Menu

“Toxic” People Often Need Compassion the Most

Sad Lonely Woman

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~Plato

By all standard definitions, I used to be an energy vampire. I lived in my own self-created drama, prone to rages, complaints, and self-pity. I exhausted the people around me and played games of control, superiority, and victimhood.

I’ve heard this bundle of behaviors called a “personality type,” and I think that is as obscene as saying that a hungry person has a “Hungry Personality Type.”

An energy vampire, by definition, is someone who cannot create or sustain their own positive energy, so they take it from others. An energy vampire, by my own experience of that definition, is someone lacking in self-love and trying to pull that love out of others.

Such a person is simply hungry, not inherently flawed.

I’ve been there.

A few years ago, I began hearing voices and feeling suicidal. I had drained the people around me dry and I was all alone. I was trying to drain myself, but I had nothing left to give. I had to choose: change or die.

When I started to change, I realized just how much I hated myself, how much I judged myself, how many impossible standards I set for my own acceptance. I began to work on accepting and loving myself just as I was.

Bit by bit, I opened up to the beauty of my face, the beauty of nature, the beauty of the human smile.

I began to fall deeply in love with everything and everyone. After years of hunger, years of being a love vampire, biting others to get it, I realized that I could feed myself. I didn’t have to hurt myself or anyone else.

In that awareness, I remembered the people who had accepted me when I was “toxic.” These people became my teachers. Their kindness and love, which was invisible to me in a state of desperate love hunger, suddenly became crystal clear in my newfound self-awareness.

It hurts me to confess that some of these people never got to see me get better. All they knew was my darkness and they gave as much as they could before they left. And they are still my greatest teachers.

After I healed my mind and replenished my self-love tank, I began to reach out to others on the same journey.

I’ve met so many people who have been abandoned by everyone around them, because they’re “energy vampires.” I found these people in my family. I found them in my old circles of friends.

It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve really tried to give back what was given to me. I’ve tried my best to be loving and supportive to people who only know how to take (at least, right now).

And it’s been worth it.

A few years ago, I kept meeting up with one person that everyone around me told me was toxic. I was always exhausted after hanging around her and I knew that, deep down, she resented me. She treated me just like I used to treat people.

I didn’t “cut ties” or “protect myself” from her as all the articles say. I gave her some of my time—not all of it, but some of it. I took care of myself enough that I could heal from any emotional pain I got in our meetings.

Eventually, she stopped talking to me. We didn’t speak for close to five months and, the other day, she suddenly called me to ask if we could meet up.

When I saw her, her eyes were sparkling and her smile shone for miles. She couldn’t stop talking about all the epiphanies she’d had and all the ways she’d healed. She had stumbled across some powerful lessons in a program she enrolled in and it changed her life.

She kept saying, “Now, I understand.” Everything I would talk about that she eyed suspiciously—now, she understood.

After a long conversation about her new, joyful life, she paused, looked away, and said, “I hated you, you know. I couldn’t believe anything you said and I just didn’t understand that happiness like this was possible. I thought you were lying. I was such a jerk to you. Why did you keep talking to me?”

I smiled and said the words that I’d used to defend her behind her back when others would interrogate me with the same question: “You deserve it. I saw myself in you. You weren’t a jerk. You were hungry. I knew you’d wake up one day and, when you did, you’d remember this, remember me. And, one day, you’d be that person for someone else.”

And, now, she is.

I’m not saying we should all surround ourselves with people who make us feel bad. I’m not saying that we should spend all our time giving compassion to others at our own demise.

What I am saying is this—oftentimes the “toxic” people are the ones that need compassion the most.

And although you probably won’t get a “Thank You” from them in that moment, being kind, seeing them from a compassionate perspective, and refusing to resort to negative adjectives—that could really change a person’s life.

Your acts of kindness, though they may not be immediately rewarded, are never wasted. They will sit inside the recipient’s mind, outside the walls of their self-imposed limiting beliefs, awaiting their awakening.

And, if they do awaken, they will remember you and they will learn from you. And your acts will have contributed to a more loving world with fewer “energy vampires” and more people who love themselves and love others.

Sad, lonely woman image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Vironika Tugaleva

About Vironika Tugaleva

Vironika is an inspirational speaker, life coach, and author of the award-winning book The Love MindsetVironika helps people cultivate self-love, heal mental and emotional suffering, develop healthy self-care habits, build deeper relationships, and unleash their potential to change the world. Read more about Vironika here and get a free sneak preview of The Love Mindset.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past & create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Annie Anne

    Hi Vironika,

    I cut tries with a toxic friend recently. I used to be the toxic person until the people I cared about most left me. I realized that I HAD to change. I feel like you came to the decision that things HAD to change and you couldn’t continue the same. If we keep feeding the toxicity, those who also struggle won’t be able to grow stronger and they won’t learn. Maybe me cutting ties won’t effect her or change her in the slightest bit (doubt it), but it may help her see another side. I think this friend will just spread her negativity else where and use me as the subject of the hurt and rejection now. Am I wrong for cutting her out of my life? I suggested to her that we regroup later when we return from vacation, but to her that sounded like I was leaving. I can’t cure her abandonment issues and was initially sucked in by her, which led to my depression. If I feel that I am not strong enough to deal with it and don’t want to then it is okay to leave. People were nice and comforting, but that never helped me because I could never have enough. I don’t remember them being nice, but I remember them leaving.

  • Adam

    So true so true. I am still there for those toxic individuals, in prayer and spirit. All the best to those fighting their battles.
    Take care and thank you.

  • Kat

    I don’t believe that anyone is toxic. People are hurt or simply have no idea how to be different. Not toxic. I truly believe everyone is beautiful deep inside. By cutting hurting people out of our lives cuz they are “toxic” we simply send a message that we don’t care. We feed hopelessness. I wrote about loving toxic people in this blog post last year http://happyhealthy365.com/2015/04/06/detoxify-the-world-by-unconditionally-loving-toxic-people/ However, it can be difficult to love someone through negativity and pain: in some cases it can affect our own health and healing, it can get overwhelming. How to keep boundaries in a loving manner in these situation can be challenging

  • Peace Within

    I love your story. I was a toxic person. I went through a lot of negatives and it brought out the worst in me. The people who were there for me at the time changed my life. I learned how to love myself and others. I am way more positive now, but of course I am not perfect. Now, if I am around someone who is suffering I always reach out to them. Sometimes all a person needs is for someone to talk to them without judgement. I guess it is way more helpful if you’ve been in their position. I am happy to hear about your positive changes and the fact that you help others. Take care.

  • Thank you for sharing your story! I am glad you chose change.
    I have used this quote as my email signature for some time. “Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most.”
    ~ Ashleigh Brilliant ~

  • Khai

    Having been on a toxic, psychologically abusive relationship for this last year attempting to remain in contact with this person to support and love them… This article pulls a few strings. The first is anger – at myself, and at them. And then guilt, of course, because in the end that’s what you get when you leave a relationship that is abusive. I know inherently that the person is good, beautiful, loving, and that their actions are a result of their environment growing up and the repercussions of living for so long in learned behavior, bad coping mechanisms, and the cycle of hurt/abuse themselves. Sometimes I don’t know what the right decision is. I know part of it is I don’t know how to keep boundaries with the person, but also the fact that I am deeply wounded by the situation, that I love them, and that I am unable to keep away from falling into a trap of “real or not real?” when it comes to their emotional manipulation… Makes it hard for me to be able to stick around and support and love them, especially since their problems are in front of them, articulated, and fixable but they are doing nothing but repeating their same misguided, unhealthy behaviors.

    Loving toxic people is hard. Sometimes in the endan’t. And that may just be the reality I need to accept.

  • sherie.hernandez
  • Sharlee

    I can’t agree with this article. It is not our job to “save” anyone and what the author did really was not the catalyst in the toxic person’s life for change. Other things fell apart around her to, like the author, bring her to a place where she needed to change. For these people, the quicker the better. Not allowing a toxic person to see and experience the damage they do in a relationship is enabling, IMO. To quietly go home and mend the wounds serves no one. To me, it seems the author actually spent much of the time preaching to the toxic person about a better way of life, leading to the hatred. It seems agenda driven in a way that does not honor the toxic person’s own path, which is disrespectful to both people. I can’t agree with this article.

  • Thank you for sharing this so honestly. I feel like I’ve been on both sides of toxic myself. I’m still not sure about the best way to deal with it. I do tend to withdraw, but your articles shows me there can be other ways. I do think people who are “toxic” or abusive are deeply unhappy. I don’t think you can be happy and at peace and treat someone poorly at the same time.

  • Suzy

    While I completely agree with this post and do agree that the most “toxic” people usually need the most compassion, sometimes they are still hard to be around. I was best friends with somebody who had a “personality” disorder, and when I started becoming healthy and realized how codependent our relationship was, I tried to set boundaries, and they were met with disdain, and were channeled through ostracizing me to my friends and spreading malicious rumors. I know that she is hurt, I’ve spent hours and hours being her therapist, but it was never enough. I had to get healthy, too.

    I really hope I don’t sound bitter in this post – I truly hope she gets better and I wish her all of the best. I never wanted to abandon her, but I couldn’t be friends with somebody anymore who was constantly tearing me down in ways to test my “devotion” to the friendship.

    Light and love your way.

  • This was beautiful to read. I agree on your belief, but sometimes it is so hard. Sometimes you are in a bad place as well and you feel that by giving yourself to others you get worse. It is nice to read otherwise. Cheers xo

  • Benz Perez

    This.

    I have gone through almost the same exact thing. My best friend since 7th grade recently became very toxic to the point where he couldn’t talk to me anymore. It has been about 4 months since I’ve talked to him but your story gives me hope that my compassion was not wasted for him.

    I know that he will realize that a joyful life is ready for him; he just has to be ready to accept it. All I can do now is to continue to model and be light for others

    Thanks for sharing your story and relating with me!

    Benz

  • manny

    Thank you for writing this article. It brings a new perspective on things. A longtime friend quit responding to my messages about a year and a half ago. I was going to ask her what was up, but then I found something she had written about me (it was not intended for me to see), about how much she hates me. It was actually written to an advice column and began like this, “How do you end up hating someone you never really thought you would? I’ve let the past go, but every time this person tries to enter into my life, I feel so resistant, and even harbor feelings of hatred against this person.” She went on to say that she feels guilty about how close we were but just wants me out of her life. I don’t know exactly what I did to incite this, but I’ve been going through a rough time in the past decade with depression. I guess it was my incessant complaining about how bad I felt that made me “toxic.” She was going through a hard time with family at the time and i suppose she got sick of my self-absorbed whining. So I guess the lesson here is seek professional help instead of whining to a friend.

  • Dog Parbus

    I don’t think that we need to cut these people from our lives. We just have to be careful to protect ourselves from being rescuers. There is a difference between being insensitive to a toxic person and not participating in the drama. It is much more effective to listen when your “GUT” tells you that their reaction is not realistic and not to participate.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Thank you for sharing your story, which has nothing but pure honesty. Unfortunately, I disagree because it’s not everyone’s job to save another human being from falling apart. It’s difficult, not to mention challenging to love someone who’s negative. Misery definitely loves company.

    I ended the friendship with my ex-best friend a few months ago. I shouldn’t have to tolerate disrespect from someone who was taking sides, lacks maturity on handling conflicts and was too busy comparing me to other Black women. Friendships shouldn’t have to be worked on when it’s supposed to stay true. I’m okay with not having an apology, nor do I want one, since I know that my ex-best friend will not take full responsibility for his actions.

    You can’t preach to someone about changing their negative ways, and it’s up to them to want to make a change for the better. Wounds take a lifetime to heal, no matter how severe.

    I can’t agree with this article.

  • Lorissa Hughes

    Thank you so much <3

  • Cat Rescuer

    Suzy, I was in your exact situation with a childhood friend. I know exactly how you feel and did exactly what you did. I spent a year feeling incredibly betrayed by this person but I realize now that it needed to happen so I could learn.

  • Diane Elayne Dees

    A relationship with a so-called toxic person exists because it complements the (often unconscious) toxicity in ourselves. When we remove ourselves from the relationship, we have a chance to confront and heal our own toxicity. This step toward health does not have to be taken without compassion. It will likely be interpreted as part of a negative self-fulfilling prophecy, but that is so beyond our control.

  • lacy.escalan
  • That is a very astute observation that I believe to be very true, Diane!

  • I admire your compassion, Adam. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • So true. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am glad we’re in this together 🙂

  • That’s beautiful! What a great quote. Thank you for sharing.

  • I agree with you, Khai. It is very hard, and sometimes the only way to love them is from a distance, acknowledging that, for whatever reason, we get stuck in unconscious patterns with them, and are unable to connect in an authentic, healing way. That is love too.

  • This is very true, Leslie. This is how I allow myself to deal with criticism or cruelty from others. I tell myself that, if they were happy, they wouldn’t be able to act that way. It’s very healing!

  • I feel you, Suzy. I think sometimes the most compassionate thing is to distance ourselves, acknowledging the other person’s inability to make choices and seeing how they do (and will continue to) hurt us if we are nearby, for their own reasons. Perhaps, by walking away, we give them the room to find more healing ties! Thank you for sharing.

  • Agreed, Elis! Sometimes, it is so hard. Like the oxygen mask, I think we have to give compassion to ourselves first.

  • Thank you for sharing your story as well, Benz! I am glad that you see this struggle in your life as an opportunity to spread love. That is a beautiful thing.

  • I’m sorry for your loss, Manny. That sounds like it was incredibly difficult to go through. I think different people are different. I’ve supported some people for years, and had them reciprocate later. Other people have never reciprocated. I wonder if it isn’t all about finding long-term relationships and investing in those, so that you can both get support if you need it!

  • Yes, that is so true! There is such a difference. Thank you for pointing that out!

  • Thanks for sharing your viewpoint, Sharlee. You could be right, my approach may have been pushy, and I’d be able to admit if it was, but in this case, I don’t think this was the case. Maybe this will help you understand what happened – at the time of meeting this person, I had written a book about a recent self-love awakening and I was speaking to them about what I learned. Both of us had struggled with mental health, and she was struggling heavily with hers. I never preached to her. I just shared what I’d been through. She didn’t believe it was possible. She said that her hatred came from not believing I’d really transitioned from a way of life that we had clearly both been through, but I had recently liberated myself from. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who feel this way about her now! And I have memories of feeling this way about people. Of course, I acknowledge that I have grown immensely in my ability to help people lovingly, so what you say could certainly be true 🙂

  • You are so welcome, Lorissa <3

  • Thank you for sharing, my friend. I agree with you – it’s not our job to save people. I do think that acts of kindness really matter, and I’m not advocating for preaching at all. I’m advocating for compassion – giving them some time and some space to know someone cares. I am also an advocate for self-compassion, which must always come first. I think you did the right thing by walking away, because you could not have remained there, supporting this person, while loving yourself. Sometimes, walking away is the most compassionate thing to do. We all have to make the right choices for us, and I support yours. Thank you for sharing <3

  • I don’t think you were wrong, Annie Anne. I think you were doing what felt right to you. After all, sometimes the most compassionate thing to do is to walk away and acknowledge that the other person cannot make choices and cannot choose otherwise but to hurt us, in this space and time. That is compassion too.

  • It is certainly challenging, Kat. I struggle with this too – to give compassion to myself and to others, fully and completely. I think that is the beauty of it though – it’s a lifetime practice, full of obstacles and lessons. I am glad we’re walking that journey together.

  • lv2terp

    Great post! I love the perspective of “being hungry for ___” instead of something being wrong or flawed!! Thank you for sharing your story, experience, and message! Beautiful to pay it forward! 🙂

  • manny

    Thanks, Vironika. It is difficult and painful to hear that someone actually “hates” you, especially someone who was your friend for a long time. I don’t know if people just throw the word “hate” around on a daily basis, but I certainly don’t. I do not hate anyone.

    Anyway, a twist to this is that she emailed me six months later and said “Hey! I haven’t heard from you in a while. How is everything?” I didn’t respond because I was scared. Prior to that, the last time I asked her how she was doing, she did not respond. I don’t know if she was playing games or what. From now on in relationships, I am going to be completely open and honest. I will encourage people to be straightforward and tell me exactly how they feel.

  • manny

    So do you think posting positive quotes on social media on a daily basis (as I was doing before I deleted my account) could cause “hatred” of someone? I just don’t understand why people have to be hateful.

  • r2d2 gforce

    She had stumbled across some powerful lessons in a program she enrolled in and it changed her life.–What was the program?

  • Trish Chasity

    Maybe toxic isn’t the word

  • Trish Chasity

    Their might be some truth to this article piece. We are so quick to judge and put others down instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt. A good look and read on the other side

  • Lucy Charms

    Thanks for illuminating the other side of the ‘toxic person’ issue. I hate the term ‘toxic people’ – people aren’t toxic, as someone else here said, they’re wounded. That’s not to say we need to be codependent with them, but we can have compassion while also taking good care of ourselves.

    I don’t know if anyone would have called me ‘toxic’, but I have been draining in relationships when I felt neglected – acting needy and getting angry, etc. I know that in those situations, I wasn’t getting my needs met, and I didn’t have either the strength to leave or the skill to make the changes necessary to be able to “fill my own cup”. I’ve had boyfriends’ friends think of me as ‘crazy’, gossip about me, etc. But never has anyone ever actually approached me with compassion and asked me what was going on.

    This makes me sad. And now, after doing a lot of work and getting free of unhealthy situations, I find myself doing better and being more grounded, with more access to my own strength and goodness. I’d like to think that in the future, if I see a situation where someone seems to be suffering in the ways that I have, that I’d approach them with kindness rather than pushing them away with judgment and blame. If, when I was in my painful situations, someone important to one of my boyfriends would have approached me and been kind, I would have been so, so appreciative, and might not have spent so many years thinking of myself as horribly damaged and messed up.

    I wish we could all be a little more compassionate to each other.

  • IBikeNYC

    “I don’t think you can be happy and at peace and treat someone poorly at the same time.”

    I LOVE this. Thank you!

  • manny

    Is there a way to delete my comments on this page? Thanks

  • Paula Ronen

    Toxic people are put on our path… in order for us to wake up and set healthy boundaries. Toxic people don’t need compassion: they need strong boundaries and the sooner the better. (Susan Forward wrote a great book about this: “Toxic in –laws”; but toxic people can be also friends, other relatives, collegues, etc.)

  • Hannah

    This is such a wise and insightful comment.

  • Thank you for sharing your views, Paula!

  • I wish that too, Lucy. I love how wide and encompassing your awareness is. I think that is the heart of compassion: seeing everything, good and bad, bright and dark. I appreciate your mindset.

  • Thank you Trish!

  • I’m hesitant to share, because I’ve already shared enough little tidbits of information that would allow people who are closer to this situation to identify the person in question. I’ve chosen to not mention it publicly to preserve her anonymity. If you like, you can get in touch with me privately and I will let you know 🙂

  • You are so welcome, my friend! Thank you for your gratitude!

  • Trish Chasity

    Let me tell you something. In no way are we meant to save anyone. We should support and help others in need. Something people generally lack since the birth of social media came around and people choosing to take a picture and stand aside while someone is drowning right in front of them. (Another time and day to talk about that again)

    You cant go around saying homelessness is the person’s fault only and that is why they are homeless! Some things like an unfit home domestic abuse, mental issues, and etc. can cause these problems to exist to contribute to their demise. This is an example. The author is trying to say we should be mindful and see that person’s perspective instead of egotistically our own…..

  • Sharlee

    Trish, who are you talking to? No one said anything about homelessness. I’m confused.

  • Sharlee

    That makes sense. Being patient and supportive during mental illness is a different thing to me than toxic. While a person can be both, for sure, someone that is simply toxic is IMHO a dangerous person. That is what toxic means. It is like a warning label. Maya Angelou said, “When a person shows you who they are, believe them.” I try to honor that because I know the tendency in us to desire to change ppl. It is a fine balance between that and loving support, I think.

  • Pat Roa-Perez

    Great post, Vironika!

    I used to think I was the one being “drained” by others. Until I heard or read somewhere that often the things we dislike in others are the things we dislike about ourselves. It opened my eyes.

    I realized then how feeling victimized by their constant drama did not let me see that I too was doing the same to others. But perhaps more revealing, how those I perceived as “toxic” were actually helping increase my capacity for tolerance and compassion.

  • Trish Chasity

    If you bother to realize what I said in the response you will see I said it was an example. Homelessness, is a serious issue that plagues the lives of so many people regardless of age and ethnic backgrounds, etc. Most people think that those who end up homeless are at fault. Spreading the blame instead of empathizing what they may be going through. Walk in their shoes as they say…..

  • This is how you can get paid for freelancing few hrs weekly from comfort of your home>Find out more by clicking on my disqus profile

  • this ìs the way you can fill-up your bank account with additìonal cash every week – check for more ínfo in my profíle

  • here ìs how you can fill your bank-account with added money each week; check my profíle for more informatíon

  • for those who have some free tìme use ít to bring ín a líttle extra cash online; look at the lìnk lìsted on my profile for more ìnformatìon

  • i bring ín 85 bucks every hour workíng online from home… í never belìeved that it was possìble by working this job, but My good frìend ís makíng ten thousand dollars every month and she showed me how; get extra information by looking at línk on my profile

  • Lauren

    I had a toxic friend. She told me several times that I was “weak”. Then she told me in front of a group of other people. I felt awful. I said I am not weak, I survived a horrible childhood, left home in my teens , found my way in life, updated my education, argued with a doctor who told me I did not have cancer when in fact I did have cancer which was moving into Stage 2 (i-C).I went to another specialist who did the cancer surgery at a main cancer centre.

    I supported her behind her back when others said how awful she behaves. I spoke to her about being understanding and kind to others, but all to no avail. Then I had an epiphany and finally realized that only SHE can change herself.

    I stood up to her politely, but she continued to be mean to me in a number of other ways, and I could not take it anymore. It hurt me to feel her nasty jabs, and to hear her put others down. I really tried; but I am not her psychiatrist or her therapist, and only she can stop her own abusive behavior. I finished my friendship with her, and I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I bear no grudges, I forgive her, but I couldn’t take it anymore.I now spend more time with my good friends and family.I survived cancer and now life is good.

  • Arcane

    Pertaining to a quote in your post: “I knew you’d wake up one day and, when you did, you’d remember this, remember me. And, one day, you’d be that person for someone else.” I’ve spoken to people like your friend with the same mentality (they weren’t as rude, however), I’m glad to hear that I was headed in the right direction. This is an intriguing post of yours.

  • Dave Munger

    This is really a breath of fresh air. Thank you for writing about it. I know I have tendencies to be that “toxic” person and, like you, I’m grateful for those who didn’t abandon me during those spells. I have, myself, tried to avoid “toxic” people based on the type of advice you mention, from books, posts, articles, and well-intended advice. The idea being that I needed to avoid the influence and negative resonance, since I already had enough trouble dealing with things myself. Your idea, though, I found rather striking. It actually feels liberating, in a way. If I have the strength and courage to treat others the way I wish people had treated me during my own bad times, then not only am I giving back, but I’m also elevating both the person I’m supporting AND myself. And challenging my toxicity with the ability to help others rather than give in when I see it in them. Drawing healthy boundaries is one thing, but abandoning people in need is quite another.

  • Frank

    If you struggle with clinical depression and someone close has been sucking you dry for years, you keep a healthy distance. I have finally learned that I cannot keep giving to a bottomless pit no matter who it is. I am there for people, but if they refuse treatment for their depression, there is a limit to what I can and will offer.