(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 firstname.lastname@example.org