One of the first things my therapist taught me was this:
Erica, you’re an adult. You do not have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable or anxious, regardless of the circumstances.
While this has been a harder one to learn, this lesson has stuck with me over the year and a half I’ve been seeing my therapist. Whether it’s a relationship or a friendship, toxic people are like a thorn in the side of our already challenging mental health.
Toxic people force you to get stuck in the past and focus on the negative. They are selfish, and normally not able to fully see our mental illnesses, the issues that you suffer from every day. For years, I put up with friends like this, friends who only focused on themselves and played the victim when called out on their behavior. Blame placing, projection, passive aggressiveness. Then, after a really triggering argument with someone I thought was a close friend, I paused and asked myself:
Why am I giving so much of my time and energy to fix a relationship that is broken to begin with?
Why am I sitting here doing 90% of the compromising? Bending over backwards to please, and for what? So I don’t have to have a confrontation? My anxiety fears these forms of arguments with friends because it digs into my own self worth, and the need to be liked. I found it was when I pushed past that fear that I came to this realization – I don’t need these people in my life.
I don’t need people in my life who refuse to understand my anxiety. I don’t need people around who attack and project their own anxieties onto me, and aren’t able to own up to it. I don’t need inauthentic friends who shy away from being real with me. What’s the point? It took a few emotional breakups to teach myself that saying goodbye to one thing can sometimes open the door to self preservation, growth, and a deeper understanding of our worth.
Here are a few tips on cutting toxic people out of your life, once and for all:
Establish & maintain boundaries
The more you try to please them, the more you drain your mind, energy, and spirit. Compromise after compromise will just leave you exhausted – it’s time to set some healthy boundaries.
Now, there are circumstances where you can’t completely remove a person from your life, or with the help of boundaries, the person can remain.
Give some serious thought to what you will tolerate and what you won’t, whether it’s from partners, family members, coworkers, or friends. When your instinct tells you something’s not right in your interactions with someone, refer back to your already established mental boundary checklist and enforce it.
Reduce their power over you
Part of removing toxic people is understanding projection – recognizing that they’re not actually seeing you when they hurt you.
As an extremely sensitive person who has a great deal of emotion, I used to let most of my toxic friends control my entire mood. The truth is, it’s likely they are projecting onto you the parts of themselves they aren’t so stoked on accepting. See their immature behavior for what it is – weak.
Once you start to see this, it won’t be so difficult to move on.
Pick your battles
This is a big one. I’m still learning this one every day. In the past, I would charge into every argument guns blazing – big or small. More recently, I’ve learned when to stick up for myself and when to let it go. Sometimes, saying no is a positive thing. It’s okay to protect your emotions and walk away.
Know it’s not your job to save them
As a people pleaser, I’ve had trouble accepting this. Toxic people are really great at showing up in times of need, or in a crisis. For example, I had a friend who would come to me for anything and everything from advice to a shoulder to cry on, but when I called her out on her toxic behavior, I suddenly did nothing for her and only talked about myself, which just wasn’t true.
Not only is this blame placing, it’s problematic. Solving their problems is not our responsibility, it’s their own. Even in my own breakup recently, I’ve come to this realization. It’s not my job to save him from the issues he is facing, it’s his.
A wonderful quote that I actually heard on my drive to work recently, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Last Podcast on the Left, said:
“Mental health is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.”
While I never judge or blame someone for having mental health issues – I clearly have my own – I do consider them responsible with managing it. If they’re not able to do that, or at least trying, I have to remove myself.
Distancing yourself from toxic people seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. It’s taken years for me to come to this conclusion, but I’m so glad I’ve seen the light because once you cut off these friends or partners who do nothing but trigger you, you make room for all the people who deserve to be in your life. The people who respect you and take joy in watching your growth, and vice versa. The people you can be completely raw around – mental illness and all.
Surround yourself with healthy, like minded people – you deserve it.
Have you had to remove toxic people from your life? Share your story in the comments below.