible way. It weakens all negative and toxic influences in your life, but if you’re lonely and isolated, you might give up when the pressure increases. So, build a healthy network of friends.
You don’t destroy the people you love.
That’s all we need to know. Love really can conquer all, and love can also render you so weak that you end up incapable of defending yourself against an attack you can see coming.
Or maybe you have such low self-worth that you continue in a job with a toxic boss. Whatever the situation, there is a solution to handle it. Find the strength to protect yourself.
Assess, strategise, and implement. Do not give a toxic person the power to destroy you.