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Toxic People: What They Teach Us (Part Five)

(Situation, relationships and names altered as requested)


 


         When dealing with toxic personalities it is very important to remember some basic strategic rules that apply not only to them but can also apply to difficult people who are not toxic per se. It is our tendency as human beings not to question what people tell us, but to accept it as the truth. Interestingly enough, this is not always the case. Toxic people (being “always” right and “always” knowledgeable) assume they know what everyone else is feeling. So, in their minds, they may not be lying when they tell you how others feel about you or about something you have done. The reality, however, may be quite different.

 

         A letter I received from a young man talked about how his wife’s parents so hated the fact that he and their daughter and grandchildren lived near his parents and not near them, that they asked their daughter not to send pictures of their grandchildren claiming that seeing the pictures caused them too much pain. Though feeling very hurt, the couple complied and honored their request.

 

         However his parents, being proud grandparents, continued to e-mail pictures of the grandchildren around to everyone in their address book (minus the in-laws). This included their daughter-in-law’s grandparents, whom they felt would enjoy seeing pictures of their great grandchildren.

 

         The next thing they knew, the couple received an abusive and hurtful e-mail letter from the girl’s parents. The letter demanded, in the most demeaning terms, that the great-grandparents had also requested that no further pictures be sent to them as it also caused them pain to see the pictures.

 

         Fearing they had hurt the great-grandparents, they forwarded the demanding e-mail with another letter expressing their distress at causing them pain by sending the pictures. They explained that their intent had been to give them pleasure. They asked them to clarify whether they indeed wanted the picture sending to stop as the e-mail indicated.

 

         The great-grandparents, in fact did want pictures. They had no idea that their children had requested that no pictures be sent to them, nor did they realize what problems showing the pictures to them would cause. They apologized for what had been said in their name.

 

         When dealing with toxic people, it is important to always double check the messages you are being told about how others feel or what others have said. More often than not, they may have little basis in fact and only exist as reality in the mind of the toxic person.

 

         Verifying what is being said in someone’s name, not only serves to clarify what is real, but may tend to limit what and how much the toxic person will claim was said about you by others, since they are now put on notice, that their words will be verified.

 

         Have you ever been accused by a toxic person of doing something that has never entered your mind – even as a remote thought? When such an accusation comes, it is important to reevaluate who it is that is accusing you and what their value system is. Chances are, though the act you are accused of may be foreign to you, it may be something that the accuser is entirely comfortable doing, and/or may have done him/herself.

 

         After living in the States for a few years, Mendel and Malky had an opportunity to live in Israel for a year. They jumped at the chance and a year later decided to make Israel their permanent home. Malky asked her mother to sell all the belongings they had left behind and deposit whatever money they got from the sale into their account. The next thing Malky’s mother knew, she was being accused by her machitanim of pocketing some of the money.

 

         The thought of taking her children’s money was so repulsive to Malky’s mother that she simply could not come to grips with the accusation. It was then that Malky discovered that Mendel’s parents had indeed kept some of the couple’s wedding gifts, using them to offset some of the expenses that they had contributed to the wedding. The children had no idea they had done this.

 

         So the next time you are accused of something that is so beyond your way of thinking by a toxic person, take another look at your accuser. It may be something they have either done, are comfortable with or have thought about. It is an interesting way to get deeper insights into others.

 

         In these last five articles I have discussed characteristics of toxic people. Some of us may demonstrate some of these toxic characteristics at times. But normal methods of resolving a conflict apply to most of us. Toxic people are a group to which normal negotiation and conflict resolution do not apply. The issue will not go away, and the behavior is consistent. The two types of people should not be confused.

 

         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.

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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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