Your story is an abstract representation of you in the world. It comes in many forms: reminiscences with friends, anecdotes shared about you when you’re not present, individual imaginations of what your life is like.

Your story is the framework people build to understand you. It can be accurate, or completely off the wall. It can be flattering, or it can paint you as an awful person.

Whether or not we realize it, we’re all building stories about each other—both individually, in our minds, and collectively, in any interaction that makes reference to a person.

These stories shape how each of us is represented in the world. And a lot of how we get represented is outside of our control. The power is in the hands of the people building the story.

But there’s a big thing you have the power to do. The way someone handles your story gives you one of the clearest reads on whether a person actually loves you, or whether they’re a toxic influence on your life.

If you pick up the signs that they’re toxic, you are completely justified in restricting that person’s access to your story. No matter how much they feel like they deserve it.

4 signs to look out for

Anyone who loves you should recognize that your story is precious, and deserves to be cared for and protected—just like you are precious, and deserve to be cared for and protected. 

But if you see any of the following signs, this person is being careless with your story at best—and is actively antagonizing it at worst.

It’s a strong litmus test for how they care for you as a person. Because how someone treats your story is the day-to-day demonstration of what you actually mean to them.

Look out for any of these four signs:

  • They share things you’ve told them in confidence.
  • They refuse to believe you when you tell them something true about you.
  • Instead of listening, they tell you what your story is.
  • They don’t protect your dignity when they talk about you to others.

While it sucks when any of these things happen, the good news is that this is a tipping of the hand. They’re showing their true colors. If you catch a person treating your story like this, you can protect yourself from being hurt by them in other ways.

What to do about it

You don’t necessarily need to cut these people off from your life—but it’s important to be very careful about what influence you allow them to have on you. Their lack of care for your story indicates a willingness to sacrifice you for what they want.

So don’t give them any leverage.

Be careful how much time you spend around them. 

Take their opinions about you and your life choices very, very lightly.

Only tell them things that are already common knowledge about you (or are too trivial to make for any kind of gossip). 

Build relationships with people that they have no influence over. 

Don’t let them coerce you. They don’t have your best interests in mind.