By Tara Overzat
Over the years, I have been lucky to have a lot of good friends from all over the world. However, I fell into a habit that I was only recently able to shake- getting close to toxic people.
Toxic people may be drug addicts or alcoholics; perverts; criminals; or just normal-seeming people who put you down at every turn, feeding off negative energy and kicking you when you’re down.
While good friends and associates tell you that you are mature, responsible, intelligent and cute (and are straight with you when you miss the mark), toxic people will tell you that you are immature, crazy, dumb and fat all of the time. Any praise you get from them is backhanded and intended to make the toxic person feel better about himself.
Growing up, these dual messages were all I got. When teachers, classmates, or other “outsiders” congratulated me on my accomplishments, all my mother could say was, “They don’t know what you’re like at home!” My mother created an alternate reality where I was stupid, talentless and unlovable- as a teen and adult, I sometimes found myself attracted to people that mimicked this “personal truth” for me. I sought out and kept around some people who would tell me how horrible I was only to turn right around and ask for a favor, just like my mother did.
The first step in shaking off the toxic people in my life was the hardest. I had to fully embrace the fact that I was a good person. Not perfect, but good and trying to be even better. I was not all these negative things the toxic people in my life said I was. That took a very long time to realize (and I still struggle with it).
Next I had to create distance between myself and these people, which was hard because I cared about them. Realizing you could care about someone without putting yourself in harm’s way was a difficult concept to grasp, one often called “loving detachment.”
Finally, I knew I could make and keep friendships with the positive people in my life, the people who had been, and would truly be, my friends. The people who’d tell me I’m wrong when I have made a mistake and lift me up when I fall; not the people who’d degrade me everyday just to satisfy their own egos.