There is an old metaphor from the Philippines called the ‘crab mentality’ that helps me understand the motivations behind crappy human behavior. You have a barrel full of live crabs, some of which can easily escape, and the ones who try escaping get pulled back down by the other crabs with the mindset of ‘if I can’t have it, neither can you’. This is a perfect metaphor to describe human behavior that is particularly useful in spotting toxic friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships, and working relationships. It describes the feelings and actions that others may take when someone else is experiencing success; they seek to ‘pull them down’ out of envy, spite, and competition. What the other crabs don’t realize, is that the crab coming out could potentially help the entire pot escape, but the other crabs who are operating from a self-serving space, will continue pulling the other crabs down resulting in the death of all of them. What could have potentially been a mutually beneficial situation resulted in the demise of everyone involved. People who operate from the ‘crab mentality’ don’t consider the possibility of mutually beneficial outcomes, they feel that there can only be one winner and if that winner isn’t them- then they will take down everyone with them.
With this metaphor in mind- who are the crabs pulling you down when you are trying to climb out? We often hear the phrase that ‘you find out who your friends are when your going through a hard time’ but I feel the opposite is true. I firmly believe that you find out who your friends are when you are experiencing good news and success. Think about that for a moment. It is easy to get our needs met from our friends when we are going through a hard time, *most people* aren’t pure pieces of crap and will help you or be there for you during your difficult time, that’s actually the easy part. The real friends will be the friends who have been there for you on your climb to success- not just at the top of the mountain when you get there because that is a whole different conversation. I am talking about the people who were there for you when your goals were still visions and when your success was still in infantile stage. Who were the friends who believed in you and kept you accountable in terms of reaching those goals? Think about these people in your life–who is genuinely happy for you when you are experiencing success? Who appeared or disappeared in your life when you got successful? A lot of people will want to be your friend when you are successful and the same is true for those who leave your life when you achieve success because they have the ‘crab mentality’. So how do you know what people in your life are the crabs? Think about the people in your life who are going to be genuinely happy for you when you are experiencing success? If you even have to second guess if someone is genuinely happy for you when you get good news, then you already have your answer. How do you spot this? Well- genuine feelings will mirror your own. For instance, I belong to a group of four best friends that I have had since high school. Every time I have had good news, I feel that they are genuinely excited for me. How do I know? Their energy and excitement mirrors mine. When I get bad news or am going through a hard time- their energy and feelings mirror mine.
‘Toxic’ is a phrase that I hear a lot and frankly, I think it is misused just as often. There are many undesirable traits that people can posses that the masses would label as ‘toxic’ but I would have to disagree. If someone is annoying, that doesn’t mean they are toxic. If someone drains your energy, that doesn’t mean they are toxic. If someone is pessimistic or has a negative outlook on life, that doesn’t even make them toxic. If someone is demanding or even narcissistic, that doesn’t make them toxic either. So what does toxic mean to me if I just eliminated the most commonly used reasons why the term toxic is used so frequently? For me, toxic is more of a way to describe the relationship and how it makes one feel, not the person in particular.
The criteria for a relationship to be dubbed toxic in my opinion is listed below, so take a look at the following questions and answer them. If a majority of your answers are leaning towards the relationship being toxic- then you know what you should do!
Is there an even exchange of energy?
Is there an equal flow of give and take in the relationship? Do you ever feel used by this person or perhaps they only reach out to you when they need something from you? Do you feel energetically drained after you interact with this person? Do you feel that this person takes advantage of you in any way?
Do I feel like this person is happy for me when I get good news or experience success?
If you even have to second guess this- then you know your answer. A healthy relationship dynamic mirrors the energy of their counterpart. If they are excited about a promotion at work- a healthy and positive relationship will be just as excited for them- even if they didn’t get the promotion. If you call a friend with exciting news and their response and tone doesn’t mirror your excitement in any way- there is a good chance this person is not genuinely excited for you. Why? Well, more than likely, they are not excited for you because the situation isn’t about them and the attention is on you.
Does this person take swipes at my neck or frequently has to ‘one up’ me?
If you have to second guess if something they said or did was mean- I always say to trust your gut. A real friend will never make you question if something they did was a jab at you. Don’t get me wrong- my best friends and I will sometimes poke fun at each other- but this is different. Do they constantly poke at you or make you feel inferior? Do they frequently ‘one up’ you when you are talking about something? The point in noticing this behavior is establishing a pattern in this person….’one upping’ and taking jabs at someone is how an envious plays the superiority game.
Have I noticed any negative personality traits that I have given a ‘pass’ or made excuses for?
This is a big one. I have had so many friends over the years that possessed some pretty ugly personality traits. For example- a really good friend of mine was a huge user of people. I would watch her latch on to anybody that she could use to her benefit and then let them go once she had all she needed. I had a friend who was extremely two faced to all of her friends- and then I was shocked when she did it to me! I had another friend who pawned her kids off on her parents every chance she could so she could go party at the bars every weekend. In all of these cases, I noted their behavior and basically gave them a pass by justifying or trying to understand their reasons for doing what they were doing. We tend to make excuses or give a pass for behavior that would be considered negative when it comes to a person we are close with.
Would this person stand up for me behind my back?
Again, if you even have to second guess this- I think you have your answer. I remember hearing before that a very close friend of mine didn’t stand up for me when I was being gossiped about. Not only did they not stand up for me- they joined in on the fun of talking shit about me and what was going on in my life at the time. When word got back to me- I was flat out devastated and when I confronted them on the issue, they denied everything. A person in a healthy relationship will defend their counterpart and stick up for them when placed in a situation like that.
What is our relationship like via social media?
It feels stupid to even have to have a conversation regarding Facebook or Instagram, but the fact of the matter is and whether we like to admit it or not- social media is a big part of our lives. If you have a close friend who calls you often, texts you often, hangs out with you often, but it is radio silence on social media- I would take a note of that. I had a ‘best friend’ who would never ‘like’ or comment on anything I posted yet she would do it for all of her other friends. When we would see each other she would even say stuff like ‘I saw you posted that you were doing xyz’ and it would leave me feeling a negative way about the situation. I know it may sound stupid to say out loud- but if you have a friend who completely ignores you on social media despite seeing everything you post, I would make a mental note of that. I’m not saying that if they are not up your ass on social media then they are plotting against you- all I am saying is you’re not crazy for noticing their behavior on social media.
Talk to another trusted, rational friend about it
Get advice on what their perception of the situation is. Ask them their opinion and if they think you are being too emotional, paranoid, or irrational about it. When you have a lot of time and energy invested in a relationship, your emotional connection to the situation could blurry the reality of what is going on, which is why it is very beneficial to get an outsiders take on what is going on. Get some sound advice and think deeply before you do something you may regret.
How do I end the relationship?
You can have a conversation about it, you can unfollow or unfriend on social media, or you can just stop speaking to them and eventually they will take a hint. Personally, I prefer closure and a conversation would be the best route to take on that- however, if there was a specific event that happened where they did something absolutely awful to you- end it however you see fit. My biggest piece of advice is to not be mean about it. Don’t attack them and tell them how shitty they are because that is only going to make you feel worse. Even if they go low, go high. Trust that you are doing the right thing for your mental health and best interests. Like the saying goes- ‘if I cut you off, it’s because you handed me the scissors’.
Post breakup advice
Again, when they go low, go high. Are you worried about that ‘friend’ badmouthing you to every mutual friend you have? Who cares. Anybody with a rational mind who hears slander coming from someone who you were just very close with- will be able to see past the emotions, the hurt, and the tactic of trying to make them look bad. If they can’t, you don’t want them as your friends either. If this person is slandering you on social media or harassing you in any form– just go high. Their actions will come back to haunt them in terms of karma. I fully believe that what you put out into the universe will come back to you, so be mindful of that. I have had to physically withhold myself from going absolutely ape-shit on social media because I had a friend do the same to me. I wanted to put her on blast and expose her two faced, childish behavior, but in doing so- I am literally no better than her. Putting someone down or talking shit about them is only going to make you look bad- remember that.
Resisting temptation and dealing with the guilt
If you get the feeling of wanting to repair the relationship- you have to remember that they hurt you and it’s important to forgive, but not forget. Don’t get me wrong–I believe in giving people second chances however, I have found in my own experiences that the people I cut off and let back into my life, ended up hurting me even more than they did the first time. You will feel guilty about letting the relationship go but like any relationship, it is normal to feel this way for someone you once really cared for. This doesn’t mean that I wont ever let someone back in that has hurt me, it simply means that I am going to be extremely cautious before I even consider it. If you sincerely feel that you could work it out- then give it another shot. Set boundaries with this person and express your feelings and concerns with them before you make the decision to get back together. If the relationship has sort of always been this cycle of ups and downs, I would say let it go. It is normal to feel guilty, especially if the person is apologetic and wants another chance. Listen to your gut on this one!
Things to keep in mind
At the end of the day, life is extremely short. You should be grateful every single day that you wake up on this earth. If there is a relationship that is causing you stress or making you feel uneasy, uncomfortable, or has you second guessing their motives or intentions- you need to cut that chord. Part of growing up is learning about yourself and your needs in a relationship. People change and with that, relationship dynamics change. Taking care of your mental health should be a priority and if you have recognized that a relationship is no longer healthy for you- it’s time to let that relationship go, no matter how painful that may be. Remember, it is perfectly normal to miss this person, too! That person played a big role in your life and breaking up with them doesn’t mean that you wish them ill will- it simply means that you have outgrown the relationship. You can cherish the positive memories that you had together and be thankful for the lessons that you learned in that relationship. It isn’t selfish to be selfish when it comes to who you spend time with; not everybody deserves to be in your life!