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Toxic People and Relationships: A Different View

Mona is a veteran writer, columnist for Enrich Magazine, and a life coach. She holds webinars and seminars on writing and personal growth.

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Types of Toxic People

In your lifetime you are bound to encounter a toxic person. Vanessa Van Edwards, bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People, cites seven types of toxic people:

  1. The pretenders. This toxic person (TP) is a habitual liar. The TP changes persona, depending on what will be most beneficial to them. To some people, the TP pretends to be outrageously wealthy. To others, the TP never has money. TPs use different personas to get what they want out of people.
  2. The conversation is always by them, about them. The only time you can talk is when the TP asks about the misfortunes and failures of others, which is useful gossip for them. Otherwise, the world revolves around them, and nobody else interests them.
  3. They manipulate people. Manipulation is their oxygen. They exploit your weaknesses to make you do what they want. They must control what you do, what you say, and what you think. If you disagree with them they become totally irrational and will nag you until you agree with them.

4. Emotional moochers. They are emotional vampires who drain your positivity and leave you emotionally dry. TPs are always sad, negative, jealous, and pessimistic. You may stick around hoping you can help the person, but the person doesn't want your help, they just want to use you.

5. Drama magnet. They use drama to get attention. They have mysterious pains, tire easily, or confine themselves in a hospital where they are told that they aren't sick. They are being attacked by an evil spirit. In church, they always get demon-possessed. Once their problem is solved, another crisis arises.

6. The victim. Whenever something goes wrong, they are the victim, and they'd rather suffer than solve their problems. They always need something from you – money, time, clothes, or a ride somewhere.

7. The arrogant person. They mistake arrogance for confidence. Not true. Confident people inspire. Arrogant people intimidate, humiliate, diminish others, are divisive at work, and are low achievers.

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You can't help them

If you think you know someone who is toxic, remember that person is not your problem to solve. TPs must have their own epiphany and decide that they need professional help.

The phrase “toxic person” was coined by therapist Fritz Perls in his 1959 book, In and Out of the Garbage Pail, where Perls separates nourishing people (NPs) from TPs. The difference, Perls said, lies in the way a person makes you feel. A TP always leaves you feeling down. Nourishing people are pleasant and you feel better after having spent time with them.

In the 80s, with the rise of the internet, Perls' book gained popularity. Today articles flourish about TPs. The phrase, “Toxic Person” was also used by gestalt therapist Jerry Greenwald, who was a colleague of Perls.

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What makes a person become toxic

Emotional intelligence expert Ronit Barras says, “Investing in parenting skills and strong emotional intelligence for parents is just as important (if not more so) than education regarding pregnancy and delivery.”

Peg Streep, bestselling author of Daughter Detox: Recovering From an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, says the roots of toxicity begin in infancy. If the parents are incapable of providing the infant with a sense of security, the child will become toxic. Oftentimes, wrongful parenting occurs unintentionally.

If parents give milk every time a child cries, reads their child's emotions by interpreting their facial expressions, sounds, and responds accordingly, the infant will believe that the world is a safe place, and will be confident and secure that his/her needs will be met in this world. This is a child's first lesson on emotional intelligence.

By contrast, if the infant is raised in a dysfunctional home, is ignored, marginalized, or bullied, the child will consider the behavior normal when it happens in school. Barras cites some mothers who may love their child, but are incapable of healthy love:

  • Combative mothers. They create a destructive atmosphere at home. Their children self-protect by repressing their feelings, because tears make mommy angrier. A disconnect occurs between the child and his/her feelings. They learn to lay low and be “invisible”.
  • Dismissive mothers. When mothers marginalize a child, the child will respond by doing anything to get mommy's attention. He/she may be popular at school and be a high achiever; or he/she may be self-destructive, thinking that bad attention is better than no attention at all.
  • Controlling mothers. Children of controlling mothers think that without mommy they will fail. Despite this, some children may fight to discover their own voice, be heard, and discover what they really think, desire, and need for themselves.
  • Highly narcissistic mothers. Children of highly narcissistic mothers are probably the most confused, emotionally hungry children of all. They grow up with mothers who have the “superpower” to be physically present, yet emotionally absent. They deny their children valuable emotional air. These mothers consider themselves and their children to be a singular identity. The child is valued for what she/he does and how it reflects outwardly so mom looks good. The child struggles to have a sense of self.

Streep says, “In both their presence and absence, a mother’s behaviors shape a daughter’s development. Connecting the dots and understanding how her behaviors influence yours are key steps in recovery.”

Barras' book is focused on mothers, but fathers are also capable of making mistakes that can result in raising toxic children.

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Can toxic people change?

Ryan Liberty, a mental health advocate of the website Patreon, says the psychiatric profession should not use “toxic” because it implies the person can't change. The term was first used in 1969, but the TP has never undergone testing to see if the condition belongs to the psychology community.

Liberty says a TP can change, given the right treatment. Eric Charles, relationship expert and author of He's Not That Complicated echoes this, adding that toxic people and relationships can “shift [its] dynamic into that of a healthy, happy, functional relationship".

Warning: If you are in a toxic relationship, it is not your job to detoxify the other person or to fix up your relationship. Maybe you want to help the person, but if the TP doesn't change, you should move on and focus on taking care of yourself and building relationships with nourishing people.

Have you ever known a toxic person?

Identify TPs by their mental disorder

Liberty says a mental health professional should identify the mental disorders of the TP in order to help them. He adds that TPs have at least three of the disorders listed below:

  1. Histrionic disorder. The American Psychiatric Association characterizes this as excessive attention-seeking, starting from late teens to 30 years of age. Attention-seeking behavior includes (a) inappropriate seductive behavior, (b) excessive need for approval, and (c) unwarranted dramatic behavior.
  2. Borderline personality disorder (BPD). Symptoms of BPD include (a) Intense mood swings, (b) Impulsive, risky behavior (c) A long line of dysfunctional relationships (d) Feeling isolated and empty (e) Lacking empathy, and (f) Hostility. Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC, and a licensed mental health counselor in Florida said that people with BPD can develop strategies to handle stress.
  3. Narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists are intense and unstable. They are obsessed with vanity, personal adequacy, power, and prestige. They have an exaggerated sense of superiority and feel entitled to constant admiration. They think they are superior even if they never achieved anything in life. Their sense of self-importance is highly exaggerated.

4. Antisocial personality disorder (APD). There is no cure for APD, but an afflicted person can undergo therapy to manage symptoms of anger, violence, drug abuse, and other mental health conditions. The DSM-IV-TR says a person at age 15 has APD if they display three of the following behaviors:

A. Repeated arrests.

B. Repeated lying and duping to steal someone's wealth for their own personal pleasure.

C. Impulsive acts with no thought of consequences.

D. Frequent engaging in physical fights.

E. Indifference to the safety of others.

F. Undependable behavior, eg. An inability to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.

G. Indifference to hurting others or stealing from them.

The DSM-IV-TR also says that people aged at least 18 years might be TP if they have done the following:

A. Exhibited disorderly conduct consistently before 15 years of age.

B. Experienced the occurrence of antisocial behavior outside the course of a schizophrenic or a manic episode.

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Leaving a Toxic Relationship

Kelly McDaniel, author of Ready to Heal: Women Facing Love, Sex, and Relationship Addiction, says that breaking off from a toxic relationship is very hard to do, even when you know that doing so is for your own good.

McDaniel writes, “The energy it takes to endure withdrawal [to an addictive or toxic relationship] is equivalent to working a full-time job.” If you find it hard to leave an addictive relationship, you can do the following:

  1. List down all the words the TP says, and list down what they do.
  2. From your list, highlight the inconsistencies.
  3. Ask yourself why you have tolerated this type of behavior.

McDaniel adds, “Truthfully, this may be the hardest work you’ve ever done." You need the support of people who understand the weight of what you are undertaking. You also need to keep the rest of your life simple. You need rest and solitude.

NOTE: Originally published in Enrich Magazine, September 2019 issue.

Comments

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on May 04, 2021:

Hi FlourishAnyway, you are absolutely right. Instead of trying to fix them, allow me to borrow your name, we can choose to flourish anyway, Thank you for the wonderful visit. I'm looking forward to more new music from you.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on May 04, 2021:

Hi Mr. Bill, yes, toxic people can really suck the energy out of other people. Thank you for the visit and for your comment!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on May 04, 2021:

Hello Ms. Dora, yes, toxic people are really hard to change. Thank you for the visit and for your kind words.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez (author) from Philippines on May 04, 2021:

Hi Mr. MG, thank you for your kind words and for the visit!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 03, 2021:

While you can choose your friends you can’t choose coworkers, neighbors, and relatives. However, you can choose how to adapt and respond to such shenanigans. Know when to walk away and don’t try to fix them.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 03, 2021:

I am happy to say I don't have any toxic people in my life now, but I have known them in the past, and I found them to be exhausting and detrimental to my happiness.

Dora Weithers on May 03, 2021:

What a relief to know that we are not responsible for changing them. It is difficult to convince that change is necessary. Thanks for the details about how they became toxic and how to identify them.

MG Singh from UAE on May 03, 2021:

This is a nice article. The terminology is new.

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