How to Take a Break from Toxic People

by Sandy L on January 9, 2012

I’m back. Life was hectic, the holidays were upon us and I had 1001 things I wanted to get done during my 1.5 weeks off from work. After about thing 271 I realized that I’m insane and I needed to try to do a little less with my time. I think this is part of the Catholic Guilt I have so ingrained in me. Idleness feels like I’m sinning or something and I’m sure someone more religious could even point to a verse in the bible about it.

Wait a minute, here’s one google found for me from Proverbs:
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

Although I don’t have a direct hotline to God like Babci does, her religious beliefs rub off on me nonetheless. I really think laziness is one of the toughest vices to have and I feel bad for anyone that suffers from this horrible affliction. I fear it so much that it’s hard for me to schedule unplanned time just for the sake of it.

On a regular basis I over schedule myself and then have to go through an editing process to make things more reasonable again. I volunteer for too many things, or start one too many house projects and then it’s overwhelming.  I work like hell to finish a bunch and then feel relief for a bit and then start the process all over again.   Over the holidays, I had to edit out the internet completely (sorry readers) but now I’m at a point where I can add it back in again.

Sometimes you need a break from Certain People

Although I’ve gotten good at the stuff part of the equation, I still struggle with some relationships.   I have a very strong sense of family and I have one cousin who really treats me and my family with a lot of disrespect, is miserable all the time and she always makes the holidays a stressful and frustrating time.   She is either extremely late to things or does not show up at all, but then complains that the holidays are not what they used to be and throws herself a big pity party about how she’s all alone in the world. Without going into all the gory details, let’s just say this year, she did a couple of really selfish and unthinkably rude things two days in a row.  One of them was not showing up to full blown extra Xmas dinner that we made especially for her because she wasn’t ready to visit for Xmas on the day, but was complaining of not having good food to eat. She cancelled, but not until the turkey was in the oven and we’d been cooking all day.  This is not the first time we have made special plans for her and not the first time she’s done this exact same thing (shame on me for doing it again).  The second event was even worse, but I won’t get into the details here.

I’ll tell you that I probably wouldn’t have changed my ways with her (because she is family) but this issue is also affecting 4 other family members.  I’m the gatekeeper between her and them and it’s not my intent to abuse my immediate family and yet, here I am letting it happen. It’s funny how you can take more abuse than you can see given out to people you care for.

Anyway, I had lunch with my girlfriend that has multiple psychology degrees and she had some really good advice I had to share that helped me to my decision of not tolerating anymore. She is no longer getting invites to our house for the sake of our sanity.  Here’s that advice:

  • When someone repeats the same rotten behavior, don’t ask yourself what’s wrong with them, ask yourself what’s wrong with you for continuing to put up with it.
  • Always bring relationship issues back to yourself. You are the only one in the pair that you can control so figure out what you need to change to either live with the relationship or terminate it.
  • If you give things that are not appreciated, stop giving.  In fact, the more you give, whether it’s money or time or food, the less it’s appreciated.  (I can attest that Babci trying to force feed me all the time is not as appreciated as it probably should be).
  • Don’t try to reason with someone who can’t hear you.  Sometimes people are in a place in their lives when they can’t see beyond their own issues. It’s pointless to try to talk out your problems with them when they are not capable of hearing what you have to say.  Even if what you say is very clear, they will distort it to something else that is more relevant to their own personal struggles.
  • Too much forgiveness leads to entitlement.  I always thought that I should never give up on someone, so I forgive readily. However,  if you forgive someone all the time for their bad behavior, then eventually some individuals feel that it is okay to treat you that way.  You are not only hurting yourself but hurting them for thinking they can act any way they please because there are no negative consequences to their actions.  Forgiveness should also have some consequences attached to it to prevent the person from doing the same rotten thing to you a second or third time.
  • Time is precious. Keep the things out of your life that make it miserable. Happiness takes planning.  Sometimes changing for the better takes time to implement (like getting a new job), but being on the journey to the new destination is more than 1/2 the battle.

Other than that, our holidays were superb and I hope yours were too. Does anyone else have any sage wisdom to share about toxic people?  I would love to hear it, especially as it relates to family and coworkers as they aren’t always so easy to just remove from our lives completely.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

D January 9, 2012 at 6:59 AM

You rock! Good to have you back

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C in Texas January 9, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Good to have you back! I am glad you wrote about this. I preach what you wrote. I too agree that we need to let go of toxic relationships. Our family just went through some purging of toxic relationships. Giving yourself some distance from these people really helps. A little distance at a time turns out to work great.

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:43 PM

C- Time is great and works wonders for damaged feelings. I’m glad I’m not the only one purging. Life’s too short to have to deal with a bunch of negative nellies. I like having a positive image of what’s going on around me.

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Molly January 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM

I’ve gotten some crap from family members on how I treat toxic people. I treat them how they are acting (and not responding to who they say they are). If they are, for example, late I acknowledge they are late and when they are late it causes A, B & C to happen. I keep neutral in my tone but direct. Some find this uncomfortable to witness others get real joy that someone is saying what they are thinking. I find it more difficult to do this with family members compared to friends and colleagues.
I love the advice your friend gave you and can empathize with your situation. The 4th point is one that is a mantra in my head daily. I think of it this way (especially when I’m in conflict with someone)- if my intent is to be listened to than it is my responsibility to get my point across in them most communicative way possible. Yelling or bullying my point is an easy go-to but for the most part the person I’m talking to just shuts down. If I can’t find a way than I don’t bother communicating my point until I can do it in such a way the other person can listen. It’s wasted energy. Part of it may be the person doesn’t want to hear what I have to say and so why waste my energy!
As much as I’ve missed reading your posts I figured it was for a priority reason- so BRAVO to you!! I know it can be difficult to say no (not for myself but Mike has a real hard time staying still and doing ‘nothing’)

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:45 PM

Molly- you’re fiesty. I can’t imagine you taking any crap from anyone..not even family.

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Mutant Supermodel January 9, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Welcome back!! I need a friend like yours :)

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:46 PM

Mutant – (blush). It feels good to be missed. Wait til I write the story about cutting my mom’s hair with the dog clippers.

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Jai Catalano January 9, 2012 at 11:15 AM

You are absolutely right. I have someone in my life that no matter how many times I either beat around the bush or beat him with the direct stick he never gets it. Thanks for the good read.

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:46 PM

Jai – some of these lessons took decades to learn..and I may still haven’t learned all of them yet. Thanks for visiting.

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Money Beagle January 9, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Welcome back! As far as people like that, what I do is just set my expectations at nothing. That way they can never disappoint you. It takes a few tries because you’ll probably end up disappointed along the way, but if you consciously keep lowering the bar each time, you’ll find that eventually you won’t count on them to do anything and the disappointment will cease to exist.

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:47 PM

Money Beagle – very good advice, and along with that, don’t make plans that just rely on that person following through. Always have a backup plan.

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Two Degrees January 9, 2012 at 2:41 PM

I like this point – too much forgiveness leads to entitlement.

I had to cut out a good friend back in October 2011. It was a very tricky situation. She was suicidal and as I supported her for a nearly year, I had to stop seeing her because I found out she was doing it to blackmail and emotionally manipulate people. I was shocked that anyone would do such a thing. I feel bad leaving a friend who has mental illness, but I cannot forgive her for hurting me more than once.

Eventually, I told her boyfriend that I can no longer support her and only feel somewhat comforted that he and other good friends will continue to look out for her. It still conflicts me to this day.

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Two Degrees – I know..it’s so hard when it’s someone you care about. That’s why we tolerate repeat offenders so easily because you truly want to see them in a better place, but then by giving them umpteen chances, you just become an enabler instead.

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Jacq January 9, 2012 at 4:39 PM

I used to have a bad habit of trying to control people. Even to the point of being manipulative or too enabling to get them to do what *I* thought was the right thing to do. This was hardest to let go of when it came to my oldest son but I had to do it.
A good book on this is anything by William Glasser and Control Theory. At the end of the day, I can only control myself and my life (and sometimes not even that around Xmas food!) It was hard to walk away and not try to “fix” things or people. But I’ve sort of realized that anything that I’ve learned in life came with some hard consequences and hard lessons. I just hate to deprive others of those experiences. :-P

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:51 PM

Jacq – yes, I want to always jump to the rescue and fix people’s problems for them, and that just doesn’t work, and it took years to figure out that not only does it not work, but sometimes people also resent your attempts at trying to help them. Being a sympathetic ear is sometimes all that you can be.

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Squirrelers January 9, 2012 at 7:09 PM

Welcome back! I think those are excellent points, and very wise. Others may have tremendous shortcomings and be unfair to us, but it’s best to look at ourselves and take responsibility for how we might be letting ourselves be taken advantage of by such people. It’s much harder to change other people than it is to change our own reaction to their behavior. This is a point that took me a while to figure out, but I’ve gotten there!

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Linda January 9, 2012 at 7:09 PM

While I’m not sure she qualifies as toxic, I’ve been trying to get myself to simply give up on feeling like I have a good relationship with my sister. It seems the only time she is not trying to push me around and seems to have an interest in me and my feelings is when her boyfriend is also present. It’s a difficult lesson to learn. I’m nearly 45 and think I should have learned it by now, but I can’t seem to give up hope that one day she will really look at me and listen to me.

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Sandy L January 9, 2012 at 8:54 PM

Linda – it’s extremely tough with family because most of us feel a sense of obligation to them. It also feels like you “should” get along. It took me a long time to get along with my mom. Sometimes it’s just a simple observation like…”oh, she’s not trying to nag me 24/7, she’s just trying to pass on advice and wisdom.” A few aha moments like that made all the difference in the world for me.

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101 Centavos January 10, 2012 at 8:22 PM

You don’t look a day over 35. What’s your secret?

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growingmygirls January 9, 2012 at 9:30 PM

So glad to find your post in my email! And your post on toxic people comes at an excellent time as I try to wrangle my way around some old patterns of mine, letting certain people drive me crazy. It feels so hard to take a stand because I get afraid I’m going to feel worse — sometimes I do, but only for a while. Anyhow, so appreciate it!

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Sandy L January 16, 2012 at 3:15 PM

GmGirls – patterns says it all. Identifying them is half the battle I think.

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shanendoah@Baking the Budget January 9, 2012 at 11:25 PM

Welcome back!
Funnily enough, these tips don’t just work for dealing with toxic family and friends, I just this last week had to use some of them as a boss when dealing with two people at work (one who reports to me) who have a toxic relationship.

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Sandy L January 16, 2012 at 3:17 PM

Shanendoah – Good point. Maybe I’m lucky, but work conflicts seem to be easier to resolve for me. People I work with are usually very professional and those who aren’t are generally easy to avoid completely.

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Melissa@LillePunkin January 10, 2012 at 1:52 PM

I love the advice your girlfriend gave. It is so true, but most of us are too busy trying to beat our heads against the wall and change others. Thank you for this post!

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Sandy L January 16, 2012 at 3:18 PM

Melissa – great imagery. Yes, head beating doesn’t do much good does it.

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101 Centavos January 10, 2012 at 8:24 PM

Welcome back, Sandy. Sounds like you’re very forgiving, to a fault. I’ve run across a few persons like this, both in family and in professional life. Eventually, the only way to deal with them is to limit contact.

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Sandy L January 16, 2012 at 3:19 PM

101 – yes you are right and that is good advice.

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Velma January 12, 2012 at 7:42 PM

Hi Sandy, great post. My mother is an Eastern European immigrant so I can relate to these family stress stories, sadly. What struck me about this post: 1) Don’t try to reason with someone who can’t hear you. 2) Too much forgiveness leads to entitlement. My own experience as the child of an Eastern European immigrant is that the struggles I had as a kid weren’t fully addressed by parenting because (I suspect) my mother being separated from her family led to all sorts of coping behavior that pushed that pain deep inside. My mother says always to forgive even when my sibling takes advantage of her and my father. It’s her way of not having to deal with the pain inside (again, I suspect, as I can only speak for myself). Forgive, to not have to confront.

My sibling is incredibly entitled and we don’t have a close relationship because I had the courage to stand up for myself. I deserve better than the way I’ve been treated. No one in my family knows what to do with that. My father is an only child, grandparents dead, so no family on that side. It takes tremendous courage to stand up for yourself in your family, having experienced that first-hand. I’m grateful for my helpers and confidantes who know my background because they’ve been a great help. The road to accept your family as they are is a hard one because they share your DNA. It’s an ancient connection. Gratefully, modern life allows for the definition of “family” to be broader i.e. friends with shared experience. But what do you do when you are in the same room with them (your family)? It’s hard and sad.

My own experience as a child of an immigrant was incredibly painful. It’s hard when your parent doesn’t have the same life experience as you. We all deal with the pain through different coping mechanisms. It may be easier to criticize and push others away so no one gets close enough to see the deep pain (or you don’t get close enough to the deep pain). The only person you can control is yourself, and that it is very hard to let go of the family connection. Sandy, thanks for providing a forum to share.

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Sandy L January 16, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Velma – thanks for your great comment. Yes, our parent’s generation has a whole different perspective on life and what’s important. If they come from poverty, they think they did you a world more good than their own parents by just feeding you and keeping you clothed and warm. The whole relationship/emotional part of child rearing was not even something that entered my mom’s thoughts as a priority of any kind.

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Little House January 16, 2012 at 1:55 PM

These are excellent tips and can be used for any relationship. There have to be consequences for negative actions or people do think they can behave a certain way and it’s just fine. I’ve seen this repeat-behavior within my family. There’s nothing I can do about they way they act, but I can do something with the way I respond.

I’m glad your back and had a wonderful holiday!

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Sandy L January 16, 2012 at 3:24 PM

Little House – repeat behavior is repeated because it’s tolerated and forgiven.

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Ellen January 17, 2012 at 10:25 AM

Great post! I have a sister-in-law like this, who is not invited to things any more, particularly because she ruins things for her own children (they’re being raised by someone else, so we don’t exclude them – just her!) I’ve also recently cut ties with someone b/c I’d had enough of their boyfriend being rude and insulting. I’ve put up with it for 18 years, and finally just lost my temper.

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Crystal January 24, 2012 at 1:46 AM

I’m glad you have one less stressful influence in your life. I wish you the absolute best for 2012 and hope all of your holidays are happier now! :-)

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oilandgarlic February 10, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Good advice. I wonder if your friend’s degree makes her insights especially helpful? I ‘m saying this because a friend of mine passed along some solid advice from her therapist, which I now always try to keep in mind when dealing with toxic family relations. Her advice? “You cannot change people, only how you respond to them.” It’s hard for me because I tend to dwell upon certain comments or events and need to learn to distance myself or cope better with “well-meaning” relatives.

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