“How do you handle toxic folks?” asked a co-worker. Without a word from me, she said “I think no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, toxic people will always be who they are. I guess being toxic is a way of life for such folks.”
As she spoke, I listened actively, maintained direct eye contact but said nothing. Then she asked: “Are you going to say something or not?”
Of course, I did feel the urge to respond, but my lips refused to move. The truth is, her question had me diving into my mind’s reservoir for my 2003 experience with toxic friendship.
In September 2003, I visited my parents in N’zérékoré. A raging war in the far west of Côte d’Ivoire had uprooted them from their community of origin, compelling them to settle [temporarily] in this densely populated Guinean city.
While in N’zérékoré, I shared a dust-coated home with Dé, my newfound best friend. A short, chubby girl with dark skin that shimmered like a motionless lake in moonlight, Dé was a delightful young woman externally. Inwardly, however, she was as miserable as hell. Why? Dé was a deep lover of flashy things and always longed to live a flamboyant life. Unfortunately, she was fiscally powerless. Born into a struggling peasant family that lived on subsistence farming, Dé’s parents could barely afford to feed the eight mouths that made up her immediate family.
Thus, the sharp contrast between her happily-ever-after dream life and the fierce realities of her real life left her with an odd mood. She was consistently theatrical in her dealings with the world around her. She would put on a brave face in front of friends but inwardly, she was filled with envy and sadness. Dé also felt left behind, instead of sharing the joy of her friends. She did everything to turn a friend’s joy into sorrow.
One day, my dad bought me a beautiful beige blouse. It was the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan and the goal was for me to wear the blouse to attend festivities marking the end of the month of fasting. I was filled with joy and gratitude.
When Dé spotted me with the blouse, she quickly pulled me aside and asked: “Your dad really bought you that cheap blouse? When will you open your eyes?”
With clenched teeth, she continued: “others are opting for higher quality materials and here you are sporting this cheap thing. What a disgusting piece of clothing?! You should probably consider asking your dad to return this piece of nonsense to wherever he got it from.”
My immediate response was a hard look at my silky V-neck, short sleeves blouse. And of course, I loved it so much and wasn’t going to compromise my happiness just to please her.
So, I said “whatever” and moved on. I knew better than to make her the source of my happiness, and that made it easier for me to walk away from her.
Besides, depending on others for approval is like creating a private hell for oneself—negative people will always have a problem with every solution. The best thing to do is to set and maintain stern boundaries when dealing with such poisonous folks.
I would eventually severe ties with Dé to avoid being consumed by her soaring emotional turmoil. And I’m so happy I did!
NEVER COMPROMISE YOUR HAPPINESS for toxic people.