Have you ever feel psychologically trapped in a relationship?
You may know a person for a long time, even your whole life, but something about your relationship just doesn’t feel right. You feel inferior, underappreciated, uneasy.
You may even say that when you’re near this person, you feel intoxicated.
We’ve all had such relationships in our lives. Often it’s a friend or an acquaintance, and sometimes it’s your close relative – a parent or a sibling. With these people, you have a relationship with repeated patterns of abuse, both physical emotional, conflicts, manipulation, and discrimination.
Soon you realize that you’re suffocating in this relationship. It’s impacting your quality of life, your self-esteem. You’ve become a victim of toxic people, and today you’ll learn how to spot them and deal with them.
What Does Psychology Say About Toxic People?
Subconsciously, we all know who a toxic person is. But when urged to define such a person, too many broad adjectives come to mind, such as passive-aggressive, abusive, narcissistic, negative, etc.
In psychology, there is no definition for a toxic person.
Some psychologists compare toxic people to malignant narcissists – a term for people who have a narcissistic personality disorder with a mix of aggression and antisocial behavior.
But these traits don’t necessarily describe every toxic person. You can’t say that every toxic person is aggressive, and not all toxic people are antisocial. Sometimes they are very calm and friendly, and yet, when you’re in a relationship with such people, you feel used.
Further Reading: How to Deal with Toxic Family Members
So, How Do You Spot a Toxic Person?
Despite the lack of definition and research on toxic people, this is the most popular topic during therapy sessions.
Depending on their practice and cases, therapists identify five main types of toxic people and their main qualities, which you can use to spot them:
Type #1: The Green-With-Envy
- jealous of your achievements
- overly competitive, sometimes in an aggressive way
- compares themselves to you
- downplays your achievements
Here’s the situation. You won a prize in a debate competition at school. Proudly holding your trophy, you walk up to your friend and start telling them how happy you are. In response, you hear something like ‘Well, at last, you’ve achieved something!’, or ‘My trophy looked better than yours last time!’ etc. This toxic person is a green monster, green from jealousy, trying to downplay your victory.
Type #2: The Nihilist
- overly negative
- dismissive and angry
- sometimes aggressive
- unable to share happiness
So, let’s say you are a young bride, excited about your upcoming wedding. You share your excitement with your friend, who, in return, tells you something like, “No matter how happy you are, it doesn’t change the fact that 9 out of 10 marriages end in divorce.”
Encouraging, isn’t it?
Type #3: The Slacker
- have no motivation
- have no ethics or respect for other people’s effort
Here’s the typical situation when you might have met this type of a toxic person.
You’re in a classroom and working on a test. Suddenly, someone pokes you in your back and whispers, “Hey, can you help me with that? I heard you’re the best at this, and I’ll make it up to you!”
Or, you are working on a project, when suddenly, a “friend” from your class comes to you and says, “Can I join you? We’re friends, remember?” After you work nights on the project on your own, they get the credit for it, as their name is on the project as well. And, after it’s over, gone is your friend and their friendship.
Type #4: The Complainer
- thriving on self-pity
- playing the victim
“Oh, my job is the worst!”
“I’m not successful enough!”
“Why doesn’t he love me the way I deserve it?”
This type of toxic person enjoys being a victim but never takes responsibility for what is going on in their life. Such a person would complain about being in an abusive relationship instead of getting out of it (because they secretly like the pity and the attention from other people).
Or, they would tolerate an abusive boss or colleague instead of changing the job or reporting the abuser because they like playing a victim.
Disclaimer. Not every person suffering from an abusive relationship is a complainer.
Some people can’t get out of these relationships because they are afraid for their life. The only difference, in this case, is that a complainer nags about the situation, while a victim of an abusive relationship is often silent out of fear for their life.
Type #5: The Verbal Abuser
- always puts others down
- enjoys attacking other people to make themselves feel superior
- holds back other people
“Oh my God, what an ugly dress!”
“Did you see that horrible haircut?”
“She shouldn’t wear this color, look how fat it makes her look!”
If you have a verbal abuser in your circle, you may have heard such comments. But it’s a matter of time until these comments start targeting you.
Why are these people doing it?
They don’t want to take responsibility for what’s going on in their life. They are unable (or unwilling) to change their life situations, that’s why they will put you down to make themselves look better. These people often have low self-esteem, and the only way for them to feel better is to be condescending.
Further Reading: Fake Friends: How To Spot Them, Avoid Them, And Move On
How to Deal with Toxic People?
The best solution seems to ignore or to walk out of this relationship altogether.
But what if it’s not possible?
What if it’s your close family who you cannot just ignore?
Let’s take a look.
Way Out #1: Set the Boundaries
Establishing boundaries is the best solution for those who have toxic relationships inside the family.
Schedule the time you spend with a toxic person in your family. When doing so, think about yourself. When is it comfortable for YOU to talk to them? How long is it suitable for YOU to spend time with them?
Toxic people often manipulate your time, trying to steal more of your attention and disregarding your personal plans and arrangements. So, set the boundaries of how much time and your undivided attention your person has. When their time is over – go on with your life.
Way Out #2: Assert Yourself
While the first solution is about avoiding confrontation, here you can’t get out of it.
Confrontation, however, shouldn’t be in the form of aggression or rudeness, at least, from your perspective. You merely tell them directly that you are focusing on YOUR needs right now.
You can also be more straightforward and talk about your feelings, say that you feel drained after talking to this person and that they ignore their advice. You care about them, but you don’t see a reason why you should discuss their particular problem since they don’t want to do anything with it.
Way Out #3: Try Modelling Their Behavior
The word ‘try’ is crucial here. Essentially, you will try tricking them into stopping behaving the way they do.
So, let’s say you have a toxic person in your life who is a complainer. Here’s how you can model their behavior.
Call your friend and start telling them immediately about your problem. After a few minutes, stop yourself and tell them, “I’m sorry, I’ve been talking only about my problem. How are things with you?”
Doing this several times could model the behavior that you’re looking for – they would start understanding that they only talk about themselves and being egotistic.
However, trying to teach toxic people a lesson by having their behavior backfire at them doesn’t always work since such people often remain ignorant of your wants and needs.
Way Out #4: Thrive on Support
It’s highly unlikely that all people around you are toxic. So, change your focus.
Spend more time with people who show their support and have your back. If you find it hard to walk away from a toxic relationship, spending more time with positive and supportive people in your life will give you more confidence to walk away from toxic friends or relatives.
Way Out #5: Walk Away
While the first four solutions focused mainly on preserving a good or neutral relationship with these people, this one won’t likely have this effect.
This way out of a toxic relationship doesn’t fit every situation, and you should choose it only if you’re ready to part ways with this person.
You will feel horrible doing it. It will feel rude and selfish. But there is no egoism in this solution. Admit that you’ve tried to help, you’ve been a good friend, but they still ignore your efforts. So, it’s time to move on.
Further Reading: 8 Ways To Differentiate Real Friends And Toxic Friends
What Would Be the Aftereffect?
Most likely, in the eyes of a toxic person, you will look like the biggest villain.
And, if you’re an empathetic person, you’ll most likely feel horrible.
But look at it from a different perspective. Freeing yourself of a toxic person feels like a breath of fresh air for your mental and emotional health. Acknowledge that you did everything you could to help and to save this relationship. But now it’s time to move on and think more about your well-being.