By default of my personality I’ve always placed an increased emphasis on my external relationships; often times, according to my mother, much more than is necessary. As I reached elementary school, I could pick up on body language and unspoken emotional change and by 5th grade, I’d accumulated so much stress and anxiety that I developed an ulcer. Not to mention, by the time I was in high school, my mom could accurately pinpoint when a friend of mine was going through a personal issue because I’d physically embody their pain and get sick.
In my early 20’s, I discovered that – like many of my new friends – I was an empath. Don’t get it twisted: these are things that effect everybody, empaths just feel them more; where others simply abide by a ‘Captain Save a Ho’ or ‘Mother Theresa’ complex. Relationships to our community, our family, our friends and most importantly ourselves define us within the macrocosm of the world and microcosm of our minds. Without taking an honest personal inventory of your own behavior and the traits in others that you’ll stand for, you might fall into a situation that’s not only toxic, but difficult to get out of. To her credit, my mother was – and still is – absolutely correct. Not to say there isn’t an inherent value to those interactions, but what I hadn’t done was take a personal inventory of the traits I valued in my relationships, including the one with myself.
What my mom taught me as a strong, intelligent single mother was that the most prudent, important, passionate relationship you should be in is with yourself. So if your relationship with yourself is toxic, you’ll be inviting more and more toxic energy and personalities into your life. Plus, the human body is surrounded by an ‘invisible’ field, manufactured from the copious amount of electromagnetic energy emitted by your heart – and that energy field can shift depending on your mood. The energy you radiate out into the world reflect back on you through your relationships, and a toxic relationship can very well have a negative impact on your life. A continual one, if you let it.
Toxic behavior is two-fold: first, someone has to engage in it – and secondly, someone has to be around to receive and internalize it. By choosing to engage in toxic behavior – you’re enabling the other party to continue to behave destructively and silently approving their behavior, towards you – and everyone else. The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results; and some could argue that being in a toxic relationship is insanity in it’s purest form. Whether it’s constant low jabs at your personality traits, quirky afflictions, friends or your romantic relationships, unnecessarily rude commentary or a refusal to accept responsibility for their behavior – toxic relationships come in all shapes and sizes. The good news is that they all have the same cure: taking a step back and reconsidering where you stand within your own world, where you’re going and who you want by your side when you get there. Do the toxic person and relationship fit in conjunction with that?
For me, it all comes down to one simple definition – what it means to be a friend. Over the course of my almost 30 years, that’s changed….a lot. Make a list, make a few even – goals, dreams, the great qualities your closest friends all share and the type of people that you’d like in your life. When I was in Middle School, it was someone who wouldn’t look at me as freakishly tall (I was 5’11 in 6th grade); in high school, it was someone who shared my taste in music. Sometimes, friendships are formed in much deeper, darker places. Back at the end of high school, then again in a similar fashion two years ago, I was going through a downturn – I lacked confidence and emitted insecurity, but I was still partying and trying to form new, formidable friendships. What I failed to understand was that all I was going to find were relationships that were a projection of my emotional state. Too often, instead of taking an honest look at ourselves, it’s easier to externally project our insecurities in various ways; destructive behavior and destructive relationships being two of them.
As time went on, I crawled out of the hole I dug for myself – but still, in vain, thought all of the friendships I made at the time could be maintained. I accepted partial blame for relationship fails and mishaps – and having a penchant for the past, I would get nostalgic about all the great things about them and fun we had together. I have to remember, over and over again, that neither of us are who we once were, which can turn nostalgia into a real life nightmare if you don’t nip it in the bud. You can cherish memories, but they’re just as well kept in a box in your closet to pull out every now and again when you feel like being reminded about all the crazy stories, memories and people that have molded you into the fantastic individual that you are. If you continue to live in the past, you’re refusing to live in the present – which is a beautiful place to be.
An unfortunate truth, is that if there’s a toxic relationship in your life, you’re just as culpable for it as they are if you’re not willing to confront the situation and do something about it. Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten, that I remind myself of all the time is that ‘you don’t have to like everyone, and not everyone has to like you.‘
Understanding that a friendship is a two way street, there are always two ways to fix it – changing your behavior, or trying to change theirs. That said, only one of those is actually up to you, so it’s time to make an important decision: do you want this person in your life? Do you, honestly, wholeheartedly, positively, absolutely without a doubt want this person to bear witness to your most intimate moments and are you willing to be around for theirs? Just to put it out there – if this is even debatable, you might want to lean towards a solid ‘No’ – but we can get to that later. Remember, this isn’t about them – it’s about you, and what you need in your life have the best version of today and build a better tomorrow.
If your answer is yes – if you think there’s a capacity for change and you want to actively fix the relationship, step one is fixing your approach to it. Is your friend dependable yet leaves snide comments? Acknowledge what they both can do, and not do, for you. If you need help moving, I’m sure they’d rock but if you want an opinion on your next career move, you might want to take theirs with a grain of salt. Do you plan your departure before your arrival? Does their name showing up on your caller ID make you anxious? Communicate with them less; they’ll get the picture. Establish boundaries, set time limits on hanging out, don’t be afraid to tell them ‘No and last but certainly not least – stand up for yourself, explaining how it feels when they bring negativity in, or shut you down.
However, if your answer is a solid ‘No’ – it’s time remove this person from your life. A month, a season, five years or indefinitely – that’s a personal decision; but from my experience, if you have the slightest inkling that it’s time to break ties, do it for good. Moving on doesn’t make you a bad person, and not being able to reconcile a relationship doesn’t speak to a personal pitfall – it says that you were strong enough to let go. Draw up a pro vs con list, write a letter – maybe even send it if it helps your mental state.
Just because you move on from them, doesn’t mean you don’t value them – it just means you value your life, your time and your self more. Don’t be snide, take to social media or engage them with negative behavior – putting energy, positive or negative, into a relationship is a sign you’re not actually ready to break your bond. From personal experience, I’ve found that completely detaching from the person – putting distance, both physical and emotional, between the two of you ensures that the relationship has time to fizzle out instead of simply being on hiatus. Don’t purge your feelings about this person as word vomit to anyone who will listen – just because you’ve had an epiphany about a person, doesn’t make it another person’s truth. One persons toxic relationship could very well be someone else’s best friend under different circumstances, guidelines or frames of mind.
At a time where social media reinforces the idea of quantity means far more than quality, and a Facebook or Instagram like is coveted more often than a smile – it’s time to re-evaluate the breadth of our social circles. In the past week, I’ve deleted over 300 people from Facebook, 70+ from Instagram and unfollowed about 100 from Twitter. If you’re anything like me, you’re a social butterfly that manifested into a social media whore (and I say that so lovingly) – and you’re constantly bombarded with social ‘stats’. Your number of “friends“, “followers” and “likes” all reinforce the erroneous idea of quantity over quality.
Take the social networking site Path. Unlike Facebook, which caps users at 5000 (seriously, name 5000 people you know personally without looking at a computer; probably can’t do it) – Path caps users at 150. 150 – that’s Dunbar’s Number; it’s the supposed cognitive maximum limit of the number of functioning social relationships that one can maintain and it appears over and over across human society. The smallest group, three to five people, is a “clique“; think of them as your intimate support system. From 12 to 20 is the “sympathy group“: people you feel especially tied to. 30 to 50 is the typical size of hunter-gatherer overnight camps, generally drawn from the same pool of 150. A 500-person group is the “megaband” and at 1,500 you’re a tribe. Fifteen hundred is roughly the number of faces we can put names to, and the typical size of a hunter-gatherer society.
Whether it’s clearing out your phone, your social media accounts or the physical space around you – it’s important to take an inventory of your relationship to the world, and it’s relationship to you. After all is said and done, the honest to goodness best way to eliminate toxic relationships from your life is to prioritize the ones that are equally beneficial, supportive, loving and adoring; and remember, that starts with the relationship to yourself.