Dealing With Toxic Relationships

Dealing With Toxic Relationships

  By Michael Josephson of Character Counts (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

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

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
(c) 2013 Josephson Institute of Ethics; reprinted with
permission. Michael Josephson, one of the nation’s
leading ethicists, is the founder of the Josephson
Institute of Ethics and the premier youth character
education program, CHARACTER COUNTS! For further
information visit


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