Nobody can deny that a lot of things are happening in the world right now.
Whether you are looking at COVID-19, civil unrest, and protests against systemic racism and police brutality, awful politics, or other world affairs — you will be inundated by uncertainty and negativity resulting from it.
Many people prefer to remain passive when it comes to such things. To some degree, that’s understandable.
However, there comes a time when passivity not only doesn’t serve you — but complicates and worsens the problems and issues.
Lots of people were complacent when the Nazis came to power in Germany. They waited, watched, said nothing…and then it was too late. They were at war with most of the rest of the world, led by people committing awful atrocities and genocide, and they suffered for it.
Since we are awful at learning from history, currently some of the same issues are ongoing today. There are a lot of people out there who — faced with progress, a black-and-white viewpoint, and an intangible frightening virus — are reacting poorly.
In many instances, uninformed racism has become blatant. Casual science denial has become overt. White privilege is broadcast without concern or possibly even recognition of tone-deafness. People you thought were good and kind are showing that they are naïve, uninformed, cruel, intolerant, and driven by fear and misinformation.
Someone you may have liked, respected, even loved might be showing you an ugly side of themselves you didn’t see before. What can you do when someone you care about becomes toxic?
There are three options
I am going to put this as bluntly as possible. Also, let me clarify that while there may be other ideas, these three options are pretty much the only way to take control of the situation.
The first way is to let it go. Ignore it, carry on, do nothing about it.
But this comes with a price. Your complacency in their attitude, actions, and general activities can and will impact those they are against. When you do not take a stand in opposition to ugliness and bad behavior you are more-or-less condoning it. Others will see that — and that might put you in a bad position down the line.
More importantly — you may feel some serious guilt if things get worse. When you know you could have done something — but chose instead to stand to the side and just let it happen — that can gnaw away at you. You may find the discomfort of such very hard to live with. That can make you question your judgment and values overall.
The second way is to offer counterarguments. Show them why what they believe is mistaken. Take a stand and tell them that there are being racist, sexist, homophobic, or what-have-you. Reach out to them — not in a condescending way nor with anger — but as a touchstone to show them how what they do is not healthy or good.
The problem is, there is a VERY good chance you will be met with resistance to that. Given the present attitudes of people and the all-or-nothing black-or-white approaches, when you try to show them how they are in error they will disagree — and disagree hard.
This can turn into name-calling, insults, and a lot of unhappiness. Which leads to the third, and hardest of the options.
Cutting ties is not easy
Nobody wants to cut ties with a friend. The last thing most people I know want to do is cut a family member or someone they love out of their life.
You care about them, love them, and want to help them. But if they make it abundantly clear they do not desire your help, and all they do is upset, sadden, infuriate, and otherwise distress you — saying goodbye may be your only choice.
This is especially hard when you have people in your life who tend to skew to the negative. But that’s not the same as outright toxicity. A person with a negative attitude is mostly negative towards themselves. A toxic person is negative to others and tends to be hurtful, unkind, and selfish.
When a person you care about is doing, saying, or being something awful, that’s bad enough. When they will not accept that you are offering an alternative perspective because you worry and care about them — and they double down — that’s disheartening, to say the least.
To clarify, this is not a matter of just a difference of opinion. We can have different views on subjects like religion, abortion, politics, government, and far-reaching issues of that sort. We all have different opinions and ideas about how things work. You can have a good debate and discussion, and while you continue to disagree you remain reasonable about it.
When one side digs in their heels, utterly refuses to see reason or acknowledge a counterargument, you are moving towards toxicity.
How can you tell if it’s becoming toxic?
This tends to be shown when a reasonable argument or a matter with an intent of kindness and empathy is met with resistance. What’s more, resistance with little to no basis in fact or reality.
For example — pointing out that the All Lives Matter movement is a racist response to Black Lives Matter and the need to address systemic racism inherent in the system.
Or, another example — making a completely false argument against wearing a mask in public, social distancing, and other measures in place to combat the spread of COVID-19. Or worse — denial of COVID-19 and the harm it has done and continues to do.
You are being reasonable, providing facts and logical arguments for your point of view. Hell, if they offered you a sensible point of debate, you would be willing to discuss it. But that is not the case.
You know it is toxic when you are shut down, your facts are dismissed for their beliefs, and you cannot get through to them in the least. They press on, unwilling to accept any accountability.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to say goodbye and move on.
Saying goodbye hurts
When a relationship ends, it often hurts to say goodbye — even when ending the relationship was best for everyone involved. If someone you care about dies, saying goodbye is really hard and hurts a lot.
Saying goodbye to a toxic friend is just as painful. Maybe even more so, as you feel bad about leaving that friend behind. But friendships change, and keeping toxic people in your life is unhealthy for you.
Maintaining toxic friendships is akin to intentionally poisoning yourself. You will get sicker and sicker, yet continue to swallow what you know is poison.
There comes a time when you need to be selfish and put yourself first. A toxic friendship doesn’t serve anyone. Continuing it ceases to be of value to you — and if it was of any value to the other person, they’d not act toxically towards you.
Because of the nature of this sort of relationship, it is also best not to just let it die out. You NEED to say goodbye. Why? Because you need the release. It is not about the other person, it is about YOU.
Not saying goodbye means they still maintain a piece of your heart. To be fair, they likely always will — but when you see them continue to be toxic, and maybe even do so to others — it burns. If you make the effort to say goodbye and take the action — it is the difference between closing the refrigerator door all the way and sealing in the cold versus leaving it open a crack and spoiling all the food within.
The toxicity of that person will still impact you when you don’t make the gesture to say goodbye and release them.
This is selfish but healthy
I cannot deny the act of saying goodbye to someone toxic is selfish. However, your self-care cannot be neglected.
Poisoning yourself for someone else would be ludicrous, right? But that’s exactly what you are doing when you allow a toxic person to infect your life.
Toxic people are as bad as toxic chemicals, pollution, radiation, and everything else in the environment that can kill you. In some ways, they are worse because they are often less obvious. Narcissists, gaslighters, and egotists tend to make you question yourself and your values when you are, in fact, questioning them.
Saying goodbye to a toxic person is a necessary action. It will hurt just like tearing a bandaid off a hairy part of your body might hurt — but it’s still necessary. In the end, you will be better for it.
You do not deserve to be victimized, upset, and generally hurt by someone toxic. So, you have every right to cut them out, say goodbye, and release them from your life.
You wouldn’t leave a cancer in your body, right? This is the same thing.
So maybe it’s selfish — but that doesn’t make it any less necessary — nor does it make you a bad person.
Saying goodbye is hard. But that doesn’t lessen the importance of ridding yourself of toxic people from your life. For your peace of mind, your mental, emotional, and physical being, you owe it to yourself to care for yourself enough to let that toxic person go and say goodbye.
The pain will cease in time, and you will find that in the long run you are healthier and feel better without that toxic person in your life.
Know that you are worthy and deserving of using mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done our thoughts, feelings, and actions matter, as does the state of our mental health in the presence of toxic people.