A lot of you have asked for more "personal" posts, so you're getting them! Since I'm turning 25 next week, I've spent the past month or so taking stock and thinking about all of the things I want (nay, NEED) to change in this next year. Identifying toxic people and cutting them out of my life was at the top of that list.
I don't know if it's because of my mental illness or just the fact that I'm naturally vulnerable and a little insecure but I've always been flypaper for generally manipulative people. Of course, I've never thought that on my own-- it's something my mom always has to remind me. I will admit though, I have quite a penchant for unhealthy relationships and tend to not notice their malignancy until it's too late. Because of the nature of that all, I've never had a real amicable parting of ways. Friendships often end in a brilliant display of poorly chosen words. Now that I'm older and a little more self-aware, I've been studying the people around me and wondering to myself, does this person build me up? That simple question has revealed some pretty shocking truths. Letting go of somebody you've come to know and love is a painful thing to do, no matter how toxic the relationship may be. If you suspect something in a friendship or romantic relationship may be slightly off, here are some important questions to ask.
Does this person make me question my own instincts or sanity? The term "gaslighting" gets thrown around a fair bit, almost to the point at which it means nothing. (We, as a collective society, have literally gaslighted the term "gaslight.") It's a very serious form of psychological abuse wrapped in a ubiquitously misused term. Nonetheless, it's something that can happen to anybody, and does happen quite often. I once had a friend who would be passive-aggressive until I would instinctively become defensive. When I called her out on it, she would deny it all, then ask if my actions could have been caused by my mental illness, which made me feel a little "crazy." It happened again. And again. And again, until I genuinely didn't know which parts of my mind to trust, if any. I began to feel as if none of my emotions were reliable, which was made worse by her saying things like "you're a ticking time bomb" and "I always have to walk on eggshells around you." She'd say it with a charming smile though, so I couldn't tell if she was genuinely concerned, or just trying to take a jab at me. More often than not, it made me feel bad for her and very, very (excuse my French) shitty about myself. That's all it takes to be emotionally manipulated.
There are a few ways to tell is this is happening to you. First and foremost, when confronted his or her behavior, does this person vehemently deny any wrongdoing? Does she seem justifiably indignant? Does he take on a resolute character and cause you to question your sanity? Are you constantly second-guessing yourself? Do you ever feel like you used to be a completely different person, stronger, happier, and more confident?
Does this person ever genuinely apologize? I'm not good at admitting when I'm wrong. At all. But for the people I love, I will do it because it's important. You can't be right 100% of the time. It's impossible. There are some people I've come to know over the course of my life's journey though who simply cannot say the two little words "I'm sorry." Or, if they do say it, there's always some kind of catch. A classic example of this is "I'm sorry... that you were offended," or "I'm sorry... that you didn't understand what I was saying." Just like we can't be right all the time, we also can't be an absolute joy to be around most of the time, which is why knowing how and when to apologize is an absolutely crucial skill. There can't be harmony in a relationship in which the (inevitable) mistakes are not acknowledged and accounted for. When one person is willing to apologize and the other isn't, the conflict stays open. The relationship becomes uneven, and it's easier for more disagreements to arise. Think of it as the foundation of a house. For every misstep, a stone is taken away. If both parties take responsibility and apologize, a stronger stone is put in its place. If one (or neither) party will admit to being wrong and refuse to give an actual apology, the hole stays open. You may know what happens to a house when the foundation is dangerously compromised. (It's not good.)
Is this person generally negative, and do I often share the same negative sentiments? This one is a little harder to identify because negativity can often manifest itself in the subtlest of ways. Moreso, it's only natural to become desensitized after a while. I know it can be difficult but try your hardest to think about your friend or significant other objectively. From an outsider's perspective, does this person spread joy, or misery? Does this person seem to knit-pick the most insignificant details? Most importantly, does your own inner monologue turn more towards wretchedness and complaining when you're around this person?
Does this person blame me for things that are out of my control? There are so many possible instances of this so I'll use another personal example. I once had a friend tell me that I'm "difficult to deal with" because my struggles with mental illness and the episodes that come along with it bring back unsavory feelings and reminders of a particularly angry time in her life. When she told me this, I was devastated because I would never intentionally hurt her. It bothered me until I really began to carefully unpack her statement and realized the problem here is twofold.
My mental illness issues aside, (because I will admit, for me it's an explanation and never an excuse but certainly not something friends should be using as an attack) when somebody blames then guilts you for making them feel a certain way, that's a huge red flag. There's a difference between you doing something mean and somebody saying, "you made me sad" and somebody accusing you of causing an unhealthy thought pattern to develop. If somebody in your life is doing this, stop feeling bad and tell yourself that they, and ONLY they, are responsible for their thoughts. After all, if you're such a negative influence, wouldn't they just cut the relationship off? This is another form of psychological manipulation and the more I looked into it, the more I realized that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. It's very similar to projecting.
Does this person own up to her shortcomings in the same way she expects me to? This one is simple. Take a look at what is expected of you and see if she holds herself to the same standard.
By now, you should have an inkling about who the potentially toxic people in your life may be. Now what? Ending a relationship is REALLY hard. It's heartbreaking and the often "necessity" of it does little to quell the pain. You want to make sure that your life will be better off without this person and you want to make sure that you lay it all out there so there are no regrets going forward.
Is this person even aware of what they're doing? A very large part of me wants to believe that not all people have insidious plans for others. Just because somebody may be hurting you in one of more of the ways mentioned above, they may not even be aware of it. However, calling them out may not always be the best idea, as manipulative people are cunning liars by nature. They may adamantly deny any wrongdoing, and if you're not a strong enough person, may turn it around to make it seem as if you are the hurtful one. I recommend journaling. Make note of every thing this person does to make you feel unhappy or unsure about yourself. If you have a conversation and your friend is genuinely apologetic, you should have another conversation about how you're going to treat each other going forward. If he or she isn't understanding, you may need to consider sticking a fork in it.
Do I explain myself to this person, or ghost them? I personally don't think that ghosting is a good idea. Even if the other person is past the point of reasonability, it's good that you get all of your grievances out. (If for nothing else, then just for your own peace of mind.) Sit down and talk about why you have to move on. Don't be hurtful, however tempting it may be. Explain that you need time to reflect on what you need to live your best life. A real friend will understand. Remember that self-care is not selfish. It will sting for a while but you'll eventually come to realize how much better life is when you're not being manipulated into feeling bad about yourself and questioning yourself at every junction.
When in doubt, take a break. If you're not ready to cut this person out, take a little break from them and their influence. Make yourself busy and occupy your time with things that make you feel good about yourself. (Because you need it!) If you feel a lot better about yourself during this break, you may have your answer.
I wish you all the best! Remember that above everything else, you deserve to be surrounded by people who build you up and owe absolutely nothing to the ones who tear you down.