My piece on the toxic people narrative generated more feedback than I’m used to seeing on my little blog, including a few interesting questions I felt it would be good to clarify.
Two or three disagreed vehemently with me that “toxic people” should not be “dumped”. It transpires that they had been in partner relationships with people whose mental health issues had caused them to be too needy for the relationship to thrive. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest anyone stay in a dynamic like that; the best it can ever be is co-dependent, and at worst it can be outright abusive. The most self-protective action a person finding themselves in such a predicament can take would be to leave the relationship. In fact I have model for that in my story: the boyfriend who had broken up with me, but was still taking advantage of me for sex. The very best thing I did at that time, both for my own sake and his, was to take the advice of my counsellor (thank heavens for her!) and cut off all contact with him. My fixation with him was unhealthy. Being a beautiful and oversexed young woman I did have other relationships afterwards – think manic pixie dream girl with razor blades. One of these lasted three years, the stability of which helped me sort out my life enormously, and then, of course, my current relationship which I have maintained over 20 years has been my saviour.
This brings up an important point: it’s been my experience that a stable, loving relationship can be the best thing for someone with mental health issues. It struck me most strongly reading philosopher Raymond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father when following his extraordinary psychotic break, Gaita’s father remarried and was able to make a comfortable life for himself, while still being deviations away from normality. Again, whether that would be possible today when social services are so much more depleted and house ownership so far out of reach, no-one can say.
The effect of love as a positive force on mental health is real, measurable and has been studied. There’s good evidence that getting married and staying married decreases depression (correlation/causation notwithstanding, but it makes sense).
What on earth would the partner get out of a relationship with someone with mental health issues, you might ask. Well, there is a huge amount more to a human being than the sum of their unusual brain patterns. It’s hard to go past compatible personalities. For my husband and myself, knowledge of our own mental foibles provides great understanding and humour. Let’s face it, neuroses can be freaking hilarious, some comedians have made squintillions out of their neuroses. Learning to laugh at yourself can work well.
Nor do I have any issue with the idea of just letting friendships lapse with people who are otherwise healthy, particularly if you have nothing in common. If you don’t get along, you don’t get along, so move along. End of story.
The narrative of relationship toxicity I object to is more the concept that you should dump inconvenient friends. If this is a person who has become very needy because they are not coping socially, have become depressed or have other mental health issues, then it may be the time they need their friends most. If someone’s behaviour has started to become a drain, then rather than dumping and running, it would be better mention it to them–explain precisely how their behaviour is affecting you. Maybe mention counselling of various types. If you keep doing that, the person may either take your advice, or get sick of your nagging and leave of their own accord. More than anything, be there if a friend falls on hard times. There but for the grace of God, etc.