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The Truth No One Ever Told You (but should have) About Ending A Toxic Relationship

There’s No Easy Way To Break a Toxic Relationship!

There. I said it.

I know. I know.  I can hear you now…

But, Steve, I don’t wanna hurt her feelings.

But I really love him…

I don’t mean to be uncaring, but you’re gonna have to suck it up, Buttercup.  There is no easy way to break ties with the junkyard dogs in your life (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should go read this article on setting boundaries and then come back–right away–and finish this one).

The #1 Don’t–DO NOT Equivocate

Don’t waffle. Make a decision and communicate your decision. Don’t play games. Clear decisiveness is not unkindness.

Remember the first time you stood up to the bully on the playground, or the “mean girls” in junior high? The bully’s reaction to a new boundary can get loud and nasty. Or, it may not be loud at all, it may be subtle and passive aggressive, but this does not mean that you should second-guess your decision.

I’m giving you permission to do what’s right for you.  When you do what’s right for yourself, you have taken the first step toward being able to do what’s right for others in your life.  If you want to help someone else heal, the best way to do so is to get well yourself.

You have played a part in this dysfunctional dance–whether it is with a relative, lover or colleague.  You must overcome your part in the dysfunction.  That means taking action.

Here are the Steps to help.

Steve’s Steps for Ending a Toxic Relationship

“Ending it” is often used when we talk about romantic relationships but terminating a relationship can apply to any situation that you currently find yourself in.

Let me clarify. When I say “ending it,” I’m referring to ending the way in which you have been in relationship with the offending personality.  So, although it may mean terminating the relationship completely, it may no necessarily mean that.

There is a distinction between terminating a relationship and terminating the influence someone has over your life or the access they have to your life.

Here is how:

1. Limit the access or influence that person has in your life.

Decide whether you need to terminate the relationship completely or whether you need to limit the person’s access to your life.

NOTE:  Beware of the “Equivocation Monster”
One sign of dysfunction that I’ve seen many people fall pray to when seeking to limit a toxic person’s access to their life is that they mitigate their decision and refuse to make a clean cut by saying, “well Sally is my best friend, so I can’t cut her off completely,” or “He is my dad. I have to respect him.  My kids need their grandpa.”

This is a sign of codependency–that you need something from the other person to survive.  The truth is that you don’t need anything to be well except the will to do the work to get well.  The inability to set boundaries and stand by them is insecurity on display.

What you are really saying when you use an equivocation such as these is “I don’t feel worthy of a healthy friendship, so I’ll hold on to what I have, even if it’s bad for me,” or “I want my dad to like me (or approve of me), so I’m willing to put up with bad behavior so my kids can have the grandpa I never had as a father.”

Give up the fantasy!  As harsh and difficult as this is, you must give up the wishes and dreams that things might be different.  The only way to build something new for the future, is to admit the truth of what now is.

2. Make the Cut

If you struggle with a toxic work environment, get out.  No excuses.  You must do what you need to do. Don’t blame it on the economy, where you live, how worn out your are.  Dig down deep in your soul and start doing what needs to be done.

You’ll be surprised at how the universe will come to your aid when you begin to make steps in the direction of health and wholeness.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined,
one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
                                    -Henry David Thoreau

Years ago, I found myself trapped in a toxic work environment…and what was even more frustrating was that this wasn’t my first time in this sort of a situation!  I finally, just got fed up.  I knew things had to change.

I was working in a large hospital, so I applied for a job to move to another department.  It was a lateral move, but at least my day-to-day experience would improve, I thought.  When I got the job, I gave my two-week notice in the department I was working in.

In a seeming unrelated situation, my partner interviewed for a job out of state.  This was right in the middle of my two week “notice” period.

The new employer offered him a the job paying more than he asked for, with a full moving package and additional moving bonus to move and start work in 2 weeks.

It was crazy. When I took action to change my circumstances, the Universe shifted in a way that I never could have imagined.  Within about 3 weeks, my life changed completely.  We moved to a new state, started a new adventure, and the old experience was left behind rather dramatically.

I know it’s scary to consider making drastic changes in your life. Especially if you have mortgages to resolve and jobs to consider or businesses to close, and children to think of.

Change is tough, but it is not as tough as
staying stuck in pain and dysfunction.

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If you’re stuck in a family relationship that is toxic, get help.  Get support.  If there is no help in your family, reach out to your community resources–churches, synagogues, government agencies.  Do what you have to do.  You can do this. Make a plan and start executing your plan.

3. Communicate the Change.

This can be the hardest part of the process–especially if you’re a nice person or are like me, a recovering people-pleaser.

There is no “nice” way to tell someone that you don’t want them in your life. Just do it.

Here are the 3 “B’s”: Be clear. Be kind. Be firm (final–don’t leave all sorts of doors open).

At this time, I can’t be in relationship with you. That is all you have to say.

If they beg and plead and promise, go back to your 3 B’s: Be clear. Be kind and be firm.  Don’t offer any sort of reconciliation.  Let them react however they are going to react.  You are doing what is right and you have to affirm this within your own mind.

If the person is aggressive and refuses to respect the boundaries you have set, block their e-mails/social media contact with you.  Change your phone number.  Tell friends and relatives who care and are supportive what’s going on and help them to support you.

In the worse case, don’t hesitate to get a restraining order and use the authorities if the person becomes belligerent.

When boundaries break the relationship, get support

Relationships can’t continue the same way
when one person gets well, and the other is still sick.
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Battered Fort Wall

When this happens, it’s vital to get support.  This is about you reinforcing the fortress that has been battered for years by resetting the patterns of behavior that are unhealthy within you.

If you don’t become aware of these patterns and do the work to correct them, you’ll end up attracting the same dynamic in a different set of circumstances.

1. Educate Yourself
Search out a good relationship/family therapist to help you remap the behavior patterns that are the root of your own family emotional pathology.

2. Build a Support Network
Build a support network separate from the dysfunction.  This might be a house of faith family, a group of friends or other family members who can support your growth.

3. Create New Habits
It takes some practice, but you must create new ways of being within yourself first, and then teach this way of relationship to those around you

As you begin to heal, your interactions will automatically be more healthy because you have changed the relationship you have within yourself.  You are more congruent so your interactions with others will have integrity as well.

Finally, as you begin to heal the wounds in your own fortress wall, you’ll find that you’re able to provide a safe place within which others can hide to heal and grow.  All because you’ve done the work.

The Rest of the Series…

Part One: How to Break the Power of Toxic People In Your Life
Part Two: How to Set Boundaries for the Junkyard Dog in Your Life

Photo Credit: Steve Rice

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How to Break the Power of Toxic People in Your Life

Is Your Life Plagued by Toxic People?

Curled into a fetal position, sucking your thumb as you watch The Devil Wears Prada.  “This is so my life!”  you think in despair.

Or does your life sometimes feel like a weird Twilight Zone episode featuring the Mean Girls?

Toxic People–We all know the type: Nasty. Passive aggressive. Confrontational. Physically aggressive.

No matter how they present in your life, chances are you would like to find a way to kick them to the curb (or if not, at least to minimize the impact they have on you).

You may have heard the maxim that “hurting people, hurt people.”  Let’s start there. In order to ameliorate the influence that toxic people have in your life, you have to begin to separate the behavior from your judgment of the person–as difficult as it may be.

If you want to change the impact of toxic people on your life, you’re going to have to do the work to heal the things their dysfunction brings up for you.  So let’s take a look at how this works in a practical way.

Toxic People Behave Sickly

Judging someone negatively because they are unhealthy, hurting or scared doesn’t serve you.  Sick people act sick. This is especially important to recognize if you are in close relationship with the person (such as family or close friend).

Venting your frustration at their behavior patterns by continuously judging them negatively will support your ego’s need to feel “better than” but it won’t serve your healing or your desire to grow.

Releasing the expectations you hold for the person behaving badly in your life won’t be easy because you truly want them to be different than they are.  Trying to change another person through manipulation or coercion is a fool’s errand. If you will understand this truth, it will save you a world of hurt.

1. It’s not personal! 
They are sick (or fearful, or hurt, etc), so they are behaving as a sick person would.  It doesn’t give them an excuse to victimize you; however, it does give you the freedom to release your expectations of them.  That’s big, if you can absorb it.  Sit with that one for a bit, if you need to.

2. You do not have to take anything personally.
You have the power to liberate your soul from the burden (and pain) of taking the disappointment of those unmet expectations personally.

There are no toxic people, only toxic behavior.  
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Stick with me here and I’ll show you how this is true.

Your negative judgment of another person is an indictment of yourself–always.

Because we cannot fully love and accept ourselves, we judge others (tweet it). We want to judge each other because we have criticized and condemned ourselves so harshly, first.

When the ego needs to prove its worthiness, then everything and everyone must be judged.  (How else would it know its worth?) The need to judge someone else evaporates when there is no need to set myself up as “better than…”

No separation exists between us. If you loath a quality or characteristic in another person, you must have first recognized it in yourself.  Otherwise, you would  not be triggered emotionally by another person’s actions.

The ego seeks to project the dysfunction outwards onto someone else (i.e., “he/she is toxic”).  It is easier than facing the truth.

What is the truth?

When you are whole and healthy, the pathology–or bad behavior patterns–of another stimulates compassion in you, not judgement.

When you feel judgement rising within you, it is a sure sign that your own pathology has awakened. There is pain or an unhealed wound within me which surfaces, stimulated by someone’s unhealthy behavior.

The Inadvertent Gift of the Toxic Person

Preparing for the expected Police Raid at Occupy L.A.I am not saying that you are responsible or to blame for the bad behavior of those around you. You are only responsible for your reaction to it.

Think about the last time you saw a child throwing a fit in the store.  You probably shook your head or rolled your eyes. Maybe you just walked away.  You noticed it, but it didn’t trigger a response within you.

Why?  Because it wasn’t your child!

It is the same in your life. Someone else’s tantrum (bad or unhealthy behavior) won’t cause an emotional reaction within you when it’s not your “child”.

When you recognize that you are emotionally triggered, use the opportunity to lean into awareness. This isn’t a bad thing!  It’s a gift. Embrace it.  Stop and observe.  What do you feel in your body?

The feeling of emotional charge that urges you to react is a signal that there is some fear, pain or wound within you that remains unhealed.  When you recognize it, you can choose to heal it. This is the gift that the toxic behavior of those in your life brings to you.

Release the need to judge–even your own feelings.  You are not your feelings.  You are the one observing them.  Allow them to flow in and through you.

So the first step to alleviating the pain of toxic behavior in your life is to begin to separate the judgement of behavior from the person. Next, it is to recognize that the judgement of someone else always begins at the doorstep of our own sense of failure.  Learn to ask: Where is it in me?

When you bring it out, you can work it out.
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The people you believe to be a toxic influence in your life actually offer you a great gift–the gift of awareness.  They invite you to awaken to your own pain and hurt in order to heal it.  They can be your greatest teachers if you will let them. It’s up to you.

What About You?

How do you cope with the toxic behavior of people in your life?  Have you been able to heal these relationships? Please join the conversation in the comments.

In the next post in this series, I’m going to discuss these relationships and how we can strive to move them from dysfunctional to healthy.

NOTE: Be sure to check out the rest of the series.
Part Two: How to Set Boundaries for the Junkyard Dogs in Your Life
Part Three: The Truth No One Ever Told You (but should have) About Ending Toxic Relationships

Image Credit: greg lilly