One important skill everyone should learn in treatment is how to spot people who can endanger your recovery. Those who complete their treatment should be proud of what they have accomplished. After all, it takes an immense amount of work and growth for someone to recover from their addiction. However, others may not be proud of such accomplishments. They may even actively work to endanger your recovery. These are known as toxic people.
Everyone needs to understand what a toxic person is, how they can endanger your recovery, and how to safely remove them from your life. It can be difficult to learn how to do this all alone, but mental health care facilities are there to help their clients heal and protect themselves. You should never be put in a situation where someone can endanger your recovery. But sadly, life is full of people who can and will do just that.
Pathways Wellness Center understands the danger of toxic people and how they can endanger your recovery. Because of this, part of addiction treatment involves teaching clients how to deal with toxic people. Learning and practicing these skills in a safe environment can prevent those with bad intentions from harming them. Recognizing a toxic person, however, is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Many times, someone doesn't want to recognize that a person they love is toxic. Understanding that sometimes toxic people must be let go before they can endanger your recovery is difficult but vital to recovery itself.
A toxic person is someone whose ongoing actions and behaviors routinely bring harm to someone's physical and mental health. In the case of someone who has recovered from addiction, it means another person attempting to trigger a relapse through indirect or direct means. Sometimes toxic people don't see their behavior as wrong. Others may have more nefarious ideals and may attempt to directly manipulate and sabotage others around them.
Most commonly, people who can be toxic are family members, friends, and acquaintances from work and school. They can often be authority figures in someone's life, such as a parent, a family elder, or even a boss at work. There is a lot of pressure on people to fit in with others and not push back against mistreatment. As a result, a lot of toxic behavior has become normalized in some social circles.
However, some behaviors are inherently toxic and become easier to recognize once understood.
Manipulative: Toxic people have a goal to get others to do what they want and when they want it. To do so, they employ manipulation tactics, such as guilt tripping and gaslighting, to manipulate others. In the cases of those in recovery, a toxic person may tell the recovered person that they feel neglected now that they are sober. By doing so, they make the recovered person feel guilty and can manipulate them into engaging in substance use again.
Judgmental: Toxic people are highly judgemental and cannot extend compassion to other people. Many people don't receive treatment because they are afraid of being judged for struggling. A toxic person looks at someone struggling and mocks and judges them at every turn. The efforts of an individual working on recovery may never be enough for a toxic person. If someone cannot spare even an ounce of respect or compassion for the struggles of someone attempting to better themselves, they are toxic.
Stubborn: A toxic person never apologizes for their unkind words or actions. They believe that they are never wrong and will double down on their behavior, even when proven wrong. Some toxic people even go as far as to victimize themselves to take sympathy and attention away from others. Trying to set healthy boundaries with toxic people can be impossible, as they will see it as a personal attack on themselves. For example, you could never ask a toxic person not to engage in substance use around a person in recovery. They will villainize the person who made the request and act as though they were the victim of a personal attack.
Inconsistent: Toxic people often bounce around between behavior and attitudes depending on what they want from others. For example, a toxic person one day might demonize those who struggle with addiction. Next, they may mock someone in recovery and call them boring for not engaging in substance use. You can never win with a toxic person, who constantly changes the “rule” to suit themselves.
Aggressive and Narcissistic: Toxic people may display aggressive and narcissistic tendencies that can bring harm to others. Aggression comes with the need to assert dominance over someone else. They may also get aggressive or lose their temper if they don't get their way. Those with narcissistic personality traits are often selfish and entitled, often believing that others are inferior. This lack of empathy can be very damaging to those in recovery.
Many toxic people parrot harmful stigmas and ideals that are factually incorrect or cruel. However, since they believe that they are always right, they will push back against any attempts to educate them. Some may even attempt to “cure” someone of their addiction by encouraging dangerous home remedies that are not overseen by a medical professional. Sometimes toxic people may discourage others from seeking professional help, believing that they know more trained mental health care professionals. These beliefs and actions might not just endanger your recovery, but also your life.
Everyone needs to take the time to examine the relationships around them. Does spending time with a particular person make them feel terrible? Are they often put in harm's way by the words and actions of this person? Do they feel constantly belittled, or made to feel stupid or “crazy” by this person? Are they afraid to have a meaningful discussion or place down boundaries without being attacked personally for it? Do they feel better when spending time apart from this person? Are they expected to support this person while not receiving any support in turn? If any of these answers are yes, then the person involved is toxic.
Toxic people are dangerous because they can completely undermine the hard work a person puts into their recovery. Their words and actions can have a multitude of negative results on a person's psyche and physical health. Because of this, treatment facilities like Pathways Wellness Center spend part of treatment discussing how to recognize toxic people and what they might do to endanger their recovery.
Perhaps the biggest danger to someone's recovery is when they pressure or manipulate someone into using substances again. Abstaining from substance use is an important part of recovery. When someone no longer engages in substance use and has successfully detoxed from it, they are then sober. However, some toxic people may not like that someone is sober and seek to change that.
For an example of how this can happen, let's use someone who has recovered from alcohol addiction and is now sober. This person has completed several months of treatment and has completely detoxed from alcohol. A toxic person may visit this person and encourage them to come to have one more drink, either to celebrate or “have one last one for the road.”
They may be accused of dumping or forgetting about their friends who still drink or were “drinking buddies” in the past. Being accused of being on a high horse or being better than others is another common manipulation tactic. Such a person may be repeatedly guilt-tripped, being told that one drink won't hurt them, and to stop being boring and have fun again.
Sometimes this can become too much, and to stop the relentless assault on their emotions and psyche, a relapse can occur. The person takes a drink. Then they are quickly pressured into having another. In no time at all, a person in recovery has had their progress damaged due to the manipulation of a toxic person. Luckily, there are programs available to help those who have relapsed recover again. Mental health care facilities understand that relapses happen and do not judge their clients for what has happened. However, it's difficult for someone not to blame themselves, resulting in shame. This shame can sometimes prevent someone from seeking help for their relapse.
What makes it worse is when a toxic person turns around and belittles said person for experiencing a relapse. After all, a toxic person is never wrong in their own eyes. This constant belittlement or judgment can convince someone that they are unworthy of help. Thus, they refuse to seek it, afraid that a mental health care professional will be just like the toxic person who weaponized their pain against them.
This is the furthest from the truth. A mental health care professional will never mock or belittle anyone seeking help for their mental health and addiction. Sadly, a toxic person can convince someone of the opposite, which damages not only the health of the individual but the health of the nation as a whole.
Since toxic people are often self-centered, they will not respect boundaries people may place. Many people in recovery will ask others not to engage in substance use around them. It is a perfectly respectable and healthy boundary to set in place. However, toxic people will ignore this boundary and will engage in excessive substance use in front of those in recovery. This behavior is often done to spite or even deliberately trigger a relapse.
Sometimes toxic people are a reason why someone engages in substance use in the first place. Many times, substance use is an attempt to soothe and treat an underlying mental health disorder. Substance use can be a common occurrence in those struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, or trauma. Toxic people as a whole are very abusive to the people around them. Abuse can cause these mental health disorders and cause individuals experiencing them to self-medicate through substance use.
It's surprisingly common for someone to enter a treatment center and feel better because they are away from the toxic person who is making their life miserable. They finish their treatment and leave, confident in themselves and their recovery. Then, they return to society and once again, interact with the toxic person who is harming them. Often, this is a parent or a family member who is close to the person in recovery. Humans are hardwired to seek the approval and love of their families. Without it, it can be difficult to achieve recovery. Once someone knows that someone is deliberately sabotaging their recovery, steps can be taken to prevent further damage.
The best way to prevent an instance where someone can endanger your recovery is to prevent it from happening in the first place. It's often done by completely removing a toxic person from someone's life. This is also known as cutting someone out or going no or low contact. Sometimes minimizing the interaction with someone known to be toxic can be helpful. However, outright removing people from someone's life is easier said than done.
Several factors can prevent someone from completely being able to cut out a toxic person. A toxic person may be a family member that they are expected to interact with or show respect to. An individual may depend on the toxic person financially. They may have formed a co-dependency and believe that they need this person in their life. In serious cases, it can be dangerous to cut out a toxic person. Doing so is not to be done lightly.
Pathways Wellness Center does offer therapies that can help someone build the strength they need to remove toxic people from their lives. They walk through various scenarios to help their clients find the best strategy to protect themselves. It's another thing entirely to finally realize when someone has been toxic to them, especially if it's someone they trusted. You wouldn't let them ruin every other aspect of your life, so why would you let them endanger your recovery too? This is also where someone learns how to set boundaries.
Boundaries are healthy and an important part of social interaction. It's how humans learn to get along with each other. Even when we are children, we learn boundaries by not invading someone's personal space or not stealing toys from each other. Boundaries are still important, even as adults. When someone is in recovery, they need to set boundaries to keep them healthy. Individual therapy helps many clients learn to recognize the boundaries they need and set them.
Not all toxic people will respect boundaries, but setting them anyway sets a precedent that they will not tolerate disrespectful behavior. Once they set boundaries, they can then set consequences. For example, setting a boundary of not allowing someone to bring alcohol into their house after they recover from alcohol addiction is perfectly acceptable. If someone shows up with alcohol, they will not be permitted to enter the house. Remember, you do not have to allow those who may endanger your recovery into your home.
Another important thing to understand is that it is okay to mourn the loss of a toxic person. Even if they were toxic, someone still felt real feelings for them. It's okay to grieve the loss of something that could have been. For example, if someone has a toxic father, it's okay to mourn the loss or absence of a healthy father figure. These feelings are real and valid, and individual and group therapy can help someone come to terms with them.
However, despite how you feel about any individual, they do not have the right to endanger your recovery. Nobody has the right to make someone feel guilty for beating their addiction, or feel shame for developing an addiction. They do not have to put up with people who make them feel bad or cause them pain. Instead, someone can look into building their support network. Some individuals in a support network may not be related by blood, but they can still be a healthy family to those who need it. Learning how to build and nurture these networks is yet another important part of treatment at Pathways Wellness Center.
Toxic people are everywhere, but you don't have to let them endanger your recovery. Learning to let them go is hard, but there are others out there waiting to share their joy with you. Don't let a toxic person's negativity influence your recovery. Let them go and find a whole new world of positive people just waiting to meet you.
When people achieve recovery, it means they have worked hard to overcome their addiction. This is a cause of celebration, as overcoming addiction takes an immense amount of personal growth to complete treatment. However, some people you know are not happy to see you succeed. These are known as toxic people and can seriously endanger someone's recovery. Here at Pathways Wellness Center in Glendora, California, we help our clients recognize these toxic people and the danger they pose. By working with our compassionate mental health professionals, they can remove these toxic people from their lives safely. If you or a loved one requires help for an addiction, call today at (888) 771-0966.