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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Toxic people

Tonight our church community group meets, and I'm looking forward to it. Our church is informally divided by neighborhoods to make small groups that meet during the week and kind of support each other. Like if someone needs help with yard work, we pitch in; if someone needs someone to get the mail while on vacation, we volunteer; if someone needs dinner after a baby, we cook. That stuff.
David and I are group leaders, and in the space of a month we've gone from dreading the meetings to enjoying them. Why? Well, when we became group leaders we inherited a problem. It was a couple who were:
- racist
- bigots
- rude
- interrupters
- angry
- inconsiderate
And just all-around bad "group" members: they didn't share talking time, they'd stay so late at the hosts house that everyone else went home and they were still there, they never contributed snacks or insight, they gossiped about other members, etc. Basically, awful people.

So what happened? Naturally, our membership began to decline. I remember the husband of the couple insulting another member's career choice just horrendously, and that girl stopped coming. Then he spoke incredibly callously to a woman whose daughter had survived cancer, but was facing her five-year brain scan. The mom never came back. The wife cut off another member's sad story about his rough time at work to inform him, "No one hear works as hard as me, ever" - and he actually shrugged, got up, and left the room!
Around this time, David and I were made leaders of our group, and we knew we had to face this problem. So, since we're more like facilitators than actual leaders (in a sense of having any authority), we brought the problem up to our church leaders (leaving out names). Of course, they instantly knew who the problem was! And they never discussed the solution, but I think someone talked to these two. Things got a little better, but we still kept having awkward conversations in which I was forced to referee and make sure no feelings were hurt. It was stressful, our group was getting smaller, and everyone was afraid to say anything. We never socialized anymore. It was terrible!

Then? Oh joy! A month ago, the couple moved! And there was an instant change. Our group started to have fun again. We started enjoying each others' company. Five new people joined us. We like each other. Things are great again. And I have no idea why I'm writing this down, except to say that I finally understand what people mean when they refer to "toxic" people. These two were basically poisoning the group, and the difference since they left is marked. I just can't believe how much the overall feeling or vibe from the group changed.

I'm sure, looking back, that David and I could have handled this better, but I have never been in that situation before, so I didn't really know what to do. Work conflict when you are the boss is easy. Social conflict when you are all peers is not easy!
Ever met someone like this? Or been in a similar situation? How did you handle it?


  1. Yes - I've encountered two people in my life who were toxic. Just "made my life less pleasant by virtue of being in it." I had to work very hard to get both of them out of my life.

    It's hard, because I believe that both of these people suffer from a personality disorder - that's what causes their toxic actions. And I do feel for them.

    But at some base level, they do have an obligation to rein themselves in. And I have no obligation to allow anyone in my life who makes my life worse.

  2. What a great break! People like that are the worst. I've definitely stopped going to things/not gone back to them because of people like that, & also been on the other end trying to deal with them and it's REALLY hard, even when you do confront them directly (if that's even an option). Enjoy your new, improved group! :)

  3. My guess? This experience was probably one of those that prepares you for the NEXT toxic people in your life. You'll handle that situation slightly better thanks to this couple. :)

    But what a relief! It's amazing (and sad) how a couple people can just poison an environment. So glad they're gone!

  4. Thank God they moved!! It is really hard to deal with toxic people like that so I am glad that the problem resolved itself. But it sounds like you guys learned a lot and will be better armed to deal with a situation like that in the future!

  5. I kept wondering as I read this, how do they make their relationship work? Are they both so thick skinned that their nasty comments to each other don't hit home? Or do they just gang up against the world?

  6. My goodness, these were members of a church group? Are they listening to anything being taught to them?? I feel so bad for the people who came looking for a supportive group and ended up being exposed to them. (And I'm glad they left!)

    My old work environment was so toxic, mainly because of the manager I worked for. People left the unit to get away from her, but she ended up switching units as well (small hospital...), and then nurses just left the hospital. She made me (and many other nurses) cry almost every week - and she made it feel like it was your fault! It took a lot of convincing from nurses who I knew from outside of my job that it wasn't nursing that was so terrible, it was the toxic environment I worked it. So many people left I'm not sure how they ever stayed afloat!

  7. These people sound toxic for sure! I had people like this in a book club I was in for a long was so good when I finally broke free and moved to Asheville and now Bend to start a fresh page. Catching up here...