When the day comes that there is a support group for excessively empathetic women, I will raise my hand valiantly during the first meeting and say “Hi, my name is Tiffany and I often take on the feelings of others.” For those who feel a lot, you may often find that too much empathy can be problematic, especially in toxic relationships, where all of your emotions experience various stages of WTF. But when you finally manage to rise from the ashes of a toxic relationship, your emotional intelligence will be nothing short of a superpower; one that gives the ability to to be less of a punching bag for people who exhaust your spirit and more of supportive empath.
The first step to being an emotionally independent woman who don’t need no help: You have to identify whether or not your relationship is toxic. As someone who faces a daily struggle to not lace up my empathy boots (sort of like Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth), and spring into to action to save every emotionally stunted lover or fairweather friend who claims to be in need, I have been guilty of not cutting off individuals who did more harm than good.
These days my no-fail way of distinguishing between a healthy relationship and a toxic one — whether it’s with a lover person, a friend, or a family member — is to ask myself one question:
Do I have more questions than answers when I walk away from interactions with this person?
If I can never place a person’s intentions, or if I only hear from someone when they need something or want to dump their trauma on my doorstep, that is usually a surefire sign that the relationship is a toxic one.
Emotions are such a personal thing, so there is no one formula to coming out triumphant on the other side of shitty interactions that drain you and cause you to point the finger at yourself. But when I’ve managed to remove myself from the friend who only ever called to ask for favors or the string of emotionally unavailable men who used my kindness as a hall pass to not treat me like a human being, it only ended up benefitting me in the end.
Here’s how my emotions reached legit hero status:
I learned to care less.
I’ve always marveled at the people who claim to have no expectations for interactions or who can just go with the flow. I’ve always been hell-bent on knowing where the flow is going and expecting that people can and will reciprocate the effort that I put forth. Toxic relationships have taught me to accept a lot of hard truths, the biggest being that not everyone cares, and what’s more some people do but are not capable of caring about or for you in the way that you need or deserve.
Approaching my many relationships from this perspective is slowly allowing me to stop blaming myself for having expectations, because honestly you will always have things that you expect or need from other people. The key to leveling up is to be okay with the fact that not everyone will meet those expectations and some people don’t want to meet them.
I learned to be kind to myself
So much of the rhetoric behind relationships of any kind is that you yourself are not complete without friends or family or a romantic partner orbiting around you, you are told that you are not enough. Not only can toxic-ass relationships make you feel like you aren’t enough, they can make you feel like the problem is you. Sometimes it is, but if it a case of being taken advantage of or lied to or dehumanized, then it isn’t your fault. When I was able to start wrapping my head around this notion, I was able to learn to be kind to myself in ways that I previously hadn’t.
I learned to be more forgiving.
Disclaimer: Forgiveness does not mean acceptance of trash behavior. Instead it means reclaiming a little bit of the energy that I exhaust complaining about people and interactions that were never healthy. Not only do toxic people steal your joy, but that power invades other areas of your life and infects your conversations, your thoughts, and your general ability to get through the day.
I have learned to let go, and it’s not because I’m okay with toxic behaviors — it’s because I am not okay with feeling anxious or sad for too long, as a result of those behaviors.
Not all emotionally intelligent superheroes wear capes, but you might find that your greatest strength is learning to care less, which might be the most revered emotional superpower of all. There is such peace to be found in remembering that it isn’t your job to save everyone, or to serve as a complacent doormat for the muddy feet of people who use or abuse you. You may just find that on the road to fulfilling your destiny as an emotionally advanced human, not all toxic people are inherently garbage humans sometimes. they just aren’t good for you and don’t need to take up space in your life, and you learn that that’s okay.