“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.” ~ C.S. Lewis.
When you finally start to open up and let people in how do you protect yourself from people that aren’t healthy for you?
Since the skills of open-heartedness, feeling and connection aren’t nearly as practiced as putting up walls there is a greater possibility that toxic people make their way into your life. Being open-hearted requires practice and a new skill set.
When you start to exude the yoga glow people are attracted to you. I wouldn’t go so far as to say yogis turn into gods or goddeses but for people who take on a serious practice of getting rid of their walls, self awareness, connection and spirituality start to radiate a quality of being that attracts others to their light.
This can lead to some problems.
Begin to open your heart and you start to let people get close to you. Not all of them belong there. Some of them just aren’t a good fit and some are downright toxic. Some have problems of their own and may be looking for someone to fix or distract them rather than create true relationships. Some may have begun their own spiritual journey but still have some serious bricks to take down before they can truly connect. Some toxic relationships come from your own bricks and insecurity yet to be excavated and removed.
Toxic people can work their way into your life at any time walls or not, but an open heart, by definition is going to let more people in.
For years I had an incredibly thick wall around my heart. It took the love and trust of a wonderful man, beautiful friends and countless kind encounters over many, many years to start to make a crack. Then came yoga teacher training and a huge part of the wall exploded. When I try to describe it to anyone that hasn’t experienced a Baptiste training it has to seem crazy. Yes, we learn about asana, philosophy, anatomy and all of the other things you can learn at any teacher training. But the one thing Baron teaches more than anything else is connection and how you begin to create that from where we are now.
The problem is you can’t have an open heart and truly connect with a bunch of bricks between you and the world. It’s when you first begin to get rid of those bricks that trouble can arise. Unfortunately, the bricks and walls do serve a purpose. They are the product of the poor yet effective coping skills many of us employ.
Which brings us to where I happen to be for the last few years: committed to taking down bricks and creating authentic connections.
It’s while you’re still learning the skill of being open-hearted while protecting yourself from toxic people that there is the most opportunity for trouble.
Here is what I’ve learned so far about detecting toxic people while in the process of being more open-hearted.
It’s pretty hard to get rid of your bricks when you’re still holding back self expression. Learn to express your needs clearly. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you feel without pushing it out of the way or devaluing it.
Women are conditioned by society to be nice and always take care of others. Men are conditioned by society to be strong, “manly” and never express their feelings. As one of my connections recently said “Men are really good at talking about nothing.” Women are good about talking about everything except with some of the key people who matter most in their lives. Many women are conditioned not to hurt someone’s feelings at great emotional cost to themselves. Women will talk about anything with people with whom they feel truly safe, where they can open their heart without fear of pain. I suspect it is the same with men although it may be even more difficult for them with the societal conditioning…I’d love to hear some male perspective on this topic.
Start to notice these qualities in yourself and begin the work. Start to express your feelings and needs in safe situations and gradually move on to situations in which it is difficult or scary to express your true feelings. Even when you feel stuck, keep putting in the practice. Notice how relationships begin to take on a greater authenticity when you do this. I have created some incredibly connected, supportive relationships through this practice. Relationships that weren’t meant to be weaken even further as you speak your truth. Some of these weaker relationships don’t deserve a description as strong as toxic, but you may still choose to let them go.
Learn to say no to relationships or situations that don’t work for you. Life is short. Surround yourself and spend your time with quality people. Owning and expressing your true feelings will expose people that are toxic for you.
In the last two years I’ve had some especially strong gut reactions to people and situations. It’s as if I have a built in warning and safety system that’s getting stronger but I chose to ignore it. Trusting your heart and gut is especially hard for someone who is intellectually driven. Yoga and other spiritual/awareness practices will help you get in touch with your heart and gut more but you have to be open to actually listening to them! It’s a practice. If you are committed to meaningful connection you first need an open heart. Once you are committed to meaningful connection it becomes much easier to trust your gut and detect toxic people.
3. Notice actions much more than words.
Is the relationship one sided? Are you the one always putting forth effort? Does the person only call or see you when they want something from you? How do their actions make you feel? Empowered or disempowered? People like this can be sweet talking charmers and it’s easy to get sucked in by their big ideas and promises. This is why I say value words less: actions speak volumes and can be trusted way more. In the situations where my alarm system kicked in, the lovely words were followed by disingenuous action or no action at all. Again, maybe toxic is too strong a word for some of these people but inauthentic for sure. Notice who is there to comfort you when you’re at your worst, not with their words but with their presence and attention. These are the people you want more of in your life.
4. Who are they being?
Again, attention to action. Are they kind to strangers, kids, animals, friends, parents and siblings? Are there interactions that seem out of character? If an action is mean or violent consider this may be a big part of their true being and the person you thought they were is a mask. Or maybe they just had an incredibly bad day. Either way who someone is, especially under stress, is worth noting if you already have other signs pointing towards toxicity.
5. Who are their friends?
The older we get the less patience we have for nonsense. We’re less likely to tolerate toxic relationships. As we grow, evolve and change so do the people with whom we surround ourselves. If a person has a group of kind, loving, fun, genuine and caring friends it’s likely they are too. If they have no friends or toxic friends there may be a good reason for that.
These are my experiences with detecting toxic people. I hope you’ll share yours as well!
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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson / Ed: Catherine Monkman