Letting Toxic People Go

We’ve talked about compassion fatigue and how people you deeply care for can pull away from you in the time after a loss, but what about the people who flat out make you feel bad?

Many of us have a strong impulse to be liked and from a young age we are trained to form and maintain cooperative relationships. We’re taught to share, accept responsibility for wrong doing, make amends, play fairly, be inclusive, and all the good behavior that fosters playground social tranquility.

toxic peopleAs time passes and the playground supervisor is no longer around to guide us, some people forget those important social lessons and can gradually become someone who no longer plays nice. And maybe you don’t notice for a long time or maybe you feel like you’ve invested so much in the relationship that you’re willing to tolerate it or try to ignore it.

But then someone you love dies.

The grief you experience after losing someone, can suddenly put everything in your life into stark relief. You realize—and not just in an abstract sense—that someone you love has died and that one day you will be gone too. That is some hardcore wisdom to suddenly be slapped with and it can quickly change your perspective on your life and the people you choose to include in it.

Suddenly the bad behavior you previously tolerated from a friend, significant-other, or family member becomes completely intolerable because you no longer have the energy to explain it away or keep up the illusion that it doesn’t bother you. When you’re trying to survive, you don’t have time for other people’s crap—your emotional dance card is full.

So how do you know if a relationship is toxic? Ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Are you always physically or mentally drained after being with them?
  • What qualities do you value most in a friend? Do they possess these qualities?
  • Are you not yourself when you’re around them? Do you modify your behavior to suit their needs?
  • How much time do you spend talking about them compared to talking about you?
  • Do they help you to be the best version of yourself? Do you feel empowered when you’re with them? Do they sincerely encourage you in your endeavors and successes?

Think about your answers and if you find this person is draining what little energy you have, making you feel like you need to be somebody you’re not, talking only about themselves, and bringing you down instead of building you up, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you NEED to make some part of this relationship work (are they a co-worker, or a co-parent)?
  • What is this relationship costing you compared to what are you receiving?
  • Is communicating with this person how you want to expend the time and energy you have? Could that time and energy be put to better use?

The answers may lead you to the conclusion that your life may be simpler, easier, or healthier without this person in it. And that’s okay. Though it’s not what they teach us on the playground, it’s alright to be a little selfish from time to time. And if you’re not comfortable being “selfish,” then consider distancing yourself from a toxic relationship as an act of self-care instead. You probably care for others in your life, and you deserve nothing less from and for yourself.


Thanks for visiting Grief Compass. We’re sorry you have to be here, but are glad we’ve found each other.

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