COMMENTARY: Dealing With Toxic Relationships 750.2

Are there people in your life who regularly cause you to feel bad about yourself?

Most of us care what others think of us, so knowing that someone doesn’t like us, or doesn’t approve of the judgments we’ve made, or doesn’t like how we look can be hurtful. And when we’re judged by someone whose approval we crave, such as a parent, spouse, teacher, or boss, the criticism can cause intense distress and damage self-esteem.

Harsh or relentless disparagement from people who love us, often clothed as caring advice or helpful prodding, can be particularly toxic.

It’s helpful to realize that it’s one thing to feel bad when someone doesn’t approve of us; it’s quite another to allow their disapproval to shape our self-image.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She was absolutely right. Negative comments about our lives are opinions, not facts.

How we feel, however, is a fact, and an important one at that. Thus, it’s rational and healthy to nurture relationships that bring out the best in us, and to cut off or distance ourselves from those that bring us down.

There are, however, two strategies worth trying before you limit or eliminate contact with critical people whom you care about, or who are important to people you care about.

Try to fix the relationship by respectfully confronting the negative influences in your life honestly and directly. Don’t attack them for hurting you, just explain how you feel when they criticize you and see if they care about you enough to modify their conduct.

If that doesn’t work, try to build immunity to their negativity. Think of the hurtful comments of your incorrigible critic as irrational ravings – and ignore them.

If neither of these strategies work, more drastic action may be justified.

It may be uncomfortable, but it’s relatively easy to exclude annoying friends and co-workers from your life. Family and committed relationships are another matter entirely. You are entitled to happiness and healthy relationships and it’s unfair for you to be imprisoned by the wishes and wants of others. Nevertheless, there are both moral and practical reasons that require you to make serious and sustained efforts to fix these relationships before you disown, disavow, or divorce someone who is part of a network of relationships that will be affected by your actions.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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