“Why do I attract toxic people?” I whined to my fiance after dealing with a friend’s drama.
“You don’t,” he said.
“Carol. Dave. Emily,” I started naming off ‘friends’ who all had very toxic traits.
Carol only calls me to complain about work. Dave is miserable even on the sunniest of days, and Emily has a constant victim mentality.
My fiance, bless him, just raised an eyebrow and said, “You’re choosing to be friends with them. You didn’t attract them. Everyone encounters them. The problem is, you’re just too nice.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but then shut it, stunned. Who knew the man was so damn wise?
So, if you’re asking yourself the same thing, “Why do I attract toxic people,” you don’t.
Toxic people, whether they be family, friends, or coworkers, are all around us. We don’t attract them. They already exist within our own spheres of existence.
If you find yourself constantly surrounded by the drain of toxicity, it’s not about what you’re doing at the start. It’s about what you’re continually offering as a friend, lover, or even coworker.
In my fiance’s words, you’re probably being “too nice,” but I think it’s a bit more complex than that. There are some cherished traits that you may have that keep toxic people around longer than you may like.
- You may see the glass as half full.
- You may see the good in people (like your annoying coworker Emily who constantly complains but you swear she has a good heart under all that bitching).
- You may choose gratitude for the small things over complaints of the medium things (maybe you didn’t get that raise, but dinner sure is delicious).
- “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” does not apply to you. You’re adaptable and flexible.
- You may value and be patient.
- You may not let the little things get to you: you’re more even-tempered. It takes a lot to actually get under your skin.
You’re an active listener.
- You may listen to understand, not to respond.
- You may ask genuine follow-up questions in order to achieve optimal understanding, comfort, or engagement.
- You try to be empathetic in your responses.
Optimistic, easygoing, good listeners are intoxicating and refreshing. Not only that, but they are more likely to brush off the toxicity of others.
Easygoing, optimistic people can handle more of that toxicity and tend to give others the benefit of the doubt. Because of their capacity for forgiveness and the ability to be flexible and “go with the flow,” it’s easier for them to be more tolerant of inherently toxic traits if they’re not careful.
Not only that but good listeners are hard to come by nowadays. Toxicity craves an audience, and good listeners are the perfect sounding board for their constant stream of problems.
How to stop being the token BFF of toxicity
Let’s face it. Optimism, easygoing nature, and great listening skills are all really good traits to have. Do not think you need to stop being those things. You don’t. Nor should you. We need more optimism in the bleak world we live in.
But if you’re finding toxic people lingering within your little bubble of existence, something needs to change.
Toxicity can be draining, harmful, and difficult to deal with for even the most positive of us.
So, what can we do to combat it?
Recognize the toxicity sooner.
Looking back, my coworker Emily exhibited toxic traits from day one. She would constantly complain of her hardships, make excuses for what things “would not” get better for her even if she tried X, Y, or Z, talk poorly of other people, and play the victim (which is different from being an actual victim).
The more I got to know Emily, the more the toxicity grew as she became more comfortable with me.
Maybe they've just hit bad luck. Maybe they’re having a bad day. It’s easy to give people the benefit of the doubt when you hardly know them. However, as you get to know someone, they can get more toxic. You may feel for them. You may want to help them. But you usually can’t.
Ideally, the best thing you can do is recognize the toxicity sooner, before you’re caught in an “unexpected” whirlwind of it.
Ask yourself: Are they more negative than positive? Do they speak poorly of others? Are they constantly “a victim”?
Be more selfish.
Before I knew what was happening, Emily’s constant drama and toxic started to drain my reserves of energy. Emily constantly wanted to complain about her problems. I would spend hours helping her brainstorm solutions, only to have her shoot down each one with “reasons” why they would never work.
At the end of each homemade therapy session, she would thank me for being such a great listener. Apparently, talking made her feel better. But it made me feel worse.
Value your own mental health. Put on your airplane mask first. You can’t fix anyone else’s problems without first protecting yourself. And really, you don’t have to fix anyone else’s problems.
Ask yourself: Do I feel better or worse after talking to them? Do I feel drained, tired, or empty after hanging out?
Maybe you’re coworkers or family members. Maybe you’re not in a position to just cut ties and move on all in one fell swoop. Maybe you don’t want to. But you should at least create some distance. Remember, be more selfish with your time, energy, and mental health.
Text less. Don’t engage with them first, or at least, significantly less than before. Maybe don’t sprint away from the relationship, but back away slowly.
How to distance yourself: Text less. Call less. Don’t engage first. Still be polite and nice, but be shorter. No, it’s not rude.
Set time restraints.
Emily can hold a conversation all by herself. I don’t need to say much. Again, I’m more of a sounding board for her issues. Everyone deserves to be heard, but toxic people will take advantage of anyone who is willing to listen.
A good way to avoid this is to set time restraints upfront. Just a quick, “I have to go make dinner in ten minutes,” heads up is enough to keep the conversation short and sweet.
Ask yourself: How much time are you willing to invest? How can you politely set a time restraint on the conversation?
Respect and Love *Yourself*
Toxic people will suck all the life and energy out of you if you let them. They will damage your mental health. I’ve learned this the hard way, first with my mom, then with some friends.
Please, for the love of all that is good, keep your optimism. Be easygoing. Be a good listener. We need more people like that in the world.
But please, for your own sake, recognize toxicity sooner and be more selfish. If you already have a relationship with a toxic person and you can’t cut ties in one go, then distance yourself and set time restraints.
Basically, respect and love yourself.