We’ve all had that friend who asks and asks and gives nothing back. Maybe they come over and eat your food but never invite you over to their place. Or, maybe they’re constantly asking you to do stuff for them, while always finding an excuse to not do things for you. While it is important to do things out of the goodness of your heart and not because you expect something in return, it’s arguably more important to know when you are being taken advantage of.
A lot of advice on social media serves only to muddy the issue of “What is a toxic person?” and much of it is conflicting. This is because there’s no single true definition of a toxic person and how one behaves. We can recognize archetypes like the one described above, but within the bounds of normal life, you can find yourself mired in a swamp of relational toxicity and all the while believe your relationship is healthy and normal.
The first thing to realize is that toxicity is universal. We all have an area where we’re unintentionally toxic, due to past traumas or unresolved mental health issues. It’s necessary to identify if the difficulty you’re having with your friend or family member occurs throughout your relationship or if it is caused by a specific event or issue.
Also, this is probably obvious, but I feel like I should say it anyway: Talk to the person before anything else. Verbalize how their actions or inactions make you feel, and analyze their response. If they cannot hear you, downplay your concerns, gaslight you about how big of an issue it is, or refuse to take responsibility, then you’re facing a problem. If they’re aware of it and are actively working through how to deal with it, or if they accept your comments and take them seriously, then you know that it’s just this particular issue causing grief between you.
If you feel you are being lied to, it usually doesn’t take much digging to uncover the truth. I’ve had friends and family who lied to me for years without my knowledge. Some of them even came up with fake appointments and missed out on hangouts while claiming they were going to therapy or a help group but were instead at home, lying without a care.
Once you have the truth, you need to make a decision: “Can I love (and accept love from) this person right where they’re at, or are their repeated lies and refusal to seek counseling affecting the long-term health of our relationship?” Most times, the answer is yes, it is affecting your relationship, and no, you cannot love and accept them where they currently are without harming yourself in the process.
The first person I cut out of my life was very important to me, and I still think about them to this day. But no matter how I frame it, I know that cutting that person out of my life was the best thing I could have done for myself. When toxicity fills your relationship and you find yourself dreading being with a person, actively seeking excuses to leave, and feeling uncomfortable around them, it’s time to re-address your relationship and make the best choice for you.
Sam Bigham is an intern at RiseUP Cooperative who grew up in the hills of North Georgia. As a senior communication major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, his primary focus is public relations and copy writing.