Can People Really Be Toxic to Each Other?

In short, yes. But I feel like this deserves more explanation because I know how hard it is to come to terms with that fact in your own life. It’s taken me years to figure out that this is a thing that actually exists. In high school I truly believed that some of my most problematic relationships (with friends, boyfriends and family members alike) were just difficult, but I didn’t believe there was a deeper truth about what made them so difficult and what it revealed about our relationship. Since I’ve dealt with this truth in my life for a few years now, I feel like I can recognize a toxic relationship in my life much faster, and I also have some important tools when dealing with them.

Who can be toxic?

Literally anyone. I’m so sorry about this truth, it’s probably the hardest fact to accept when thinking about toxic people in your life, but really it could be anyone — your significant other, your best friend since kindergarten, your family members, literally anyone. One catch about recognizing who’s toxic in your life is that it always takes time. It’s very rare that you can tell that a new friendship is toxic within the first month, or even the first year, oftentimes it takes time to reveal itself because the novelty of a new friendship can make it hard to see the signs of toxicity. For me, I recently realized that the most toxic relationship in my life is with my mom, and that’s easily one of the hardest relationships to be toxic in your life because family bonds aren’t as easy to break as a friendship or a relationship with a significant other.

What are the signs?

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list, even in the slightest, but these are some of my clues that someone in my life, or someone else’s, is toxic based on my own experiences.

  • You can only take them in small doses — spending a weekend away with this person would absolutely drive you bonkers, and you might need a week without interacting whatsoever when you get back otherwise you might actually lose your mind. It may not simply be that they have a strong personality, some of the people I spend the most time with have strong personalities like myself, the difference is that this person has a personality (strong or not) that isn’t the most compatible with yours.
  • You find yourself exhausted around them, often — rather than feeling excited to hear about this person’s newest updates on life or feeling supportive when they need someone to vent to, you feel exhausted. Maybe because you feel they are making poor decisions in life and do not support them deep down, or maybe because no matter how great of advice you have to offer them in tricky situations, they continue doing the same things because your points of view are so different. Either way, nothing about the conversation feels productive, so you’d rather avoid it. Just seeing this person once a month may be all you can handle, and it’s great that one day a month, but anything more would put you over the limit.
  • Interacting with them feels draining—when you get home from spending time with this person you need some serious time to recharge, whether that’s through reading a book, taking a nap, hanging out with a different friend, going for a walk, or whatever else works for you. Not only that, but even getting ready to see or interact with this person may take some serious emotional (and physical) effort. You may wait hours to reply to their text messages, screen their calls so you can call back when you’re in the right mood, and if you have plans together you may dread getting out of bed, taking a shower, meeting up, and every step in between, because you know you have to be in a certain mood to be able to handle this person.

Like I said, this list isn’t comprehensive, but these are easily some of the strongest indicators that a relationship in my life may be toxic. One of the trickiest things about figuring out if a relationship is toxic or not is that sometimes it defies logic — you and this person may have had a healthy relationship for 10 years before it became toxic, it may be one of the most important people in your life that you can’t easily cut out of your life (like your parents or siblings), or this person may be part of your friend group and none of your other friends feel the same way. The most important thing I can stress about identifying toxicity in your relationships is that, above all, it is a feeling. Feeling that a relationship in your life is toxic is 110% valid, and you may not be able to explain why it’s toxic, you just feel it, with all your feels. But identifying that someone is toxic is half the battle — because once you know they’re toxic, you pretty much have to do something about it, because once you know how a relationship negatively impacts you, you can’t really un-know it, no matter how much you may wish you could go back to being blissfully unaware of the state of that relationship.

Okay, so they’re toxic, how can you deal?

  • Find ways to cope. If you’re prepared to continue feeling drained, exhausted, and mentally taxed at times when you interact with this person, at least plan ahead and learn how best you can cope. That may mean leaving your whole morning open for you to lounge around and mentally prepare yourself for your lunch date or your evening plans with this person, and it may mean scheduling nothing but personal “me time” for yourself after as well. You’re not a bad person for sticking it out in the relationship, sometimes you really have no other choice but to just deal. Some (emphasis on the some) valid reasons to cope with a toxic relationship are that 1) it’s not much of an option to leave — like with parents and siblings, or a person that’s too important to cut out from your life, or 2) fixing the relationship isn’t much of an option either — you may have already tried to limit your interactions with this person unsuccessfully, or maybe you’ve tried counseling and fundamentally you guys are just at odds and it won’t be changing in the foreseeable future.
  • Let them go. Yes, you read that right. This person may be your longest and closest friend, or it may be your high school sweetheart, but for your sake, let them go. Just because a relationship in your life may be toxic, it does not necessarily mean that that person is toxic. That person could have plenty of other happy and healthy relationships in their life, but for some reason you may never know, their relationship with you just doesn’t work the same. This may be especially hard if you’re in a group of friends and they all stay friends with this person, but even just limiting how much one-on-one interaction you have with this person may be enough to get that feeling out of your life.
  • Try to fix it. This one is the absolute hardest, if not impossible to do. I had toxic relationships with two of my best friends I met in middle school, but the relationships didn’t become toxic until high school or after (see what I’m talking about with time?). One of them I was best friends with during the beginning of high school, and the other I rekindled my friendship with during my senior year. Both of them were (and still are) so important to me that I tried to fix our relationship, but I couldn’t because I was trying to fix it on my own. Unless you both realize that your relationship has been, or is, toxic, it’s almost impossible to make it healthy again all on your own. Unfortunately, sometimes toxic relationships are one-sidedly toxic. You may feel like it’s overwhelmingly obvious that your relationship with them is toxic, but they may not feel that way about their relationship with you at all. If that’s the case, it would be very difficult for them to meet you halfway and try to fix the things that seem to be the most toxic for you — like their natural disposition about things (Negative Nancy or Positive Patty), the drama in their life, their personal choices, etc.

The biggest thing I should stress is that this isn’t a forever thing by any means. Sometimes you just need a healthy break from that person in order for both of you to experience life and have the opportunity to grow and change before you can have a healthy relationship again. The ability to have a healthy relationship together may come easier as you change as people. Either way, if you don’t address the toxic relationship(s) in your life, there’s no telling how much they could be taking away from your mental ability to do other productive things, or your ability to stay naturally positive and happy. I promise it’s worth dealing with, even though it’s hard. Don’t they always say admitting there’s a problem is the hardest step? You may already be on your way.

Also, if you enjoyed this post, please check out my blog here for similar pieces!

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