Toxic People

It could be your co-worker, a childhood friend, your mother, or your husband. But at least with your mother and your husband, you’re willing to bend a little to make things work. Toxic people are hard to avoid. That bully you remember in junior high, that blind date that was high on cocaine and drove like a maniac, or that angry boss that curses at you.

Having an auto-immune disease however, puts things in perspective. You realize that you hate feeling sick and whatever you can do to prevent feeling sick, you’ll do it. you realize early on that your disease puts you at a new vulnerable level. you can no longer tolerate that angry boss just because you have to. In doing so, you will have more flares and increase the destruction of your body at a faster rate. You simply can’t “afford” to have him as a boss. And so you leave your job in hopes of finding better surroundings. You realize early on that the friends you had all these years may not even put up with your disease and they might leave you or you might leave them because they are too shallow and consumed with themselves to even care. As time goes on, your group of friends becomes less and less and you avoid stress whenever possible. You learn to make new friends, based on personality only. Are they sweet? Are they kind? If they are, you stick to them like glue and hope that they stick around when you go through a rough patch because you might not come out of your cave for some time.

(due to privacy, I have made a few modifications)

Years ago, I had a co-worker, that over time, I grew to know. In the past, she had rubbed me the wrong way. She made days, weeks even, feel like poison. I am a sensitive person with a sarcastic personality but her personality made me feel raw, like I was chewed up and spit out. On her bad days, she would wear her emotions on her sleeve and if you approached her, you would feel her anger penetrate your soul. I learned to tread lightly and not approach her for any reason, unless she was in a good mood. Sometimes I was wrong, and I’d regret having walked into her office to grab something I needed. When I was near her, I felt fear.

Over the years I have learned to put things in perspective, and find the sympathy within myself to realize that we’re all human.  I wasn’t raised how she was raised, and I was born with my personality while she was born with hers.  I realized that though she would bite, there was not much that I could do. She cried easily. Her life was hard and I felt for her. Eventually I learned her cues on when to talk to her, what to say and when to say it. It was as if I was a dog and she had trained me, without realizing, to feed her so she wouldn’t bite.

Eventually she changed.  Maybe she saw a psychologist, maybe her life became easier, either way, life on my end became easier. The change was apparent to me. She was happier. Just like she wore her anger on her sleeve, she wore her happiness on her sleeve as well. And it was on those days that I felt like maybe she could be a friend. I stopped fearing her and started calling her on long walks on the weekends to see how she was doing. Talks turned into long conversations and soon I had completely forgotten that I had ever been afraid of her.

Until one day.  I had been invited to a party at her house. I considered inviting a sweet friend of mine, but I thought twice. I wasn’t sure why I hesitated in asking my friend to join me. Was it because we were still new friends? Was it because her English wasn’t as good as it could be, which made conversations more of a challenge? No. it was none of those reasons. I realized it was because I didn’t want to worry about her. She is sweet and I didn’t want to worry about her feelings. After all, I had my own feelings to worry about.

Honestly though, I hadn’t put two and two together. When I arrived, I was a little surprised that there weren’t that many people. Perhaps the long drive had kept people away. That’s what I rationalized. But there was a part of me that wondered if it were something else.

I thanked her for inviting me over.  I’m guessing she was two sheets to the wind and had become her raunchy, rancid self, which will exclaim profanity, become loud and scary, and flippantly say things that she won’t regret but will leave other people bothered for years. This can be fun if you’re in her corner, like you’re on a live comedic show. But if you’re not, you better prepare yourself for the mind twisting lashings up ahead. Or perhaps I was being too sensitive?

She told her husband, who is subservient by nature, “when you’re a guest at someone’s house, you bring something.” But it was said in a way, if you can imagine, in a harsh, loud, and angry tone, for all to hear. She is the type of person who will say she is joking but yet, there is truth to every joke. I felt like that dog again, cow-towing to her every demand, giving her the reins to be boss, being subservient and putting up with her less than humorous jokes. I had in fact, asked what to bring, which maybe she had forgotten.  Her response on the phone was, “we have so much food and drink, please don’t bring anything!”  It was as if she was the bully in the schoolyard again. Whether it was a joke or not, I immediately turned red and felt like a child, fearful of the bully near me and letting her have her way. I lost my appetite and no longer wanted any food, or anything for that matter. I realized that even though we had come so far as friends in the past months, that her behavior, whether correct or not, made me feel stressed and fearful. She was toxic and I could no longer really be her friend. Maybe her behavior was totally fine for other people, but that didn’t matter. What mattered most was how it made me feel. I have a disease, a very serious disease, and I could no longer afford to feel stress because a person made me feel embarrassed, subservient and upset. At least, not if I didn’t have to.

When I had a chance, I confronted her and she acted as if she had no idea that she had even rubbed me the wrong way. I asked her if she was upset with me.  Her reaction of course was not kind. She got angry and loud enough that others could hear if they were listening and said, “I am sorry you are so sensitive. I am sorry you aren’t having a good time.” And she laughed at the fact that I had been upset ever since her comment. I realized there was no getting through to her so I had few choices. One choice was to make a scene and leave. Well, I wouldn’t make a scene but she would…. Or I could suck it up and try to get us to a place where at least we were getting along. And so I told her, “I’m not upset. I just thought you were upset at me. I was embarrassed.” It was a partial truth so that I could make it through the rest of the night. She told me she wasn’t upset at me and we let it go…or at least, I made it seem like I let it go. In truth, I didn’t let it go. I decided right then and there that I had been mistaken about our friendship. For better or worse, my personality couldn’t handle her personality. Perhaps in the past, I could have handled her harsh sarcasm and almost bi-polar mood swings. But my new self, my protective, ace-bandage wearing, pill taking, supplement researcher, professional, artist self, could not handle her personality in the long-term.

Will I be kind to her or people like her? yes. Will I always tip-toe around people like her? yes. Will I do my best to avoid people like her? yes. Life is too short. I’d rather have the sweetest, kindest, friendliest people around me or none at all. If I were strong and healthy, perhaps I would try my best to work through this. But I’m not. I simply can’t afford to have toxic people in my life.

9 Responses

  1. Ouch. I could really relate to this . And I don’t have a painful illness that I’m battling. Sorry that you’ve had to endure her, but good on you for drawing a line in the sand and having the courage to stand behind it (and you don’t have to tell her you did, just having the mental picture of that line works for me) :) Bests to you. My father had RA and my mother has it now, too. Peace, MJ
    http://emjayandthem.wordpress.com

  2. hi sarah

    thanks for sharing. i am like that too – very sensitive. sometimes i wonder if it is very sensitive types who tend to be more prone to autoimmune disease. have you tired EFT for processing these emotions? i find it helps – especially when i cannot talk to these people who make me so upset because they just accuse me of being oversensitive or of choosing negative emotions – huh!? i am trying to learn to speak up when someone says or does something that really hurts but it’s very difficult because they often then proceed to make me feel even worse if i try to speak with them about it. i usually end up trying to keep my distance from people like this and choose people who are kind and thoughtful in their behavior.

    iz

  3. Hi Sarah,
    So sorry to hear of your experience with your co-worker. I’ve had several alcoholics in my life, the terminology for coping with them is co-dependency – it sounds as if she had you “trained” along the same lines. It is a learned behavior that we develop to protect ourselves from the toxic/destructive people that we can’t seem to escape – thankfully you now recognize it & can choose not to participate in the toxicity. Although it is a painful process it is also empowering to you, protect yourself.
    This disease really does make us think a little more about ourselves and what we can and cannot tolerate.
    It is very kind of you to be so open and share that story with all of us. I wish you many gentle hugs and much caring
    joanie

  4. Thanks so much for the great advice and “Boundaries” sounds like a great book. It’s always the same thing, “You can’t change the way others react to you, but how you react to them.” Complete avoidance may be impossible with her, but having a fence in the first place sure does block some of their splash. Thanks so much for sharing.
    many hugs,
    Sarah

  5. Hi Cathy,
    Thanks so much for responding and I just love your blog and positive energy. I too have had many toxic people in my life in the past and luckily over time, we’ve grown apart. Moving to a new city gave me a fresh start, so there’s really no reason for me to have “collected” a new friend who wasn’t good for me. I am flaring more today because of the foods I ate last night and because of the emotional turmoil I was in. I need to stop being so nice and realize dinner parties probably aren’t for me anyway, (unless the one throwing it doesn’t mind if I bring my own food), and also more importantly, I need to do what’s best for my own body and mind and avoid anyone as you say, who puts out bad energy.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    many hugs,
    Sarah

  6. Hi dyspatient,
    Thanks so much for commenting. I took a look at your blog too and it sounds like you’re having a really rough time. I lived in Boston for four years and I’m sure the cold doesn’t make it any easier for you. Definitely having autoimmune issues, I think, makes one less willing to deal with anything “extra”. I think my co-worker does best around people who are rough around the edges. And I think I do best around people who are easy to get along with. It was definitely a mismatch and I’ve learned my lesson with her, that her euphoric moments that make her a happy person don’t stick around forever. Thanks again for sharing and I hope you get a diagnosis soon on the joint pain. You might want to try a supplement like Lauricidin for residual Lyme issues, as well as it might help with your gut if you take it long term.
    thanks and hugs,
    Sarah

  7. I had a friend who used to call toxic people “joy robbers” because they took away happiness from other people. I just read the book “Boundaries” again and found it covered a lot of my awkward situations. No longer did I have to tolerate toxic people by catering to them or allow them to bully me. I first had to accept the fact that I allowed them to have power. Then I decided to let those people deal with the consequences with their actions. They had a problem and I did not have to adjust to them. You are now in the position of having to make a choice. You might decide to avoid that person. Your attempts to ease the situation might not work because that person has never learned to stay within their own boundaries. Their problems splash over their fence. My new boundaries are attempts to keep the good in and the bad out. Hopefully your boundaries work for you. Good luck.

  8. I am a very sensitive person too. In the past I have allowed the insecurities of toxic my toxic friends to bring me down with them. But you are right, the stronger RA affected me, the more I knew I had to set my limits with these toxic people so that I could survive around them. There are a few that ended up fleeing, but looking back, I am glad. It was a good move for me. Slowly, I am learning that I am in control of the energy that others put out – I can sense those that are positive and those that are negative and currently, I am choosing positive energy from friends or no energy from friends. So sorry this happened to you. It sounds awful.

  9. Wow, you said it. I don’t have a diagnosis, not a unifying one yet although the docs keep throwing around “autoimmune” and it runs in my family. But – I can definitely relate to needing to preserve oneself from toxic people. Reading about your dinner with this coworker made me sad. I’m sorry you had to go through all that, it sounds like a bad night. And with energy being such a precious commodity.

    I like your blog. Thanks for posting.

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