Relationships are the lifeblood of recovery. Good ones can nourish your self-esteem and bolster your resolve in the darkest moments. But toxic relationships — the ones that bring you down even when you’re feeling your best —don’t just rub you the wrong way. They can put you at high risk of relapse.
To protect your sobriety, watch out for these toxic personality types:
#1 The Undercover Addict
It’s Recovery 101: stay away from the people, places and things that remind you of drug use, most notably old drug buddies. But it can also be risky to hang around anyone actively using or addicted, or who minimizes your struggle with addiction or disrespects your decision to stay sober. Even if they don’t mean to be bad influences, their behavior sends the message that it’s acceptable or expected to use alcohol or other drugs. There are also plenty of people with questionable intentions — those who feel jealous or resentful of your efforts to improve your life and who feel better about their own out-of-control behavior if you join in.
Rodney Robertson, D.Min., MA, M.Div., family therapist at The Ranch treatment center in Tennessee, advises people in recovery to distinguish safe people from unsafe people. “An unsafe person encourages you to go to a party but asks you to keep it a secret from someone who cares about you and wouldn’t approve,” he says. “Anyone who promotes secrets, deception and lies is establishing a bond of secrecy. This is a clear indication they won’t support your recovery.”
Recognize this type by the behaviors that are all too familiar to you — the subtle (and overt) encouragement to have “just one drink” or to get back in with your “real” friends — and their uncanny ability to make your accomplishments seem insignificant.
#2 The Coddler
Some people care about your recovery a little too much. Concern is justified, but excessive attention — someone who makes a scene out of your sobriety — can be stifling. Constant hand-holding prevents you from facing real-life temptations and the opportunity to make good decisions and reap the rewards of doing the right thing. Often heard saying, “Are you OK?” or “Are you sure you don’t need anything?” and following you everywhere just to make sure.
#3 The Narcissist
The narcissist feigns interest in you and your recovery, but really cares about themselves. They are incapable of establishing a genuine connection or giving you the support you need. Their needs will always take priority. “Whereas a safe person is willing to forgive and is there for you no matter what, the unsafe person holds grudges and abandons you when you need them most,” says Robertson. “They’ll call you an abandoner if you don’t go along with what they want when in reality they’ve abandoned you by disrespecting the decisions you’ve made.”
You’ll know this type by the blank expression on their face when you talk and their uncanny ability to bring the focus of every conversation back to them.
#4 The Debbie Downer
Studies show negativity grabs our attention much more readily than positivity. We’re more receptive to criticism than compliments, for example, and angry faces catch our eye more than happy ones. And negativity is contagious. In one Notre Dame University study, students assigned to negative roommates were more likely to struggle with negative thinking and depression themselves.
This is particularly dangerous for people in recovery who often struggle with distorted and negative thinking. Being around perpetually dissatisfied people who expect the worst and always find something to complain about can shift your perspective from hopeful to discouraged. Sometimes these people are easy to detect — even a short conversation leaves you feeling weighed down. Other times, their toxicity is less obvious and you have to spend time reflecting to realize how unhappy you feel around them.
#5 The Blamer
When bad things happen, it’s never The Blamer’s fault. They refuse to take responsibility for their choices and are quick to criticize others so they don’t have to face themselves. Taken to an extreme, blaming can be controlling, abusive or humiliating. “Beware of someone who tries to make decisions for you or tricks you into thinking you made a decision when really they manipulated, guilted or shamed you into doing something,” says Robertson. Keep your distance if you find yourself being someone else’s scapegoat.
#6 The Drama Queen
This troublemaker is always at odds with someone in their life. If things are too peaceful for too long, they find a way to manufacture drama, whether positive or negative. See also: gossip, rumor-spreader, mean girl/guy.
#7 The Critic
Everyone has a critic in their life. Nothing you do is good enough, and they find subtle (and perhaps not-so-subtle) ways of letting you know. Despite your hard work to get to this point in recovery and your progress toward building a better life, they remain focused on your faults. Sure, you kicked a drug habit, but you haven’t landed that high-paying job or you’ve got some extra pounds to lose. Or your breath stinks. Or you dress funny. Or …
#8 The Insult Comedian
Everyone loves a good laugh, but not when you’re the subject of the roast. You’re not laughing, but this person doesn’t care. The more offensive and humiliating the jokes, the more attention and affirmation this cheap-shot comic gets. Humor is a powerful tool in recovery, but surround yourself with those who can poke fun at the insanity of addiction, not the people like you who are working hard to recover from it.
#9 The Schadenfreudist
This type gains strength and self-confidence from the misfortune of others. Even if you’re thriving in recovery, they remain focused on the “bad old days,” asking questions about your addiction or continually bringing up that time you got wasted and humiliated yourself or the night you got arrested. The worse things get for you, the better they feel about their own life.
#10 The Latcher-On
This is an energy-zapping victim disguised as a friend. They rely on you and make you feel important, but they aren’t a true friend. You play one of many roles in their hidden agenda — a listening ear, a rescuer from tough situations, a problem-solver — but their neediness can prevent both of you from learning and growing in recovery. Part of recovery is giving back, but this isn’t the way — the Latcher-On won’t stop taking until you make it stop.
How to Detach From Bad Influences
While not everyone fits neatly into a category or comes with a warning label, keep an eye out for these personalities. If you detect trouble, try one of these strategies:
- Politely disengage from any relationship that causes unnecessary pain or stress until you are firmly grounded in recovery or have the opportunity to work through issues with support. Even a short break can help you regain your perspective.
- For relationships you can’t take a break from, practice setting and maintaining clear boundaries about behaviors you can and cannot tolerate. If someone breaks a boundary, follow through with the consequences you’ve laid out.
- If you’re in a relationship that threatens your sobriety or weakens your resolve to continue working a recovery program, it’s not worth the risk. Instead, surround yourself with respectful, honest people who build you up and support your efforts to beat addiction.
By Meghan Vivo
“Facilitated detection of angry faces: Initial orienting and processing efficiency.” Cognition and Emotion. Volume 20, Issue 6, 2006. //www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02699930500465224
“Bad Is Stronger Than Good.” Review of General Psychology. Vol. 5. No. 4. 323-370, 2001. //assets.csom.umn.edu/assets/71516.pdf