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April 3, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Dumping Toxic Relationships

By Anne Christen More Blogs by This Author

What Is a Toxic Relationship?

My friend made an interesting comment the other day when he said, “I’m removing all toxic relationships from my life. I just don’t want them anymore.”

For the sake of discussion, because I believed this was an interesting topic, I asked him to explain what he believes “toxic relationships” are. He replied, “Those that suck the energy from you without giving anything in return. They’re the ones that make you feel bad about yourself even though you’ve done nothing wrong. And they’re the ones that absorb all of your time, when they should be the last priority because they’re so poisonous.”

I thought about this for a long time, and while I was thinking, he answered my next question before it was even asked. “I have three toxic relationships,” and his voice was a combination of sadness and anger. “Sam, the guy who rents his office space to me; Mike, my co-worker; and Sarah, my ex-wife. I’ve decided I’m not going to sit down and talk with them, because I’ve already tried that multiple times. I’m just going to wipe them from my life. I plan to rent a different office space, stop answering Mike’s calls and texts, and stop speaking to Sarah altogether. I don’t need any of this.”

I’ve heard a similar story before from this friend, but the look of determination on his face was new. His vigor for disentangling himself from toxic relationships was contagious, and he got me thinking about my own life.

The Fear of Loneliness

One of my biggest problems is that I don’t set boundaries with people. If you’re my friend/boyfriend/colleague, I’ll let you walk all over me because I have poor verbal communication skills. This stems from a fear that people I care about will leave my life completely if I tell them how I feel or what I’m thinking.

Perhaps it’s the people I’ve let into my life, or maybe it’s my treatment of those individuals, but I, too, have some toxic relationships. One is with a friend who used to be sweet and thoughtful. We were very close; we talked about everything from past boyfriends to current beauty trends. And then, out of the blue, she became nasty and judgmental. Her demands of my time grew increasingly greater, and she wasn’t sympathetic when I had to break plans. She wanted to go shopping when I didn’t have the money, she wanted to visit my apartment on Saturdays when I had to work, and she made me late for several important dates. This is a toxic relationship.

One of my advertising clients isn’t exhausting, but she presents a toxic relationship simply in the way she treats people. I was in her store and she threw an empty water bottle at me on my way out, laughing hysterically at her own antic. This was, of course, after she gossiped about several other businesses and made fun of a customer’s outfit. Going into her business is like stepping into a minefield of negativity; I’d like to writer her off.

Avoidance or Confrontation?

The problem is that, unlike my male friend, I can’t dismiss all toxic relationships with just a turn of my head. The advertiser I described, for instance, helps fund my business, so I need to maintain some semblance of professionalism with her (although she deserves none). My friend can easily be eliminated, but stopping communication with another person doesn’t really provide closure; it leaves you feeling like you should have done more to either fix or end the relationship.

Toxicity is difficult to deal with, more so than my male friend thinks. I applaud his efforts in clearing his life of unnecessary debris, but I think some confrontation will be necessary. That’s a step I try to avoid at all costs. I hate arguments, bitter words, and that general feeling of helplessness when a confrontation spirals out of control – which it often does.

On second thought, maybe he’s right in thinking communication can simply be stopped. That would, at least, cease the flow of poison.

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