Why toxic relationships are so draining. And when to break them off.

Who you let into your mental space matters.

SHAKA SENGHOR: I think the thing that causes relationships to become toxic are many-fold. I will start by saying: pessimism. Being around people who are pessimistic about life is, to me, one of the greatest obstacles that stands in the way of greatness, success — whether it's in the workspace, whether it's in your personal life. Self-pity; people who tend to wallow in self-pity are, to me, some of the most toxic, especially if you have close proximity to them — intimate relations or your work spaces — because that energy begins to translate, and it dims the room and it's just really unsettling.

To me, I think it's one of the things that we don't evaluate enough in our lives, are the people that we allow to share our mental space. And when you're allowing somebody to share your mental space you have to think of it like a pristine house. So you have this beautiful home, and when you welcome people to your beautiful home you will want them to treat it the way that you treat it and care for it. So you wouldn't want them to walk in with some muddy boots and just come in trashing the place, but we don't think about that when it comes to welcoming people into the interior of our minds and our hearts.

And so a lot of times we'll have people in our lives who wear those mental muddy boots and they'll just come in and trample all around our mental space and we don't even think nothing of it because we want to be a "nice person," and we don't want to say things that may come across as mean. But I think it's important to recognize the people that you welcome into your life, recognize the quality, the shared value systems, and realize when they're being hurtful or damaging to your own sense of peace and confidence and mental well being.

I think toxic relationships are some of the most time-consuming relationships. You're constantly trying to correct behavior, you're constantly assessing yourself based on those relationships. I grew up in an abusive household and the abuse that probably had the biggest impact was the things that was said to me and how I replay those things over and over in my mind. So you spend so much time in your own head second-guessing yourself, doubting yourself, and you can't be as productive and as successful as you're capable of as long as you're allowing that energy to take residence in your mind. And it impacts every aspect of your life; you're not showing up as your full self; you can't be happy. And even with the idea of happiness, I think that we are delusional about what happiness is. It's not this sustained thing, but it is access to a part of ourselves that allows us to have joy. And so when you think about what do you need in order to have that, it has to be fulfillment. And you can't have fulfillment in your life and in your work space as long as you have toxic people occupying those spaces.

So I think the way that you prevent a relationship from becoming toxic is you have to set real boundaries. Those boundaries start with: What are the expectations? What are the rules of engagement? What is acceptable behavior? What is acceptable treatment? And that starts with you setting the standards for yourself. How do you show up in your own life? How do you treat yourself? What do you expect from yourself? And that extends outwardly. And what I found is that when you're dealing with people who are toxic, sometimes they don't even realize they're toxic because they're just repeating the cycle of hurt people hurting people. And even though all toxic relationships don't show up as necessarily intentional hurt, it can be intentional hindrance or unintentional hindrance. And so to me you have to set those boundaries very early. And once a relationship has already become toxic you have to make a choice in terms of what do you value more: Do you value your peace of mind and sense of purpose more than you value the relationship?

And once you recognize what you value then you have to share that with a person that may be toxic in your life. And what I found is that it is very hard for people to end friendships. It's very hard for people to work in an environment and not communicate or interact with a coworker, even though that coworker may be toxic. So it takes a certain level of courage, it takes a certain level of value of who you are as a human being to say, "You know what, this isn't working and we need to sit down and we need to talk about this."

And I believe in confronting things head on. If there is somebody who is toxic in my life I'm very explicit that "Hey, here is what's happening and here's what doesn't work for me, and here are some steps we can take to ensure that if we're going to interact with each other that it's in the healthiest way possible?" And if they're not willing to step up to the plate to accept those terms of agreement then I have to terminate that contract.

  • Wanting to be a "nice person" often stops people from establishing the boundaries they need to protect their mental space from toxic people.
  • For Shaka Senghor, self-pity and pessimism are two traits that turn relationships toxic. Consider that people may not know what they are doing: "[T]hey're just repeating the cycle of hurt people hurting people," says Senghor.
  • It takes courage to confront a problem head on, but an honest conversation is often the best way for things to change – and if nothing improves, value yourself enough to walk away.


Surprising new feature of human evolution discovered

Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.

Credit: Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
  • Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
  • The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
Keep reading Show less

Skepticism: Why critical thinking makes you smarter

Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.

Videos
  • It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
  • Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
  • As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.
Keep reading Show less

Iron Age discoveries uncovered outside London, including a ‘murder’ victim

A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.

Photo Credit: HS2
Culture & Religion
  • A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
  • The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
  • An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Keep reading Show less

New study suggests placebo might be as powerful as psychedelics

New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.

Credit: agsandrew / Adobe Stock
Mind & Brain
  • New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
  • While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
  • Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast