When considering our health, we’re not likely to look at the world around us for a cause, especially to our relationships and how they affect us. However, our relationships are mirror images to our inner-world and have a lot to teach us. I once heard a quote by Jim Rohn I live by to this day, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” We all have the habit of being slightly chameleonish, and making an effort to surround ourselves with enlightened, uplifting, and REAL people is one of the best experiences we can have for enriching our lives.
Our food and biosphere are not the only things we have to watch out for when it comes to toxicity. There are plenty of ways your relationships can become just as toxic. Like processed food, some people leave us feeling sluggish, depressed, and worn down after spending time with them. And some of these people are in our own circles of family and friends!
The Toxic “Friend”
A toxic person is someone who makes it an effort, consciously or unconsciously, to make their problems your problems. They are so concerned with “I” that they forget about you. These people are not hard to spot. With tendencies for complaining, blaming, judging, and criticizing, a toxic person is not one you would want to spend a quiet afternoon with. We all know people who want us to take care of them. Instead of truly wanting your guidance, they want you to handle their problems so they don’t have to. The gossipers and the negative Nancys are all very obvious “toxic” people.
If you really want to know if your relationship is toxic, you might ask yourself a few of these questions:
- Am I able to completely be myself or do I not feel completely accepted?
- Do they judge me and are critical of me?
- Is this a “good if…” relationship? Meaning, it’s only good if I give this and they give that.
- Do I typically feel energized and enthusiastic when I’m around this person or drained and bored?
- Do they share my values, my integrity or am I constantly compromising myself for their approval?
- Is this person committed to our relationship or is it just convenient?
- Can this person truly celebrate any of my successes?
- Do I feel good about myself when I am around this person?
The take-home point here is that we want to be around people who reflect the highest parts of ourselves, who accept the lowest parts of ourselves, who celebrate life with us, and who give as much as they want to receive—it’s a committed effort. The empowering friend is a friend who carries the aforementioned qualities. The truly empowering friend is one who loves unconditionally; there are no standards to be met, only life to be shared. It’s rare to find one of these very intimate relationships, where nothing is required for it to be flowing and vibrant. This requires work on both parts. In the end, if you have relationships where you can fully be yourself with total acceptance, you are well on your way to finding empowerment in relationships.
Turning Toxicity into Opportunity
As a last word of advice: we hold on to some of our toxic relationships for mere certainty in the face of change. It seems our strong grasp on certainty will leave us mangled in toxic relationships just to avoid the ultimate “pain” of uncertainty. In other words, we’d rather deal with someone who decreases our vitality, makes us hurt and angry just to have someone around who “loves” us, someone to listen, and someone to not be alone with. Or even more deceiving, we can confuse an “accepting” relationship with an empowering one by only accepting that person as they are: drunk, miserable, abusive, judgmental, selfish, and so on.
Remember, total acceptance is the first step toward empowerment and is not to be confused with settling. When you learn to fully accept someone even in their misery, you are giving unconditional love, which is transformational. However, you can become a doormat by settling for someone who isn’t willing to accept themselves. They have an ego too, and if that ego is outweighing the love you offer, they will never let your love in. It will always be blocked by their self-image that says “I’m not good enough.” They will prove they are not lovable and not to be accepted.
Be cautious of these relationships and know they are the relationships we most need to bring to our consciousness. This involves looking into yourself and asking, “What about this relationship am I able and willing to learn from?” If you can ask this question and be open to the answer, that this person you are experiencing resistance with has insight to offer you, you will experience transformation. This type of self-development takes a lot of courage so go slowly!
I say start with removing the toxicity, giving you time and energy to reflect. Then when you have built yourself up again with loving and empowering relationships, you can dip your toes back into the pool of diversity. Because in reality there will always be toxic people; learning to love them is a courageous act. Take your time, love yourself first, and when that self-love becomes overflowing, give it to those who need it most!
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