Over the course of my tiny life, I’ve met my share of toxic people. In my mind, I refer to them as “leeches”. When I am around them, it honestly feels as if my energy were being slowly sucked out of me, leaving me bloodless and drained.
Some of these people simply suffer from a judgmental attitude; no matter what you say or act, it will never be enough to truly please them. Every aspect of you is dissected and analyzed, disapproved or approved in turn. For someone who suffers from anxiety, being around them is like trying to defuse a bomb while a crowd watches on.
Others, to put it simply, are shallow people. There are a lot of them in this world, which is sad. Every word that drops from their lips makes you want to cringe. If there were a type of planet their thoughts revolved around, it would be a cold, dark orb, devoid of life and warmth, and encrusted with ice crystals.
But these kinds of people are nothing compared to those who are arrogant and confrontational.
A disclaimer: I do not mean to say there is anything wrong with the way some people are; this is only an expression of my personal distaste.
As a rather sensitive, shy creature, whose spirit animal would probably be that of a woodlouse or a baby turtle, individuals with the roar but none of the heart of lions are poison. These are the kind of people who do not understand the meaning of “kindness”, who have never spoken a tender word in their life or felt the slightest modicum of empathy or sympathy for anyone. They barrel through life, trampling underfoot anything lying in their way, for the sake of success. They have little time for the intricacies that make life so beautiful, be it a sunset or a cat or a good book. For them, life is a battlefield, and they are out to win.
Once, what feels like a million years ago, I encountered someone like this. At first, I was quite captivated by her; she seemed so bold and confident, embodying all the assertiveness that I so dearly desired but lacked. When she expressed interest in obtaining my friendship, I felt flattered and pleased. Obviously we complemented each other perfectly, the shy one, the bold one, what could be better?
Things progressively spiraled downwards. Back then, my self-esteem, after years of bullying, was the size of a pea, so it was easy for her to manipulate and control me. In a way, I think it was a power trip for her, to have someone always by her side to squish. She was my first friend at a new school; I was so terrified of being alone that I was in denial for a long time as to how abusive she was.
When we went swimming, she derided my figure, glibly stating that I looked “scrawny as a monkey.” In retrospect, she was insecure about her own body and found glee in putting me down instead. But at the time this burned me down to my core, planted seeds of shame that blossomed into poisonous tendrils of self-loathing; I was so insecure already, and everything this girl said seemed to confirm what I had long suspected about myself. She took my food without asking, giggling and telling me friends “always shared”. Whenever I did well in an exam, usually ones in History or English, she would pronounce me a “nerd” in front of the other students until I started to cry. If I did fail an exam, which happened often when the Mathematics tests rolled around, she gloried in gloating her test papers over me.
Thinking back on it now, it was all very childish, silly and ridiculous. She was horrible person, through and through, though perhaps deep inside there was some sadness, somewhere. There usually is. Still, that did not give her impunity to torment me to the point where I dreaded attending school, and would pretend to be sick so I wouldn’t have to face her, or any of the other kids.
Time brings maturity. Now, if something like that happened again, I would extricate myself from the person’s presence entirely. Now, I am comfortable with the way I am, even if it means I’m not the loudest and most popular person in the room. Now, I have dreams of my own, wild, blazing dreams which light even the darkest of moments.
I only wish I realise this sooner, and spared my younger self all that suffering, that torment, all those nights of sobbing into my pillow. The energy used to expend those tears could have been spent on activities far more productive. But, perhaps the experiences are needed, to build us up, make us stronger.
All I know is that just because there toxic people in the world doesn’t mean I must suffer in their presence. I have free will, I have the choice with whom I spend my time with, what I care about, whether I let those words or that glance or that cackle dismantle a piece of my self-esteem, or whether I simply smile and walk on, blithe and uncaring, with a song tingling in my heart that they can never hear.