|Wouldn't it be great if people came with labels?|
Fortunately, toxic people are easy to spot
once you learn those tell-tale signs of toxicity.
The Comedian. The first thing on the list is to think about your interaction with the friend in question. Is he or she using sarcasm to insult or undermine your self-esteem, to belittle you or your goals? This can be especially stinging if such remarks are followed up with "I'm just joking," allowing the "friend" to hurt your feelings, yet effectively taking away your right to defend yourself. While some people will snap or become cranky if they're having a bad day, or they're on the defensive because of some workable issue, pay close attention to these types of remarks. If your friend is habitually using sarcasm to put you down, this is a calling card of friendship toxicity. How to handle it: Remember that this person is putting you down because of their own issues. Or, perhaps there are some unhappy goings-on in the friend's life at the present time. Wait it out and see what happens, but in the meantime, keep your shields up. If things don't improve after a reasonable amount of time, it may be time to cut your losses.
The Rubber Neck. In everyone's life, something bad will happen from time to time -- unemployment, serious illness, personal crisis. Some friends will roll up their sleeves and do what they can to help you, even if it's just being there to lend an ear. However, be aware of certain "tells" that the friend is behaving in a less-than-friendly manner. One is that your friend may ask benign, yet rather nosey personal questions. Perhaps you're trying to move on with your life and get things back to a place where you'd like it to be, yet your friend seems to only view you in relation to your crisis. A friend who sits back and observes you as if they're watching a bad Lifetime movie or a really bad car accident -- someone who sees you only as some type of drama-fest to enjoy -- yet doesn't offer much in the way of help, is definitely toxic. How to handle it: This friend is not intentionally malicious, but nevertheless, it can be a frustrating situation. It's best to keep the dirty details of your crises to yourself (or share with a truly supportive friend); keep contact with this person short and sweet. If you need to take a break until you've moved on with your life a bit more, that's also understandable. Maybe you won't be so interesting to the other person once you've put yourself in a better place. Oh well.
The Pouting Princess. I've written a few articles on emotional vampires, and the Pouting Princess is definitely an EV's close cousin! To paraphrase, these are the sorts of people who are ridiculously needy and high-maintenance. They may try to control or possess as much of your time as they can. They may be jealous of the time you spend with others. Or, perhaps they're just way too needy and clingy. He or she may suck all the fun out of the room on the moment of entry, and you feel drained just thinking about him or her. How to handle it: Either "dump" them officially, or better yet, gradually try to fade away -- however you decide to handle it, by all means let them go. Friendship is a give and take which should benefit both parties. However, I did say give and take -- on both ends. You doing all the giving, and them doing all the taking is not what I'd call healthy!
The Leech. This is an easy one to spot: This is the type of friend who rarely or never has anything nice to say about you. However, when you're needed for something, this person may manipulate you or take advantage of your good nature. He or she may only be available when it's convenient for him or her, or when you are needed to bail him or her out. There may also be some added drama and attempts to suck you into it. Clearly this is someone who's just out to use other people and cause chaos. You rarely get "thank you" for helping out -- instead, you get "What else can you do for me?" How to handle it: Understand that this person is using you. It's probably better if you just cut this person out of your life; but if you absolutely must deal with them, make sure to draw those boundaries firmly, and don't allow breaches. And, like the vampire above, if you're noticing that the friendship isn't quite balancing out, head for the door and don't come back until this person is gone.
Remember that when you're faced with people who behave as I have described, you will eventually be faced with a three-fold choice.
1. Continue the friendship as it is, misery and all!
2. Try working things out -- be honest about what's bothering you.
3. End the friendship, either immediately or gradually.
Whatever happens, remember to trust your instincts. You and the other person may have a shared past with one another, but that past just might not translate into a present or future. Sometimes, people grow in different directions. If you are not able to salvage the rifts in the friendship, it may be time to move on and set yourself (and the other party) free to pursue relationships which are more fulfilling.