Back in December, I wrote a beginner’s guide to self love & self care. It’s a subject that I would like to start talking about more – both because it is so very needed for the chronically ill and because I sorely need a boost of both. For this post, we’ll be talking about toxic relationships and their affects on the self.
We’ve all been in relationships, no matter the nature, where one person has more power than us. Generally that isn’t a problem. When you encounter or are forced to deal with someone toxic, it becomes a huge issue. You might notice that this person often goes on power trips. They may make passive aggressive comments or comments fishing for compliments: “Oh, that hat is so cute. I could never wear it.” We all know what they’re really trying to say…
We all do things like this occasionally, but toxic people make it a habit to be slyly rude or bring drama everywhere they go. For those people we always have to deal with, like bosses, there isn’t much that can be done to remedy the situation. However, personal relationships should not include this type of negative energy.
Toxic relationships can be hard to get away from. They can be like religious conversions, where you really have to go extreme to make the change. For some, that’s moving out unexpectedly or while this person is away. For others, it’s changing phone numbers and altering privacy settings on social media. Some even have to eliminate mutual friendships or ties with family to really get away.
People won’t often understand. They’ll misquote the blood is thicker than water thing and just no. First of all, that quote means the opposite of what everyone assumes – bonds you form are stronger than those you’re born into. Secondly, you have the right to walk away from anyone or anything that harms you. Thirdly? Who cares what other people think! The only opinion that matters in self care is yours. As long as you’re not harming someone or creating dangerous habits (I’m looking at you, credit card debt!), go for it.
If cutting off all contact with a toxic person in your life isn’t an option, you will want to alter the relationship so that you can gain the upper hand. There are too many ways to do this for me to be able to list them here, but moving out or changing your personal circumstances will often lead to this. You can then control just how much contact you have with this person, and in what context that contact happens. Maybe you can handle being around this person for an hour, but that’s the maximum. You can make sure to make yourself busy or unavailable for more than an hour at a time.
Perhaps, like myself, you deal with family members who can’t understand what no contact means. Dealing with the stress of my family situation right now is very difficult. The toxic people in my life have been trying to squeeze information out of family members, which makes it difficult to know who in my family is okay to talk to. This severely limits my abilities to communicate with family or family friends which is really hard.
After reflection though, I know that not having contact with the toxic people in my life is what I need. It preserves my mental and physical health, as I’m not as anxious or depressed or holding in emotions which is known to make me flare. I have more integrity because I’ve stopped lying to myself or trying to force myself into uncomfortable situations. I’m also a hell of a lot less angry. True, some of the things I’m processing about my past are hard and bring up anger or fear. I am sharing more of those emotions with others in healthy ways and looking at things logically.
In the last year, I have grown in so many ways. I think my visit in March of last year to DC with the Arthritis Advocacy Summit really helped cement in my mind that I was not dependent on anyone else. Sure, there are people in my life that I love and want in it. I would be sad to lose them. But I learned that I am self-sufficient, something that I was told I would never be – whether due to my illness or the fact that I didn’t react to things as some thought I should.
Regardless, the personal growth I’ve had is amazing. I like myself so much better right now than I did a year ago. I even wore some crop tops over the summer! I enjoy the things I’m doing at work. They’re challenging but fun and really (eventually at least) helping patients. I love my boss. She and I are so similar and, having kids about my age, she is incredibly nurturing. I enjoy the other health care providers and administrators I work with.
Whether your toxic relationship is with a parent, a significant other, a friend, or someone else, I hope that you realize how very worth the fight you are. You deserve to be happy. That happiness cannot be dependent on others though.
One more story…
Before the last year of shakeups in my familial situation, I was plagued by doubts. When I was alone – whether in the shower for 15 minutes or on a 90 minute car ride – I would sit and think about what I had done or was doing wrong. I would think about how I wasn’t good enough or the mistakes I made. It was so bad that I was barely sleeping unless I had some alcohol at our weekly trivia night or took a muscle relaxer. I wondered if I was good enough to meet my dad, to marry my husband, to be in my niece’s life. I felt very stuck because I couldn’t get past these roadblocks set up for me by others.
I won’t say all of that is gone. There are still times where I struggle with decisions or mistakes, like being less than understanding for my sister when she’s faced hard things. I’m not fussing over my shock when I ran into celebrities years ago though. I’m not plagued by thoughts of how I should’ve told Bob Uecker how much I think he’s awesome or gotten his autograph… and it’s not just because he returned an RSVP card from the wedding.
Okay, it might help.
The point is that without the toxicity in my life, I can finally learn how to allow myself to make mistakes and to forgive myself for them. I’m learning how to love myself because, without that influence of toxic people and the issues they bring, I’m FINALLY getting to learn who I really am. I’m learning more what I like, what I think is funny, and what I really want out of life.
Perhaps the best thing is I’m no longer held up to standards that I can’t reach. I’m never going to be the president or a high level diplomat. I’m not going to run a crazy successful business. I’ll never be model thin… though I wouldn’t want to be either. I will do what I can in my current job to help kids. I will do what I can to help chronically awesome peeps with my advocacy and to help open the eyes of some of these toxic politicians. I will love the heck out of my little guinea pigs, my niece, and my soon-to-be-born nephew. I will create whatever relationship with my father and the family that he and I want. I will spend time with friends and not be restrained by the expectation that I should be at home locked away. I will travel and goof around with my husband. I will laugh deeply and love more strongly.
Right now the only expectation that I hold myself to is to be happy and to rock this one life that I’ve got. I couldn’t make those decisions without eliminating the toxic elements in my life. I hope that you can make any changes you need to in this area as well. It has been the biggest change for my health, mental and physical.