This past weekend a close friend of mine visited a mutual friend of ours. Let’s call my close friend Mike and our mutual friend Terry. I like Terry but she has a bad habit of treating Mike pretty poorly. She calls him regularly at odd and quite late hours, in tears, begging for him to speak to her about her problems right that very moment. Whenever she gets angry at him, she tends to belittle him and make him feel bad about himself. When Mike approaches her and says she made him feel bad, she apologizes but the behaviour continues. Whenever Terry has a problem, Mike is the first person she calls. Whenever Terry goes through a devastating breakup or has issues in her romantic relationships, she goes to Mike and treats him almost like a standby boyfriend even though she has no interest in getting into any kind of romantic relationship with him. Mike gives Terry so much and Terry gives Mike very little. Terry is an unreliable and flaky friend to him. Whenever he needs her, Terry is nowhere to be found.
Mike recently vented to me about this situation and I told him the same thing I’ve been telling him for years. Stop allowing her to treat you like that. Truthfully, Terry has never treated me like that. She’s never disrespected me and I’d have no idea she was capable of those behaviours until Mike shared with me what was happening. Why does Terry treat Mike like this but not her other friends? Simply because Mike allows these behaviors to happen.
Unfortunately all of us are capable of allowing people to treat us badly. Accepting poor treatment from someone can seem obvious to everyone else but you might be blind to the way you are allowing a person to treat you. Sometimes you might know someone doesn’t value you but you still allow yourself to accept the bad treatment, hoping things may change in the future.
Why do we do this? There are all sorts of reasons. You might really love that person. Telling your child “no” could seem impossible to you. You might be so in love with your partner that you’d rather be with them and accept bad treatment than walk away. You may feel like you are indebted to your friend simply because you have shared such a long history of friendship together. Perhaps you struggle with guilt due to standing up for yourself. You might know the person is genuinely a good person and you are hoping they will suddenly wake up, realize how they have been acting and start treating you with the respect you deserve.
The good news is you can change the dynamic of your relationship with that person. You can stop accepting bad treatment from someone and there is even a chance that your relationship with that person can improve as well. You can recognize the behaviors that you are responsible for such as your own and acknowledge behaviors that are out of your control.
1. Accept it is not your responsibility to make others feel good. I’m a naturally empathetic person. I genuinely want others to be happy and to see the best things occur for my loved ones. There’s nothing wrong with having empathy but often times, you might risk taking responsibility for other people’s emotions. When you see your friend is upset, you feel bad and believe it is your duty to make them feel better. If a loved one is angry at you, you may have a hard time coping and allow the person to be disrespectful and hurtful towards you. You are not responsible for the happiness of others. Unless you are being intentionally hurtful or actually treating someone badly, you cannot accept responsibility for someone’s emotional states.
2. Look for understanding within the other person and within yourself. In some cases, a toxic person may need a bit of understanding on your part. For instance, has your friend been distant and unreliable this year? If so, did something in particular happen to their life that may be the reason for that distance? Was there a death in their family, did they lose a job, go through a divorce or are struggling with intense feelings of depression? In some cases, people are actually not capable of being good friends to us at this time in their lives. In these situations, it may be good to gain understanding of the situation and not take their actions so personally. Also, take a look at yourself. Are you being particularly negative in your own life? There have been stages in my life where I was negative and this had a bad influence on the people around me. As difficult as it may be to admit, you actually might play a significant role in why some of your relationships with others are toxic. If this is the case, take a step back, forgive yourself and work on adopting a positive mindset and treating people with the kindness and respect they deserve.
3. Recognize the supportive people in your life and invest more energy into them. There is a good chance that you have been overinvesting energy into a toxic person and neglecting the supportive and loving people in your life. A quick way to stop accepting bad treatment from someone, is to focus your energy on the people who treat you great. Spend more time with other friends. Go on a date with a person who respects and appreciates you. Dedicate a lunch day to your colleagues who are supportive and like you. Spend a day with the family members who value and love you. Surround yourself with the people who do value and appreciate you. As you do, you may realize that you are spending too much of your resources in a toxic person and not enough in the people who do much for you and rarely ask for anything in return. As you do this, the dynamic with the toxic person will naturally change because you are placing less importance and resources on this person.
4. Walk away from any form of harassment. Never accept any type of belittling or malicious intent towards you. If you have a habit of allowing someone to bully or talk down to you, then you need to work on leaving the situation when this occurs. Make it very clear that you will not allow someone to talk or treat you like that. Get off the phone, get out of the room, go home or do whatever you need to do to make sure that it’s very clear you will not accept any kind of harassment. Finding the strength to walk away shows a person that you will not tolerate any harsh words or behaviors from them. You give the opportunity for that person to learn that if they want to be in your life, they must treat you with respect. You also minimize the amount of negative words and behaviors you allow into your own life.
5. Avoid unnecessary arguments. Some people love to fight, and often times these arguments are unnecessary and are more about someone being right rather than trying to find genuine mutual understanding. If you find yourself involved in arguments that are breaking down your relationships, you need to ask yourself what is going on. If there is a genuine misunderstanding, then sometimes a healthy argument is necessary to resolve it. However, if you find yourself constantly trying to explain yourself and feeling misunderstood every time or you simply just want to “win” every argument, then you are actively participating in a useless argument. An unnecessary argument takes two people to occur. When you notice you are having pointless arguments, it is time for you to stop being a participant. Don’t allow yourself to get involved in an argument that you know will go nowhere. Find the difference between a healthy and needless arguments. There’s nothing wrong with an occasional argument, especially one that is required for the relationship to grow and be stronger. However, pointless arguments often make both parties feel bad, resentful, frustrated, hurt and involve wanting the other person to feel pain. Recognize the difference between healthy and pointless arguments so that you can stop yourself from being an active participant in a toxic argument.
6. Walk away from anyone who is judgmental towards you. All of us have made mistakes and have scars from our past experiences. The beautiful thing about being close to others, is sharing your vulnerabilities with these people. The moment someone tries to make you feel like a bad person about something you’ve done in your past, is the moment you may need to accept that this is someone you should not be that close with. Someone who genuinely cares for you may feel sad that you’ve been through past hurts, may feel inspired by how you’ve grown or may kindly remind you of when you may be at risk of making the same mistake again, but a person who truly cares about you would not make you feel stupid or like a bad person because of your past.
7. Learn to not be reliable to someone who is unreliable. Many of us have had a friend in our lives who we were always there for but never returned the favour. You invite this person out regularly, are there for them when they need someone to talk to or are always willing to give them a helping hand when they need something done. Yet, when you need something from this person, she is unreliable. She has excuses, other commitments and little flexibility with her schedule. The best way to deal with this situation is to stop being reliable to someone who is unreliable. Stop being someone’s option, when you make them a priority. The friendship will naturally balance itself out when you mirror their actions.
8. Identify and honor your boundaries. All of us have boundaries that must be respected. Everyone is different and some things that bother you may not bother someone else. Understand what those boundaries are to you and respect those boundaries. Communicate those boundaries if there is ever a misunderstanding. If someone understands your boundaries and continues to violate those boundaries, then that should give you an indication of how much they respect you.
9. Stop allowing yourself to be taken for granted. Taking things for granted is human nature. There is so much we take for granted such as being able to breathe, having a job, being able to have a meal today and so forth. Being taken for granted by someone you love can feel terrible. This person may not realize or appreciate all the things you do for them. The best thing to do is to stop doing these things if you really feel you aren’t being appreciated.
10. Keep pursuing your passions and following your dreams. You might notice that the people who are toxic in your life are not all that supportive. Sure, this person may verbally tell you that they support you but they don’t really seem to care. This person isn’t interested in hearing about your projects, goals and generally doesn’t seem to care all that much. Again, an unsupportive friend may not come right out and say he does not support you, but their lack of caring will reflect how he truly feels. I had an unsupportive person in my life who showed little interest in my writing. He knew it was important to me, but never asked about it, had a difficult time listening to what my book was about and generally didn’t seem to care. He might tell me verbally that he supports me working on my book, but his actions show little to no interest. When you surround yourself around toxic people, you may fall into the trap of neglecting your passions and feeling uninspired. Keep investing time into your goals and dreams. When you put energy into your passions, you’ll leave little room to allow their lack of support to get you down.
11. Have the courage to remove someone toxic from your life. A person who genuinely loves and cares for you does not hurt you intentionally, betray you, lie to you and treat you badly. As much as you may care for this person, find the courage to recognize that you deserve to be around people who treat you with respect. I know walking away from someone you love is often times the most difficult thing you may experience, but you need to embrace the courage to remove anyone from your life that continually hurts you, Walking away from someone doesn’t have to involve a confrontation. You can simply just let go, move on and let the friendship naturally dissolve. Life is unpredictable so this may not actually be the end of a particular relationship, but sometimes walking away paves a journey for a reconnection and a stronger and healthier relationship in the future.
12. Take care of yourself. The best way to take care of others is to first take care of yourself. As you work on being kind and loving to yourself, you will more easily recognize when you are putting someone else’s needs above your own.
There are often clear patterns of behaviour that we adopt and accept that allow a negative relationship to thrive. As you get better at recognizing those negative patterns, you can more easily avoid that situation. Remember you are not alone. Everyone has experienced a toxic person that we willingly allow to hurt us. That’s okay. Stay grounded, love yourself and be willing to walk away from negativity that is destructive to your life.