Toxic people. Heard of those? It’s crazy to imagine that we all have some level of toxicity in us, in some shape or form. We’re not toxic. They are, we say.
I’m sure we all think we know the signs of toxic people and we can stay far away from them. We know what to look for. But do we? Or does it only happen if we manage to outlive the relationship? When you have an individual who wants to save people (old me) and someone who enjoys the attention (no longer best friend), the combination makes for a few interesting years. Only then do you learn that there’s no such thing as a toxic person – only toxic relationships.
I had a really toxic friendship once. And I’m finally at a place in my life that allows me to look back and see the lessons with no emotions attached, with no embarrassment, with no shame.
The toxic friendship. I thought it was the best friendship I could ever have had. I felt at home talking to them. I felt safe. There were mountains of trust, an openness that had been nurtured.
Even when I was called names or when I was lied to. Even when my words were twisted so much that I would end up being the one apologizing, although I was the one wronged. I made excuse after excuse, never knowing what to expect. We were best friends. I’d known them forever. They’d never lie to me. And when they did lie, there must have been a good reason.
There were good days, awesome days where compliments were flowing and my ideas and thoughts asked for. I was being heard, listened to.
Maybe today would be a good day. Maybe today would be a bad day. The levels of manipulation were not something I’d ever encountered directly before. I saw it happen to other people in various friendships or relationships and thought that it would never happen to me. I told myself that I’d recognize those signs a mile away. But I didn’t. Even when I was made to seem like a crazy lady (okay, I’m a little crazy, but not in the way made out to be) to our common friends, even when I tried to give my side of the story, it was always silenced. We were playing chess and I wasn’t even aware I was in the game or that I was losing. I even tried to withdraw from the friendship on many occasions but they weren’t quite done with me yet. So I gave up. I became the puppet—there when called, supportive, putting my life on hold in case it didn’t flow with theirs, always waiting in case needed because I could save them. I was needed. They would suck me into their stories by always coming across as if they were in a bad place, in bad relationships, or having a bad time at work, nothing ever working out for them. In the meantime, though, they were actually living their best lives, planning and building for their future without giving me a second thought.
I thought the more I gave, the better it would be. Right? Because that’s what we’re taught. Give love. Be kind. Put others first. And I did all of this. But in the process, I lost my voice. I lost my confidence. My self-esteem was at its lowest and I was frustrated. Every response was, “Whatever.” I questioned everything I did and said because maybe it wasn’t the right thing. Maybe it would hurt them. Maybe they wouldn’t approve. This went on for years. Only after we stopped being friends because they no longer had use for me and agreed to an end of decades of friendship did I learn the names of these traits like toxic amnesia or misogynist, but by then it was too late. The damage was done. I had learned my lesson the hard way.
All I wanted to do for a long period was protect myself from them or anyone like them. They, who left only destruction and damage behind. And me, who…wait a second…I had a role in this. I thought I was this person who could save others. And then I woke up understanding that I’m not here to save people. People can save themselves. I’m not here to put others first if I’m being trodden all over and then tossed away. And there it was. My own toxic trait that was used against me over and over. There’s something about being needed that feeds our egos, and my ego, for years, was being fed big time.
Once removed completely (no contact, no social media, no conversations with common friends, etc.), I worked on gaining my confidence back, improving my self-esteem, finding my voice again, and understanding that trait of mine that had been a burden. I didn’t want to be needed anymore by anyone. Being responsible for an adult drained me, and I stepped back from all my relationships and reexamined them. And once I understood what this toxicity in me, if fed, would lead to, I let it go. I no longer needed to feed my ego. I no longer needed to feel needed.
Now, I can look back and cherish certain moments in that friendship, forgive the rest, and have no burden of toxicity weighing me down. I’ve learned my lessons.