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Dealing With Toxic Relatives And Toxic People: Who Are They? (Part Two)

(Situations and relationships changed as requested)


 


           Last week I shared two letters from well spouses who are dealing with “machitanim” (the parents of your son or daughter in law) who appear to be toxic personalities. It is important to understand who is a toxic person and what the characteristics of a toxic personality are before we talk about how to deal with them.

 

         Toxic people tend to be extremely negative almost if not all the time. Just being around them tends to drain your energy and may even cause you to question every decision you make. They are usually nasty when they talk to you. In their minds, they always know what is best for everyone and are, of course, “always right.” They will often pick apart everything you say.

 

         Constant complainers, they tend to be miserable and whiny. Jealous of everyone, they are constantly unhappy and blame others for everything that happens in their lives. Inconsiderate, selfish, and verbally (maybe even physically) abusive, they usually cut you off when you’re talking, put you down, and may make fun of you publicly. They have little or no sense of boundaries. Constantly unhappy and almost always nasty, they will find the negative in every event and often see a conspiracy in how others deal with them. They can be mentally ill, or just plain evil.

 

         One way to identify toxic people in your life is to measure your own feelings when around them. Do you feel pain, craziness, and aggravation whenever they’re around? Do you feel sick and experience physical symptoms like a headache or stomach pain at even the thought of their coming by for a visit? Are they constantly talking negatively about everyone they know? This may even include your spouse and children. Do you somehow feel blamed for their problems and bear the responsibility for making things better for them?

 

         When dealing with toxic people it is important to realize that the person acts this way because of their own issues. Accept that a toxic person’s behavior has nothing to do with you, even if the cause is mental illness. Each of us has to take responsibility for our own actions. You did not cause the toxicity. You cannot control it, nor can you change it. Only they can make a change in their own behavior, and toxic people do not see that there is a need to do so. When trying to discuss your relationship with them, toxic people will often turn things around so that you feel badly, guilty, and like you are at fault. Remember that when dealing with toxic people, they are responsible for their own actions, though they feel everyone else is to blame.

 

         The best way to deal with toxic people is to stay away from them. Avoid being in their presence whenever possible. However, this becomes much more difficult if the toxic person is related to you. The closer the relationship, the more difficult it is to deal with. If the toxic person is a parent, child, sibling or in-law, co-worker or boss, it is very important to develop some strategies in dealing with them, since cutting them off and keeping them out of your life isn’t really an option.

 

         Last week’s letters from well spouses raised several issues. In one letter the apparently toxic in-laws threatened not to come to a family simcha if their machitanim were present. Who should win? How to make peace? What of the children who are making the simcha? Do they have to pick which set of parents should be present at the simcha? If everyone is there, how do you deal with the tremendous stress and discomfort you feel when being around people who have expressed such a great dislike of you?

 

         In the second letter, prospective machitanim don’t know how to deal with the constant accusations from the prospective groom’s parents. All attempts at making peace have failed. If the wedding is to take place, this family will have to deal with the same sets of problems illustrated in the first letter, as the two sets of families will be together for simchas and holidays. Total avoidance isn’t an option. I’ll discuss ideas on handling the toxic people you’re related to, next week.

 

         It is important to remember that some characteristics of toxic people may be seen in all of us. This does not mean we are toxic people nor should we be seen or treated as such.

 

         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com 

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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