Unfortunately, daily life presents us with toxic people: Friends, colleagues, family members, enemies, and strangers. Similar to toxins that affect our bodies, these individuals attack our psychic, mental, emotional, and sometimes physical well-being. The issue remains how to deal with them or inoculate ourselves from their devastating behaviors.
In the July 2007 edition of American Chronicle, Andrew Durham wrote an article entitled, “Goodbye Stranger: Amputating Toxic People From Our Lives.” When asked why we attract toxic people or situations into our lives, Mr. Durham had the following interesting commentaries:
“I have no answers. I’ve been a therapist, an outreach worker, a behavioral specialist and even a bouncer at a dance club. All I know is this: there comes a time when you have to cut the hand off to save the arm…”
“My own brother is a sociopath, yet is a counselor for high school kids…”
“You – I – have to learn, once and for all – today, not next week, or 10 minutes from now – that all there is exists today. Tomorrow isn’t here, and yesterday is a corpse. The nonsense needs to end, once and for all. Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. Today, let’s you and I decide to remain sane.” (1)
Short of the amputation approach, how can we protect ourselves and/or deal with toxic people? Can we de-escalate such situations? Or is it all futile once the toxic level becomes dangerous? Let us hear from the voice behind the article, Mr. Andrew Durham.
“Andrew T. Durham is a graduate of
Here is a link to his writings:
Mr. Durham, please accept a warm welcome to World Dragon Kenpo.
Thank you so much, Steve. I have been so blown away by the circumstances of this situation. Maybe at some point you may share those particulars with those around you as examples of what some of the issues we’ll address.
Is there a way to address a toxic situation the first time that it occurs with a given individual that will provide inoculation for future encounters?
The first time it happens you don’t know it. You don’t recognize it until you’ve been completely absorbed. And you will be absorbed. The pain comes with the realization of actually when it “first happened”. The only inoculation is to be as spiritually fit as you can be. The toxic person cannot influence the spiritually fit person.
In your opinion, is it possible to de-escalate a recurring toxic pattern of behavior?
No, the more time you spend on it becomes “stalling” time for the toxic person. They’ll think of something else. Always. A therapist will tell you differently, primarily because they want you coming back for more sessions. You must decide that enough time has been wasted on a situation.
Toxic supervisors and co-workers make many lives unbearable. Short of finding another job or position, can you suggest any techniques to handle these daily situations?
Every situation is different. It all depends on the state of your spiritual well-being. If you are in a situation where this person has no cause/effect relationship in your life, you do what you need to reach comfort, never “tolerability”. Once you opt merely for tolerability you are always going to get to the point of being further poisoned. It’s just like when you have a mole removed: you cut enough around it so you know that whatever disease there maybe will not return. A comfort zone, if you will. If it’s a supervisor, you wonder immediately about the competence of those who hired him. With people that have this kind of corrosive effect on you there is no negotiating it. In my opinion, there is no “short of finding another job.” You do this 8 hours a day at least. Get out. Or sue them into the Stone Age if he does something that has an effect on your health or well-being. Here’s a good rule of thumb: when your health or sleep is being disturbed by any one person, it’s time to bounce.
Let’s say that a family member repeatedly exhibits behavioral patterns that affect the entire group dynamic. You and others approach the person on many occasions, yet they fail to recognize how their actions affect others. Some family members “amputate” the person from their lives. But with those who remain, the protagonist becomes defensive, abusive, and then makes accusations of things and events that are not true. Is there any logical way to resolve the situation at this point, or do you reach for the proverbial saw?
Your use of the word “logic” sort of self-answers that question. If there were logic in the first place, the situation would never have gotten to the point it did, or would have never been allowed to happen. People will say to you “But they’re family!” Nobody cares. If someone has run out their chances, that’s it. Family are other people. Like everyone else. And just how long are you going to continue to be a doormat, just for the spirit of “keeping things together?” It’s worked famously so far, hasn’t it? Everyone pays for their actions. Family are no different. Depending on the severity of the situation, it is a no win situation.
In our discussion before this interview, you mentioned “the enormous parallels between chemical addiction and the psychological/spiritual poisoning of people.” Could you be kind enough to elaborate on this thought?
Chemical addiction is the ultimate spiritual sickness. You can be addicted to a person or relationship just as easily as any drug. Unfortunately groups like AA and NA create toxic people and emotional robots. When you are so brutally mutilated by alcohol or drugs, toxic people circle like sharks. But chances are they are already there. I guarantee that. More to the point, having a toxic person around is just like a drug: you cannot ever go back to casual use from addiction. And make no mistake: toxic people do not get better. And my concern is not with their plight. I did that for too many years in my life. These ideas are for you who are the wreckage of warped people. So what if some do get “better”? Not likely in this culture. Remember: God healed the crippled. He didn’t invent another politically correct name for them so they could feel better about themselves.
To paraphrase a quote from the movie, Goodfellas, “They always attack you when you are at your weakest, and they are the ones who have known you all of your life.”
Is this similar to the predator/prey analogy that you used in your article, and perhaps a reason why family members seem to execute the toxic buttons with more ease?
Absolutely. Perfect analogy. And let me make this clear: we, none of us, know anything about anyone. Your family members, your lovers, friends, etc. Whenever someone says “I know him inside and out,” they are a deluded individual. Just ask the parents of Jeffrey Dahmer. Just ask the wife of the BTK killer. Once we “put all our eggs in one basket”, spiritually or emotionally, in any one person we are DONE. People in this nation do not know how to balance, how to “just take it easy” with their emotions, wants, desires, you name it. We don’t know how just to BE with another person without the mind games. We know nothing about withholding impulses; we know nothing about discipline. Just look at obesity.
Please understand I am not saying to distrust everyone. Be vigilant, as if on guard. And I am not saying any of these situations are hopeless. We create hopelessness; there is no hopelessness. If we feel hopeless, then we’re the ones who got us there, no one else. Surround yourself with those who are at peace, yet not to the point of being too distant from people; people who radiate something you can’t write down. And learn how to wait for God to bring people into your life. Don’t go looking. Once you are spiritually, emotionally and physically fit, they will just show up. And if you are currently struggling with all those issues – as most of us are – then those who are also struggling will come along as well. But at least you know you’ll both are working for the same things.
Thank you very much for your contribution to increase our understanding and awareness regarding this relevant topic.
(1) American Chronicle, “Goodbye Stranger: Amputating Toxic People From Our Lives,” by Andrew T. Durham, 19 July 2007.
Mr. Durham recently wrote another article about this topic in the American Chronicle:"The Snapping Turtle Syndrome: The Toxic People in Our Lives," 30 December 2007.
Steve Amoia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org