As I cross the threshold into my 40’s (still can’t believe it), I am in awe of all the adventures I have had and all the apartments, furniture, pets and cars that have come and gone. The last few years have been a sometimes reluctant/sometimes deliberate shedding of things and more importantly people that no longer work for the future well-being of my life. During this long short journey I, like many others, have had challenges in knowing the difference between normal human behavior and the unhealthy “cross the line” damage in relationships with friends, family and romantic partners. So much of life is about trial and error when achieving personal lessons. I have found that while I can’t always live by a set of rules or operate from a strict guidebook I can however, learn from another person’s experience in order to ease over the pitfalls that are sure to line the path.
Through extensive soul searching and many bad apples I have discovered my list of deal breakers when it comes to what energy I don’t want in my life. While your list may be different and your level of importance to each item on that list may be varied, I wish to inspire you to spend some time pin pointing what your personal red flag behaviors are so that you can spend your life with the people who truly love and support you honestly and in the most healthy way possible. Here are my top five in order of 1= Run Forrest Run! To 5= Special occasions and holiday’s only:
1) Crazy makers
You know the type, the ones who try to convince you that the sun is purple and make you feel crazy when you say it is yellow. This can be a difficult one to point out because these people tend to be so confident and self-assured in their convictions that you feel foolish even questioning them (think Donald Trump). These red flags can also be so subtle that you don’t realize what is going on until days or even weeks later. This behavior may require you developing a keen instinctive awareness to recognize, not only because the other person’s action can go under the radar but also because our own desire to be non-confrontational can override our own common sense. I once had a friend invite me to go boating on the ocean and I, who openly admits to being geographically challenged, was a bit confused when we showed up to a river. I sensed very clearly that my friend was offended by my ocean inquiries by the tell-tale eye roll and deflection from a concise understandable answer. I sensed further annoyance from my continued curiosity through the smug and condescending tone, (yes ladies tone of voice is a valid evaluation tool), my friend used to convinced me that we were actually on the ocean. This left me feeling like an idiot for wondering about it in the first place. His Jedi mind trick and my natural tenancy to avoid conflict influenced me to back away from getting clear about the facts on our exact location. Crazy makers are the worse style of toxic friend because they have perfected the ability to make you feel unstable and they will never, if ever admit they are wrong or even attempt to come to the middle. Needless to say I ran far far away from this person even though it took quite a few more episodes before I saw and trusted the signs.
2) I told you so’s
Ok so in any close relationship there will be times when we warn each other about impending doom, bad lovers or pyramid schemes. That is what friends are for, to help you see things objectively and wake you up when you are about to step into trouble. The chronic I told you so’ers are far from the voice of wisdom, in fact they are the obnoxious know it all’s who live to give you advice, overwhelm you and then pounce on you when the shit hits the fan. They actually gain their glory through your apparent failure. If you find yourself with a person who pulls the “I told you so” card, or statements of a similar vein on a regular basis, it is time to get clear about what this person’s true intentions are.
3) Beware of stranger’s bearing gifts
Every healthy relationship has a balance between giving and receiving. Nobody wants to be bombarded by the calculator each time the waiter brings the check. There is no such thing as perfectly even steven in a living breathing relationship because energy ebbs and flows; sometimes we will be the one giving more and other times we have to surrender and receive. What matters most is that when one person gives, they are giving from the heart according their own free will and not out of pay back or obligation. It does no good to get gifts and goodies when you know this person is going to use it to guilt you into always giving them a ride, constantly picking up products for them at the store or even spending time with them when you would rather be doing something else. This can also present itself with your friend pointing out all the things they have done for you and making you feel bad or even evil when you exercise your right to say no. True, a one sided relationship isn’t fair and it is perfectly reasonable for you or your friend to voice concern when this happens. If the friendship is true and strong this can be easily negotiated but when there are always strings attached you are indeed a puppet.
4) The one upper
This is probably the most common one, though it can be so incredibly subtle that you may only know it is happening through a hunch of yucky feelings. It tends to show up best when you and your friend are with a group of other people. The topic of conversation happens to land upon a subject that you are passionate about and happen to be an expert on, or you possess the effervescent curiosity of an endearing child. It is in these moments that your light shines the brightest until you notice your best friend’s energy sinking into a ball of insecurity and you find yourself shying away from the discussion in order to not outshine. Since nobody will feel 100 percent secure all the time this does not necessarily pose a problem, though it is the time to pay special attention to the way they respond next. The toxic friend will internally blame you for their feeling of inadequacy and try and one up you by interrupting, ignoring or undermine your expertise or curiosity by pulling focus to themselves and away from the threat which is you. They can sometimes throw in a sarcastic joke questioning your intelligence or come out with their college dissertation on a completely unrelated subject. Sarcasm (any teasing that hurts or attacks your dignity) is a major red flag. I had experienced this regularly with some former work friends (I admit I participated on each side), and found it extremely hard to walk away without feeling left out or left behind from promotions and work place comradeship. The benefits you gain from being part of the so called “team” come at a huge cost to your self-esteem and self-respect so politely bow out.
5) The Jhonny come lately’s, Chronic name callers and the fix me uppers.
This is a toss-up and they all deserve equal billing. These behaviors will make me raise an eyebrow and may cause me to keep a safe distance but not necessarily have me vote them off the island.
Jhonny come lately’s are the ones who are always running late or cancelling, usually at the last minute. You can never make any plans around them because it is impossible to pin them down. Now facebook had a clever article lately saying that these people are just optimist who value themselves and life so much that they forget about time; which may in fact be true but their optimism is causing me pessimism and negativity while I am reheating their dinner for the 5th time in two hours. My time is valuable too and I want a friend who can be respectful on both ends.
Chronic name callers are the ones who get mad or irritated and think nothing of saying things like “are you blind; and idiot; naive; two-footed.. etc etc…” We usually chalk it up to their quirky personality and just the way they are. They may be harmless and non-threatening but it is unnecessary behavior that serves no good purpose.
Fix me uppers are the ones who bring me out shopping, ridicule my awful sense of style and put me in 5 inch stiletto heels (Anyone who knows me will get how ridiculous this is). Hey I love a good make over from a friend who has got it going on but when everything I do, say or wear is somehow “weird” “sloppy” or “inappropriate” then maybe they just get their kicks by picking on me.
Now that you have identified the signs the next step is doing something about it that if you are lucky, won’t end in explosion. The bottom line in eliminating toxic relationships is by being fully honest with your feelings, to yourself first and then to them, each and every time something comes up that you suspect may be devaluing your humanity. No person is perfect and needs to be all loving and aware at all times so you can start by approaching your friend with an open yet protected heart that will allow you the space to expect a productive and mature conversation.
We are each others best teachers in how to treat one another and the only way to change bad behavior is by being told that something that we are doing is hurting the relationship. If the person has some ability to listen and communicate about clear cut solutions that they can commit to, then there is very little that cannot be forgiven and forgotten. A true friend will welcome the growth opportunity and you may find they have a few things to say to you as well, laying a foundation of mutual growth. You may be surprised by your own toxic behaviors that they have not been sharing with you. As long as they are not acting out of spite or retaliation give yourself permission to guide them by being an example of effective conflict resolution.
If the person refuses to hear what you have to say and is not willing to stop what they are doing let this be your Ultimate red flag in comfortably saying goodbye, either forever or until they are able to negotiate a compromise. Let go of your fear of the fall out, sometimes we need to clean out the old before something new and better can take its place. I can’t say that it is easy to eliminate toxic friends from your life, you may have to face being alone for a while as well as facing your own inner beliefs that drew these people to you. Embrace this loneliness. I promise you the clearing that will happen during this time, if used wisely, will bring you closer to who you are and what you truly need. Every person who you allow to enter your life after that point will be there to uplift you, and you in turn will have the energy to do the same for them. You deserve it and so do they. Have faith….