How to Keep Toxic People Away From Your Bacon

–Believe Them the First Time

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That was during my time in prison, after some gal accused me of raping her or whatever.

That’s what a 70-year-old man with a mullet and aviator sunglasses casually said to me once on homecoming weekend back during my freshman year in college. He said this while sitting across from me in the student lounge, his knee bumping into mine, his face leaning in close so I could smell his tobacco breath and see the dirt in his teeth.

And my “friends” at the time were sitting directly on the other side of me. On their phones. Ignoring my glances for help and my kicks at their feet to get their attention.

Thankfully, I was able to safely navigate myself out of the situation. As my friends and I walked back to our dorms (and I tried to shudder off the ickiness of Mullet Man), I asked them why they hadn’t responded to my pleas for help. They said, “Well, we just, you know, didn’t know what to do. But you looked like you had it handled, so it’s all good.”

I told them that it was so not cool, and that next time, they should look out for me the way I had always looked out for them in similar situations prior. They told me next time, they would.

Next time…

Fast forward to the following semester when I began dating my first boyfriend (whom turned out to be a sex addict) and was experiencing a lot of new emotional territory. I was not as available at the drop of a hat as I had previously been, and my friends were less than thrilled. They confronted me, telling me I was being selfish because I wasn’t as attentive to their needs. I apologized and explained that I was trying to figure some things out and could really use their support. I couldn’t tell them exactly what I was going through, out of respect for my boyfriend’s privacy, and they did not accept that.

I’ll never forget what one of them actually said to me when I told her it was private. “What, is he like, dying with cancer or something?”

Long story short, these “friends” abandoned me when I didn’t break up with my boyfriend for them. And I ended up in a four-year relationship where I was isolated in his family’s basement, friendless and crying myself to sleep every night.

Now, I admit that I’ve made some poor decisions in my life, and my friends weren’t the ones to blame for my unhealthy dating situation in college. However, they took with them a massive chunk of my bacon. At a time when I needed patience, love, and support, they decided to hurt my self-esteem instead, because my circumstances didn’t benefit them. For years, they had me punishing myself with guilt, blaming myself for the way they treated me.

These were friends who I thought were my BFFs, my rides-or-die, my partners-in-crime-without-a-dime… Turns out they were just toxic people. And I should have believed them the first time, when they failed to come through for me with Mullet Man.

Toxic People Show Their True Colors Early On

When a person is toxic for us, they usually give some indication of it early on in the relationship. It’s easy to overlook because we tell ourselves that we forgive them, and we believe them when they say they will never do it again. That could be true, but only if the toxic person decides to change on their own. Sadly, it’s rare that a toxic person will drastically change their behavior for you.

That’s not to say you should assume the worst in people based on your first impressions of them. You don’t want to judge a book by its cover. However, if a person does something that hurts, disregards, or takes advantage of you, BELIEVE THEM. Unless they meaningfully choose to change on their own, that’s who they will continue to be towards you.

It’s like sitting in a jacuzzi full of human waste and trying to find a spot where there’s a bit of clean water.

If you’re like me, you have a hard time recognizing toxic people in your life because you’re in denial. You don’t want to believe someone you care about is toxic. But the reality is that, when you’re in any kind of toxic relationship, be it romantic, family, or friendship, you become trapped in a frustrating loop of self-loathing and discouragement. You begin questioning your self-worth. “Am I that unlovable? What is it about ME that warrants this treatment?” It’s like sitting in a jacuzzi full of human waste and trying to find a spot where there’s a bit of clean water. But all you’re doing is soaking up more ick, and no matter how many times you try pushing away the waste, it’s only replaced with more ick.

It’s time to get out of the jacuzzi, Karen.

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