23 Times Bitten…

Have you ever watched the cartoon “Home Movies?”  If you haven’t, I encourage it.   The show revolves around a highly imaginative third-grader named Brendon Small who directs and stars in movies that he produces in his basement with his two best friends, Jason and Melissa.  The show is full of witty banter between the kids as they make movies, which end up being parodies of popular films and specific genres, and send ups of conventions within modern culture for the cartoon’s audience.  These children are also surrounded by highly ineffectual adults:  a lazy, booze-hound soccer coach; a milque-toast, “trying to do right thing” teacher; and a cast of divorced parents with neurotic tendencies.  In their interactions with the adults, the children usually end up sounding a lot smarter and more mature to intended comic effect.

In one particular episode, Brendon is chosen to direct the school musical “Bye-Bye Greasy.”  After Brendon casts himself into a starring role, the school bully decides that it should be his part.  While the bully is strong-arming Brendon in a scene, the teacher, Mr. Lynch, approaches the two and ends up in giving a “stern” warning for the bully, “You are two strikes away from violation of my 23 strikes and you’re out policy!”

While it’s funny, I have to wonder how many times I’ve given twenty-second chances in the name of being nice or fair to people who clearly haven’t shown any regard for me, and just how ineffectual such exercises have been.

Having been brought up as a Christian, I’ve had the phrase, “Turn the other cheek” ingrained in my psyche.  So giving people the benefit of the doubt and untold chances always seemed like the right thing to do.   However, if we are to honor God, shouldn’t we also honor ourselves?  If someone is consistently treating us badly, should we not protect our hearts and not let them drain our energy?   The two major challenges in my life – dealing with childlessness not by choice and living life as a stepmom- have brought this dilemma to the forefront of my life.   I’m grieving, and I need to be a little nicer to myself and give myself to space to heal.  In the past year, I’ve really had to work at establishing boundaries for myself, but it has not been easy.

Typically, the hardest of all is trying to limit ties to people who time and again have shown that they are not at all interested in two-way relationships (and are therefore probably people who I would not deliberately seek out as friends), but a shared person keeps the spheres of our lives entwined.  These are people with whom I have tried on several occasions to maintain good relationships only to either be rebuffed or used.

Even examining what should have been “final straw” moments – trying to reach out only to be ignored or walked away from or continually doing favors for someone, then being told I was out of line in asking when I needed something.   It is clear these really were not relationships.   Relationships require the capacity for give and take and empathy.  If someone does not display either on a consistent basis, it is a red flag that they more than likely are a toxic person.  I’m learning to take a definitive “arm’s-length” approach to such people in my life.

It’s sad, I wished these relationships could be different for the sake of the mutual people in our lives, but these people have clearly shown it’s their way or the highway and they are not interested in truly “seeing” me as anything more to a means to an end, neither are the basis for a healthy relationship.  Therefore, they must be kept at a safe minimum distance.

The funny thing is that when you start acting vigilant about your boundaries, you tend to over compensate.  We recently had an issue with fleas at work.  I was getting bitten and experiencing severe allergic reactions to the bites.   To be on the safe side, I went to the doctor and as we were discussing the situation, she told me that these situations were troubling because even long after the situation was resolved, I’d more than likely feel like every itch was due to a flea bite.   I think that when I am talking to new people, it’s the extremely similar in that I wonder if I can trust my instincts.  I catch myself questioning everything they say and analyzing every behavior that seems selfish or controlling.   Is it a flea bite or just an itch?

So to keep it simple, I studied a few resources on toxic people and relationships, and even delved into some abnormal psychology resources.    Here are a few key markers that I’ve learned to look for:

  • Do they stand by their word?
  • Do they take action or just give lip service?
  • Do they take time to make it about others, and not just about themselves?
  • Are they willing to step back and let others take the spotlight?
  • Are they willing to admit mistakes?

If the answers to these are “yes”, then chances are it’s just and itch.  A word caution:  if you are a” 23 times bitten, 24 times shy” person like me, take it slow.

Sometimes toxic people will court others in an attempt to recruit them.  So a person may shower with complements, gifts, or favors in order the get you on their side, so  it takes time for a toxic person to show their hand.  When they do, you’ll notice subtle changes in the relationship:  veiled or overt put downs, lack of reciprocity, or a feeling like you are being manipulated.  Toxic people have a way of projecting their worst behaviors and fears onto others and are not above employing “crazy making” behaviors to turn the tables and make their victims question their perception of the situation, their innate goodness, and even their own sanity.

This best rule of thumb in dealing with a toxic person is to avoid them at all costs, but if you must be in relationship with them, know your limits and set your boundaries up front.  Do NOT feel bad about saying “no.”   Toxic people know that guilt is their best weapon and will use it to manipulate others. Once you realize that, and drop any feelings of guilt about your boundaries, you render them powerless over you.  In fact, you may find that the toxic person will simply begin to ignore you.  While this may be upsetting or even sad,  realize you are better off in the long run.

Keep yourselves strong and respect yourself!

Love and blessings to everyone!


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathleen
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 12:49:06

    I assume you were watching Home Movies because skid was watching it?

    I only ask because I want to make the point that I have MANY times watched Home Movies, and I am 52 and have NO kids or skids. . . . Just me. 🙂

    It’s good.


    • Quasi-Momma
      Jul 13, 2012 @ 12:52:19

      Nope! I’ve watched Home Movies long before I met Skid. In fact, I introduced Hubs to it the first weekend we spent together and he was hooked! We’re huge fans of H. Jon Benjamin. Skid hasn’t quite gotten into it. We’re working on it!


  2. Kathleen
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 12:51:48

    “today has me questioning why these were not “final straw” moments”.

    The answer is, you are too nice. Have you been told yet today? 🙂


  3. Quasi-Momma
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 16:56:26

    Aww shucks!

    Actually, I was pretty well sheilded from dysfunction during my childhood. So it’s not in my nature to look for it in other people. And, like I said, toxic people are masters at making things seem like they are your fault. It took watching someone else get treated poorly by the same person to really make me see that there was something wrong with the picure.


  4. Mali
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 01:18:08

    I love the flea bite and itch analogy. Identifying which is a flea bite and which is the itch, before responding. I actually think that couples well with the idea of honouring yourself, and of self-protection. Isn’t there a saying too that we teach people how to treat us? I know I do. Though I’ve never been subject to quite such rudeness as the two examples you have. (Well – not recently.) Respect works both ways – it’s something I’m working on.

    Great post.


  5. Stinky Weaselteats
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 23:48:29

    Love this post, and very timely for me to read. A similar chapter is closing/has closed with one of my ‘friends’ (because I told her how I feel) and from her reaction (its all my fault, apparently and she is pretty much blameless!) I deduce that there is nothing left there anyway.

    Found your blog from StirrupQueens’ Round Up – I’ll be back!


  6. Trackback: Toxic slide to grief | Uncharted Waters

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