‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer‘ > So goes the old proverb, but maybe it is time to rewrite it as …. ‘keep your friends close and your enemies not quite so close‘ as toxic relationships are being linked to depression, cancer and heart disease.
According to the latest research*, relationships may be as vital to good health as a balanced diet and plenty of rest. The study underlines the anecdotal evidence that being upbeat, positive and keeping company with likeminded people is a sure fire way to stay hearty.
Such findings are nothing new, as decades of studies have proved that mental stress results in physical illness and is even the catalyst for financial problems.
The latter may seem surprising, but only recently a report into the impact of mental health problems on personal finances, called on retailers and the financial industry to help fix the ‘toxic relationship’. In this report almost three quarters of people who have experienced a mental health problem said it had made their financial situation worse, and not just as a result of having less money to spend.
The fact is all types of toxic relationships can be the catalyst for dangerous emotions like anger and hate. When they come together you had better watch out as the only one who gets hurt is you! Far safer to chill remembering the words of the Dalai Lama, “We should be grateful to our enemies, for they teach us patience, courage and determination and help us develop a tranquil mind.“
However, when facing up to difficult relationships, most of us either opt for getting even, or following the Christian-stance of turning the other cheek. Instead the latest advice sets out to understand the different types of toxic people and then redefine their nature and how that impacts on you.
Sociologist argue that there are four different types of enemies. First is the obvious outer enemy who seeks to harm you, and then there is the inner enemy which is your own hatred, anger and fear. Both these destructive impulses are habits that grip and crush.
The third enemy is your identity habit. You are designed to defend yourself, but this human instinct can result in only seeing things from your own perspective. When that natural fierceness is accompanied by good judgment, it can be a positive thing, but it takes a deeper level of self-awareness to see beyond our sense of individual identity.
Finally there is the super-secret enemy – a feeling of unworthiness or self-loathing. Though unrecognised, this is what prevents you from finding inner freedom and true happiness because, deep down, you do not feel like you deserve success.
All this pseudo-philosophising is not only too esoteric for the real world, but is just a repackaging of the Buddhist concept of enlightened self-interest. “Our enemies are our best teachers,” says a teacher. “Because they ignite our anger and hatred, forcing us to look at our own shadow sides, which is the first step to moving past reflexive negative behaviour. So if you want to become invulnerable, change your view of your enemies and learn to see every instance of harm as an opportunity — as something you can use to benefit yourselves and others“.
Namby-pamby acquiescence is all very nice, but at Tonic we believe practical help is more important. If keeping bad company is ‘doing your head in‘ (in the vernacular of a stressed client), then avoidance is easier than cure. If the enemy cannot be avoided, such as toxic relatives, partners and work colleagues, then you need to learn a few survival techniques to bring down your stress level. Mindfulness and meditation are fashionable and if all else fails, you know who to phone ….
Footnote > The research was carried out at California’s UCLA’s school of medicine and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.