It took time for Sheila to understand why she always felt emotionally exhausted every time she was in the presence of her best friend. She, however, later managed to pick on her friend’s backhanded comments about her appearance and jealous tendencies, these always left her with constant doubts about herself. It was this that always drained her energy, she later discovered. Her friend had a toxic character and she was just realising how unhealthy their relationship has been for her emotionally. In our circles there is always that friend, co-worker or family member who for some reason makes you tense and anxious. You resent their energy, not out of hatred, but there is just something about them that you can’t pinpoint. Surround yourself with supportive people as a way of getting over toxicity. Net photo But if you look deeper, chances are that they are toxic and their character is infecting yours. Therapist and author Nancy Irwin says toxic people look like everyone else, talk like everyone else, and can even be hiding in your friendship group, your family or your romantic relationship. She describes a person with toxic qualities as anyone who is abusive, unsupportive, or someone who basically brings you down more than up. “You may begin to feel dependent on him or her for their opinion, doubting your own,” she says. Laban Bizimungu, a cashier, says some have a tendency to see themselves as the victim in every situation. “Even when they mess up, they might shift the blame to someone else or tell a story that paints them in a more positive light. In most cases it’s always best to recognise this and not play into their reality,” Bizimungu says. He insists that someone who gossips, manipulates others, or creates dramatic situations might not realise how their behaviour affects them or anyone else. “But it’s always important to ensure that you pay attention to how they make you feel. Sometimes simply becoming more aware of how someone’s toxic behaviour affects you can help you better navigate interactions with them,” he says. Bizimungu recommends an open conversation, saying that this may help such people realise how stressful their behaviour is and that it is also unacceptable. “It is, therefore, vital to try to talk to them about their behaviour, but if it all fails, put yourself first, say no and walk away.” Crème Kantengwa is of the view that a toxic person’s vibes usually never align with yours because negativity characterises them. They usually make you feel worthless or keep your spirits low whenever they are in your space by whatever they say or do, she notes. “If you are not strong willed or quick to identify them, their toxicity can be projected through you. Before you know it, you become like them and believe in what they believe in,” she says. Solutions Kantengwa is of the view that the first solution is to acknowledge that they are toxic and cut them off, especially in areas where they are toxic. Gender activist Sharon Mbabazi advises to give toxic people less time. “Once you realise that they aren’t good for you, minimise the time you engage with them. Make yourself unavailable and focus on your personal growth, hence, making no room for negativity,” she says. She counsels people to not tolerate but move on from people that hinder their advancement and improvement in life. Irwin says such people can inspire strange changes in behaviour. “If you feel unheard or unseen, and end up being used or coerced into doing things that are unusual for you, you may be influenced by a person’s toxic qualities,” she says. “They can cause you to doubt yourself or do things you ordinarily would not do, you may feel a desire to ‘be cool’ or fit in or get their approval. Every case is different, but people with toxic qualities can negatively influence others by manipulating them to do things,” she adds. As a way of healing and moving on from such people, the therapist advises one to take time to heal and get positive. Removing toxicity from your life is only part of the battle. You will also have to give yourself time to heal, she notes. “It’s important to take it day by day, celebrate the little victories, and have patience as you overcome the minor setbacks. Surround yourself with supportive people who love you and are on your side. “And remember to be generous to yourself. Forgive yourself for being taken in by a skilled manipulator,” she adds.