When we hear the words toxic, our minds can go in so many different directions. Personally, my mind immediately goes to Britney Spears’ circa 2007 – you remember, right? She experienced a major meltdown that year. Seconds after I indulge the thoughts on Spears, my mind goes to food. I think about the toxins that I’m ingesting, and the pesticides. That’s toxic, too, at least in my book.
So pesticides and celebrities – that’s my go-to association with “toxic.” But, really, there’s a more relevant and personal toxicity that many (if not all) of us experience: toxic people and the relationships we have with them. Some of us are born into toxic households or family environments that are dysfunctional or abusive. Others find ourselves amongst toxic people later on in life, in relationships that makes us feel sick in our heads, hearts, and bodies. But how do we create better relationships? How do we let go of the toxic relationships?
Like most of our advice, we’re keeping it simple: just three steps to help you shift and let go of relationships that no longer serve you. Cause, let’s be honest, anything more than three steps is…SQUIRREL! (You get the idea):
First, identify the toxic people. This could seem obvious but it may not be. When we are in the midst of emotional chaos, it can sometimes be difficult to see our big pictures. Take some time to think about the 20-30 people that you interact with the most, be it in person, on the phone, or online. How do you feel when you think about interacting with them? Do you have a feeling of dread? Do you make an audible grunt at the thought? Do you find yourself smiling when you think about them? We have all heard about people that are energy suckers or “energetic vampires.” When life begins to feel sustainably heavy and enervated, it is time to reassess: Is my energy being wasted or traded for someone else’s bad vibe? You know who we’re talking about: the friend that only calls you when they want to vent. You spend two hours listening and holding space for them and, once they’re feeling better, they leave and call you again when they need something of you. Meanwhile, you’re feeling completely exhausted by the exchange. Keep in mind that identifying these people is not about pointing the finger at who did you wrong. It is about taking responsibility for the way you feel when you interact with this human(s).
So what is going on with the people that evoke negative feelings in you? Let’s take a look at these interactions from a place of responsibility. Is there is history where you can recall a story (or stories) that you hold on to as a reference of why you don’t like or vibe with this person? Or is there a personality trait they posses that makes you cringe? Realize that if you make it about them (IE: what they did wrong), you have no way of feeling better. It is only through the ownership of your part in the relationship that you can let go of negative feelings. By holding on to the stories/meaning that you are holding the relationship in, you’re actually creating a space of toxicity yourself. By reframing the meaning of the story to one that puts the responsibility on you, you can move on and either set boundaries or terminate the relationship. Look at it this way: you have a coworker that you just know has it out for you. There have been so many moments where they have taken credit for your work or talked behind your back that you could literally write a script about all the drama and chaos it’s created. Given your experience, you may have created a meaning like, “This person hates me for no reason,” or “They are socially incompetent and insensitive.” These meanings give away your power. You cannot control whether or not they hate you, or whether they truly are maladjusted or insensitive. What meaning could you create that may or may not be true but in which you actually do have power? How about, “I have not been thoughtful in the past about creating emotional boundaries with this person.” Now YOU have the power and you can DO something about it. When it’s all on “the other person,” you deny yourself a role in the dynamic. The truth is, you’re equally as responsible for creating an unhealthy dynamic. Own that and make a change.
Define to yourself what it is that you want the relationship to look like. If you’d like a non-existent relationship, be OK with that. Being good with letting go of people takes patience and courage. There may be fall out. If it’s your boss you’d like to extract from your life, you’ll want to perhaps secure a different gig before you act. If it’s your sister in law, there may be family drama. Be prepared to have those tough conversations, sometimes with more than just the person you want to move away from.
As you move through the decades of your life you will notice, and probably already have, that the people around you have changed. If you’d thought about the 20-30 people in your life you interacted with the most ten years ago, the list would look way different. The case will be the same ten years from today. Life takes turns, expected and unexpected. So if the company you keep will change to some extent, why not change it deliberately? Choose whose energy you want to share space with. You’re responsible for your life, after all.