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Some thoughts about "toxic" people

(475 Posts)
flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 14:51:03

I've read and contributed to a couple of threads where people are having to deal with what I would describe as toxic friends and family and the distress that it cause. I've had issues in the past with people this myself and it's really got me thinking.

Once thing that struck me from these threads, plus my own experience of toxic types is that there seems to be common "themes" - the one that immediately comes to mind is that the toxic person needs an enabler - usually a husband or wife who panders to their awful behaviour and colludes with them.

I know there's already a wonderful support thread (stately homes) but I thought it might be helpful to have a general discussion about how to identify these people and cope with them, plus a kind of support thing so folk know they aren't alone in having to deal with it alone?

flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 14:54:05

One of the aspects of toxicbehaviour that bothers me most is...why do people do it?

To me, it's just so much easier to be nice and I must confess that I just don't understand it.

noddyholder Sun 10-Mar-13 14:56:52

I was an enabler for my mother for most of my life until last year when I commented in a very low key way on something awful that she kept saying to me over the years and she cut me out of her life and I have not heard from her or seen her since. She has since moved on to my younger brother as her enabler as she has literally no one left. She keeps him where she wants him by making him dependent on her financially. These people never ever change as they see no wrong and are highly manipulative and controlling.It is the enabler and the victim who has to change. It is so freeing if a little hard esp on days like today. In fact it was last mothers day and her treatment of my sister that first made me re think how I have dealt with her over the years. I have had masses of support though from family and extended family you will be really surprised if you reach out with how many people will say 'What took you so long to see what the rest of us have seen forever?"

Chottie Sun 10-Mar-13 14:57:03

Hi flip, I think it is a power and control thing with toxic types. I have to deal with a few people like this at work and I bet there are others who have to too.

TheCrackFox Sun 10-Mar-13 15:04:13

I'd like to know why they do it too. Is it genetic or learned behaviour? Do they even know they are doing it? Why are they not bothered (and even seem to enjoy) hurting the people they love? Are they even capable of love?

It is very confusing.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sun 10-Mar-13 15:07:22

For me, the word 'toxic' is a convenient but rather meaningless shorthand for any kind of antisocial behaviour. It makes a big difference whether the person is selfish, thoughtless, attention-seeking, acting out of malice. I don't think it's helpful to lump them all together. Like any other behaviour , it's part hard-wired into someone's personality and part learned. They do it because it gets them what they want. If someone, for example, learns quite early on in life that the most effective method to get what they want is to stamp and shout rather than persuade .. that's the path they'll choose. Habit. If someone is so insecure that they have to be the centre of attention to feel important they will deliberately lie, stir and generally create dramas that place them where they want to be.

So I prefer not to think of 'toxic'... more helpful, I think to observe a difficult person in action, try to work out what their motivation is and deal with it specifically. If you're faced with an attention-seeker, for example, either starve them of attention or (if it would work to your advantage) lavish extra attention.

flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 15:08:31

Yes noddy I bet it's hard on days like today.

I've seen a few threads from people who have difficult or non-existent relationships with their mum and it's kind of thrown into focus today, with a sharp reminder that all mums aren't lovely and/or loving.

My own problems with toxic people are more on the friendship/work side of things.

noddyholder Sun 10-Mar-13 15:13:09

I think they must know. My mum has not one friend or relation left and yet still on she goes

flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 15:14:58

Cogito I understand what you mean...toxic is more of a convenient bracket that covers a myriad of unpleasant and difficult to handle behaviours.

CrackFox That's exactly how I feel about it all..just more succinctly put!

Agree they just like that? Did they learn how to be like that?

With myself, I've found that as I get older (and maybe wiser) I'm less tolerant than I used to be.

Some of the recent threads reminded me of a friend who I no longer see that, looking back, was a "toxic" character and had quite a dramatic effect on my life.

It's been mentioned that the best way to deal with these people is change how you react to them. I think that's very true.

noddyholder Sun 10-Mar-13 15:16:17

I think the word toxic is quite apt though as it refers to the fact that all these behaviours affect how the victims feel almost poisoned by the perpetrator.

Arithmeticulous Sun 10-Mar-13 15:20:04

I think they must know. My mum has not one friend or relation left and yet still on she goes

But on they go without the self-awareness that it was their behaviour that drove people away. If there's even a glimpse of cause/effect, they switch back to the default "it's never my fault" and never take responsibility for anything.

flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 15:20:15

noddy - there's one in my extended family who I thankfully have very little to do with.

She's now very elderly and has consistently driven away everyone (friends/family) with her horrible behaviour. She has a terrible relationship with her two adult children which is entirely her own fault, but blames everyone except herself for this.

She also has an 'enabler' husband who is terminally ill..now that she has realised he won't be around much longer her behaviour has moderated somewhat so I think there must be some self awareness.

Arithmeticulous Sun 10-Mar-13 15:21:47

What I find interesting is The Script, as followed by most cheating husbands and mad mother in laws - how do people unknown to each other spout exact the same shit?

domesticgodless Sun 10-Mar-13 15:24:02

am interested Arith, what is the 'bad mother in law script'

(guessing: undermining daughter in law's mothering, whining a lot about being ignored, etc)

Arithmeticulous Sun 10-Mar-13 15:25:57

Yep that's it : -)

noddyholder Sun 10-Mar-13 15:28:47

My mum does know as several people have tried to talk to her over the years and she is intelligent so must see a pattern.

domesticgodless Sun 10-Mar-13 15:33:13

My pop psych take on this after years of observing enablers is that being with an abuser does something for them emotionally.

It allows them not to have any feelings or thoughts of their own. The bully takes total control and demands allegiance. It's kind of easy and, I think, allows the enabler to 'live out' aggression etc without actually having to do it. They live it through the destructive actions of the bully.

noddyholder Sun 10-Mar-13 15:35:42

Domestic I definitely didn't do that I thought I would protect my mother from all her critics in the hope that she would eventually see the light and wouldn't be totally without friends/family when that day came. I covered for her with everyone!

flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 15:36:28

I reckon there is a "script" these people follow, and you also see it when people are talking about abuse they have suffered, there are common themes.

noddy I think you are absolutely spot on about them being intelligent. The one from my extended family certainly is and I have a close friend whose mother sounds very much like yours...and like the one in my extended family. These are common themes I've observed in the 'family' types:

- Very intelligent
- Have an 'enabling' partner
- Very negative/pessimistic outlook on life

Purely observational...not meant to be a 'defining' list.

domesticgodless Sun 10-Mar-13 15:37:26

sorry noddy didn't mean you. That's more about my dad :D

domesticgodless Sun 10-Mar-13 15:39:53

Noddy you don't sound like my definition of an 'enabler' in that you tried to STOP your mother harming others.

It sounds more to me as if you were being bullied yourself.

Flippinada yes agree there is a 'victim' script with the toxic type (I heard it from my mum every single day... awful tales of her impoverished childhood, which no doubt WAS pretty awful, but it was only when I grew up that I realised I didn't actually have to make something up to her for that, it wasn't actually directly my fault and I wasn't a 'spoilt brat' for having more than she did. Etc.)

noddyholder Sun 10-Mar-13 15:42:26

Yes my mother fit all those Full of the poor me's but completely no empathy for anyone else and a bleak outlook on life. My mother says no one is truly happy and we are all faking it

flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 15:42:51

Chottie and domestic I agree about the power/control thing. That bothers me a lot, but that's because I don't understand the impetus to 'control' someone.

What I mean is, I'd rather someone did something for me (eg make a cake, buy me a birthday present) because they wanted to, rather than because they knew I'd have a horrible tantrum if they didn't.

That reminds me of another observation...they place a lot of importance on outward demonstrations of 'love' (can't think of a better word to use) - expecting extravagant mothers day gifts, xmas presents etc and then creating merry hell if they don't get it.

domesticgodless Sun 10-Mar-13 15:47:19

oh god yes flippinada!!! I remember my dear mum's tantrum on xmas day cos she did not get enough attention/presents!!!

I guess that is another clue. Arrested development. They are stuck at an early/toddler like stage where they can only try to control.

flippinada Sun 10-Mar-13 15:48:55

Isn't that an awful outlook noddy? How awful for you. I can just imagine how utterly draining that must have been to deal with.

domesticgodless again yes - so much relentless negativity, it's horrible.

It's the sheer nastiness, the unkindness, that really gets me.

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