On removing toxic people from my life

Throughout my life, a lot of people have disappeared from my loop, my circle. They were never intentional. I just drifted apart from people, or they drifted apart from me. People moved. People attended different schools. New life responsibilities arrived, people’s priorities changed. So certain someone’s went missing from my life without much explanation, but without any bother either. It just happened.

One of the weirdest phenomenon’s I experienced as I transformed into a whole entire grown-up, was the other side of no longer being friends with someone. The purposeful, planned and carried out removals of people from my life.

Around two years ago, maybe more, I officially started vetting my relationships and cutting off ties with those that didn’t pass. There were no criteria or anything. This wasn’t even something I did consciously for a while. Just, if there was toxicity in my life and I could feel that directing from a certain person, they had to go. I proudly started the year of 2017 with all toxic people in my life banished. This purge costed me a best friend and a relative, but it didn’t matter. Because they were never really a best friend or family in the first place.

You see a lot of chatter around New Year about people dumping the friends that weren’t there for them and ‘entering the year without toxic people from the last one’ or cancel friendships with people who burden them. Firstly, please don’t wait until a new year arrives to stop talking to shit people. You can start a fresh in any month – any one you like! Secondly, it’s not as simple as these inspirational tweets make out. Unless you’re an actual living and breathing sociopath, it’s probably quite difficult for you (as it is for most of us) to end the relationships that need ending.

So, how do you know when a relationship needs ending? And how do you do such a thing?

I’ll start off by clarifying that when I say relationship, I don’t necessarily mean romantic. This is of course included, you can apply this to partners. But I’m also talking about friends and family members. I’ve cut off a few from each category, personally. (I’m going to write a blog post more specifically aimed at family members because that one’s a whole other thing).

There are some tell-tale signs for when you have a toxic relationship on your hands:

Over-competitiveness

This one rocks up all the time when female friendships have gone sour. If you find yourself constantly in negative competition with another, particularly around boys or career successes, it’s hard to face but you’re probably not friends anymore. If you’re constantly angry at the others’ achievements, or they’re angry at yours, rather than being proud, there can’t be much of a friendship left. Real friends understand that when it seems like your friends are successful and you’re not, it’s just ‘their time’ and yours is coming. Along with being at competition with one another, you or your friend may find yourself in competition with ‘other friends’. If your friend keeps assessing the time you spend with other people or gifts you receive from them and getting angry, the friendship has moved on to possession, and you should probably get out of there sharpish. You can try to fix these faults by talking it out and sharing with one another that this behaviour is troubling, but if nothing is solved – it’s in your best interest to walk away.

Hurtful criticism

This old chestnut has shown its ugly face in some of my longest and closest friendships, and ultimately ended them. Honesty is of course important in all relationships, but it should be delivered with kindness and care wherever possible. Brutal honesty is one of those ridiculous things that people pride themselves on having, but that’s exactly all it is – brutal. If your friends are commenting nastily on things like your weight, the things you enjoy, your relationships, and its hurtful, this is completely unnecessary. The most annoying part about this behaviour is that most people seem to know they’re doing it and continue. It’s most likely projections, and it’s understandable that you’d want to be there for a friend if they’re feeling so low that they’re lashing out, but if it starts to hurt you too, then it’s best to take care of yourself and leave.

Suggesting you need to change

Stemming from this criticism point, if you’re friend evolves this even further and starts suggesting you need to change, this is entirely toxic. When people keep suggesting you need to change things about your behaviour, your looks, the way you interact with people or your friendships, it’s much more likely that’s its nothing to do with what’s wrong with you, and entirely about what’s wrong with them.

They gaslight you

Ohhhhhhhh gaslighting. I think I’ve been gaslighted in many different types of relationships. If you’re a human with skin and eyes, you’ve probably unfortunately experienced this one. If you’re unfamiliar with the definition, the best way I can explain it, is when someone tries to convince you you’re crazy or confused over something they’ve done, rather than facing the consequences of their actions. A classic is if you think your boyfriend is cheating, and they convince you it’s all in your own head and you’re ‘acting crazy’.

This sneaky little abuse tactic isn’t just for boyfriends though. It happens very commonly with family members (especially family members) and day-to-day friendships too. If someone continually claims they didn’t say something, when you and everyone else knows they did, it might not seem that serious. But this kind of behaviour, especially if done repetitively, is a form of gaslighting and is emotionally abusive behaviour. If you think you might be experiencing this, remind yourself that your thoughts and feelings are both real and valid. If and when you can, get away from the person who gaslights you.

 There are many more examples of toxic behaviour you might experience in relationships that need to die. But, ultimately, if you feel like your emotions depend on certain relationships and what that other person is doing/thinking, and the results are often negative, you have a toxic relationship on your hands and it’s time for termination. 

I realise I may sound like a ruthless bitch with a pair of scissors cutting off ties left right and centre like real friendships don’t matter to me, but I spent a long time staying in relationships with friends, boyfriends and family members that only did harm to me. I think part of why I stayed for so long is the over-romanticising of all relationships that’s thrown in our faces via social media – and even with just conversations with colleagues – every single day. We reward the closest people in our lives, particularly our family members, for the very bare minimum. They get all the reward of our friendship and loyalty without any expectations. Because the world around us tells us these relationships are important and to be savoured.

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Beth Ashley
Beth Ashley

Writer/wronger. Provides words about mental health and feminism and runs this very blog. Copywriter for Godaddy and editor of Paperfox Literary Magazine.

Find me on: Web | Instagram

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