Navigating toxic people is incredibly challenging. It’s a lot to work through the piles of psychological manipulation and chaos. For those of you who are new here, welcome! I have survived two toxic parents, a toxic ex, and a toxic mother-in-law, and today I want to share with you some of my biggest mistakes along the way.
Before I dive in, I do want to point out that all of the mistakes that I am going to be talking about are very understandable. It's not like we should blame anyone for engaging in similar mistakes. This stuff is really hard and it's natural that we occasionally misstep. At the end of the day, if you can find a way to live a little bit more peacefully, you are winning, no matter how many missteps you make along the way.
Ok with that being said, let’s jump in:
I spent a lot of energy hoping and wishing that my aunts or uncles or grandparents would understand what was happening in my toxic home. I kept thinking that they would come and save me. That did not happen.
Some of my family just stayed respectfully silent when it came to discussing the toxic people in my life. That was painful in a certain way, but it was a lot better than some of the other options.
The experience I hated the most was when my family would try to actively discourage me from setting firm boundaries to protect myself. It was already incredibly difficult to establish these boundaries. Having my family fill me with doubt was not helpful.
In the end, I would have been better served by acknowledging that my family members didn’t really have enough information to begin understanding my toxic home life. I could explain things to them, but since they weren’t there to see the way my parents were interacting with me, they couldn’t really understand.
It was a mistake to put all my hopes in my extended family. It was an understandable mistake, but in the end this hope never helped me.
When you have some experience with toxic people, you develop a keen ability to recognize them out in the wild. You may not be able to articulate that you are sensing this person is toxic, but you are likely to feel uneasy about them.
My instinct was saying RED FLAG RED FLAG RED FLAG when I first started interacting with my toxic mother-in-law. It seemed so profoundly unlikely that I would have a mother-in-law who was toxic, that I assumed that my instinct was just off. I tried to push through those signs of danger and ultimately it caused me even more pain.
It turns out experiencing toxic people kind of makes you an expert in the lived experience of navigating toxic people. Sure, there are experts in psychology who know more about how narcissistic personality disorder and the like work, but you have lived it. Your gut knows something that nobody could ever learn from a book.
It's important to recognize your expertise! If you find yourself filled with doubts about someone, be open to the possibility that you are sensing toxicity!
All of the toxic people in my life wanted me to stay silent about the various ways that they abused me. They didn’t want this information to taint the precious narratives that they had constructed for themselves. They didn’t want the truth to be heard.
Now its tricky to navigate this space as a survivor. You don’t want to go telling your story to just anyone. Afterall, we’ve all been burned by folks who get information about us just to use it against us. But, there is genuine power in sharing about our experiences.
It took me a long time to appreciate just how much I was being silenced. I knew that sharing sometimes overwhelmed the people around me. I knew that I had a lot more going on than most people. What I didn’t understand was that all of this holding back was making it harder for me to survive.
When I was initially navigating my toxic mother, the internet wasn’t that much of a thing. But today, there are thriving communities of survivors of toxic people. These are folks who are generally safe to share with. Of course we need to be cautious and only do as we feel comfortable, but I didn’t really start to heal from this stuff until I was able to speak more openly about it.
If you are navigating toxic people, I’d recommend finding ways you can speak openly about your experiences in safe environments. I waited too long to find those spaces.
I wasted so much time and energy on this one. This was especially true while coming to terms with my mother’s toxicity. Nobody wants to believe that their parent is a lost cause. No one wants to face that this person is going to be abusive for the rest of their lives.
But the truth is, we have ZERO control over whether the toxic person changes or not. I am skeptical that toxic people can fundamentally change, but I do think with appropriate psychiatric care they can reduce the badness of their symptoms. However, it was a mistake and always will be a mistake to make decisions about what I needed to do based on the hope that this toxic person would change.
Whether they change or not is so wildly out of my control, that it should not have been a major part of my decision-making. I stayed in toxic spaces much longer than I needed to because I was holding out hope that this person would change.
The best thing to do is accept that whether this person changes or not isn’t relevant to your decision-making. You need to be safe and prioritize your own well-being independently of how the toxic person may change in the future.
For a long time I believed that I grew up in toxic spaces and that was always what my life would be about. I imagined the drama my parents created would be replaced with the drama my partner was creating, and this vicious cycle would continue. I tested out a life like that with my ex, but I discovered things could be even more difficult than what I had grown up with.
A lot of us come to think that we attract toxic people and that we can never be free of this chaos. And it is true that many of us who have experienced one toxic person find ourselves navigating another.
At this point, I’ve dealt with 4 different toxic people and the truth is, it gets easier to manage every single time. As I learn to trust my instincts, become more comfortable setting firm boundaries, and carve out peaceful spaces in my own life, I’ve discovered that my life does not HAVE to be painful just because so many of my years were spent in toxic spaces.
It's false to think you will always be in toxic spaces because you have been in toxic spaces. Your life really is yours to author. You can make choices that support living in new ways. You can grow in ways that ensure you never have to tolerate toxicity again.
It's not easy to let go of this mistake, but it is very impactful if you can.
Did you see yourself in any of these mistakes? Let me know in the comments below if any of these resonated with you.
One of the biggest ways that I worked through a lot of these mistakes was by seeking out support. I don’t believe I would have made it out of toxicity in the way that I have today without that extra support.
The power of having an expert really understand and validate your experiences is really worth experiencing. Especially for those of us navigating toxic people.
If you would like some support, I can help. I work one on one with folks who are navigating toxic people. I’m an expert in philosophy so I help folks work through some of their problematic thinking, including some of the mistakes I mentioned earlier, and I help them rediscover who they want to be beyond the toxic people. I’m accepting clients at this time, so click here to sign up for your free 15-minute consultation today.