Have you ever experienced being in a community that takes from you but never bothers to nourish you? Like individuals who leave you burnt out and betrayed, some communities use toxic, cultish tactics on their people.
This is how to know if you are in a toxic community, and how to protect yourself from it:
How to tell if you are in a toxic community
- They will lure you in with praises and gifts.
When getting to know you, they will find your gifts and interests. They will shower you with attention as the new person. They will give you opportunities to show off your talents and interests to the community.
Their objective is to make you feel welcome and accepted for who you are. This happens to all communities, but toxic communities will take it a step further.
They will be generous with their praise and their welcome gifts. They will make your favorite food. They will go out of their way to make you feel like you are one of them.
- Then they will ask you to do things for the community.
They have pinpointed your possible contributions to the community, so after the warm welcome you will feel obliged to “give back”. They will put you to work.
For example, if you are good at the arts they will make you perform all the time. If you are good at numbers they will make you do their accounting, etc.
Toxic communities will ask you to volunteer without compensation. They know you will not be brazen enough to ask for something in return for your services. They know that as a new person, you have yet to create boundaries.
- Once you complain, the whispers begin.
When you reach a point where giving to the community is starting to hurt. It becomes more demanding than your job that pays the bills. Your relationships outside of the community start to fade. The community starts to consume your life, all your free hours, and your free will.
At this point, you will start to push back. You will ask for some time off. Say yes to less projects for the community. When you start creating boundaries, instead of being supportive members of the community will start to talk about you behind your back.
- They will talk about you negatively.
The same people who welcomed you and showered you with attention and admiration when you joined them will be the ones who are most offended that you now “refuse” to “give back” to the community.
Even if you are only refusing non-community related favors from those members, they will tell people that you are not collaborative or uncharitable. The gossip begins.
They will spread incomplete accounts of your behavior and speech in a way that harms your reputation to the community.
- You are now under surveillance.
Everything you say and do will be analyzed, given negative meaning, and reported to the community. Your social media accounts will be watched. Everything you post is incriminating.
There will be screenshots passed around. They will track what you like and comment on. Even the things that you neglect to post “for the community” will be held against you.
Your speech and actions will be scrutinized. People will have conversations about you that you do not know about. Some people will openly show their anger towards you, and in confusion you will share with other members who appear to be compassionate.
Most times, these people relay to everyone else your frustrations and disappointments about the community.
- You will experience relational aggression.
You will be excluded. You will be left out. Some members will be openly abusive towards you, because they believe you are a threat to the values of the community.
The cruel thing is that you might not know, even to this point, what you really did wrong. You have become an outsider within, something they want to purge.
- You will want to leave, but at great cost.
But they have one or two things in your life that you can’t live without. It could be your source of income. It could be your relationship with members of that community. It could be that you have already established a home in the vicinity, and it would cost you a lot to move away physically. The whole affair could make you lose your relationship with God.
Whatever those are, you will not be able to leave without losing an integral part of your identity and your life.
- When you leave, they will make a warning out of you.
There’s this viral photo that says it as it is: when people cannot control you, they will try to control your story. They will tell everybody of your faults and the harm you have done to the community.
You will be made as an example of what not to do and be for the new persons. They will laugh at you and talk smack about you. They will hate on you until the next unwitting victim arrives.
How to protect yourself from toxic communities
There is no way to avoid groups of people who collectively act like this. They might be your local church, college organization, or workplace. Here is how to live a non-toxic, drama-free, soul-enriching life:
- Observe and be aware of the community culture.
As an outsider, it could be hard to detect abuse and toxicity in communities because they always show their best at first. But if you are aware of how they softly coerce you into doing things at the beginning, you can foreshadow how they will ask of you in the future.
- Practice courageous honesty.
When you are honest, people respond with honesty. If you tell the community upfront who you are and what you can offer them in a no-nonsense way, you are showing them that you are open and at the same time un-manipulable.
- Declare your boundaries.
Give what you can. Learn how to say “no”. Develop a strong sense of self to determine when to do either.
Boundaries are healthy. You are not over-committed and can share your gifts in a way that nourishes you instead of enslaves you. The community will also have a member who loves to serve it, who does not dread to be called upon to help.
- If it compromises your non-negotiable values, leave.
We all have things we value that we will not let anybody trample on. We do not have to choose between our family and the community. We do not have to give up our money, our possessions, our hobbies, and our personal views just to fit in.
If the community goes against what you believe in, it simply means that it is not the community that will nourish you as a human being. You have to get out of that toxic community so you can start finding the community in which you truly belong.
Author: Pia Besmonte
Pia Besmonte is a poet, literature teacher, and author based in the Philippines. She wrote “Manic Pixie Depressive Gremlin”, a collection of poems on mental health awareness and empowerment for millennial Filipinas. She loves to paint, sing, watch films, and take care of her family, Team BLG.