When your mentor becomes toxic


In the best senario, having an mentor means that we get a sense of support, direction and a good kick in the pants when we need it.  For creatives, even though we know that our paths are unique, it’s nice to meet someone who has walked a similar path and cares enough to give us a hand.

Sometimes, however, the mentor role becomes toxic.  It could be that the person who has been mentoring your has reached the point that he is no longer needed and it’s way past time to move on.  But you just can’t stand to lose the feeling of emotional support.  In that sense, we’re being emotionally manipulative and imposing on someone else’s goodwill.

After all, if they’re that great of a mentor, wouldn’t they need to move on and well…go mentor someone else?

It’s the nature of life that people move in and out of relationships.  A mentor can turn into a friend or an enemy at any point in the journey.  The trick is knowing when things are at the point where you need to let go.

Ask yourself:

  • Have I learned all I can learn from this person?
  • Do I feel confined, like I can’t express my own voice?
  • Is it time to move on?

Sometimes, however it’s not your fear of letting go that’s hindering your relationship with your current mentor.  The problem is coming either exclusively from the other side or both sides are using your relationship in an unhealthy way.  If the person who you’ve seen as a mentor is engaging in behavior that shames you, sabatogues your work, or makes you feel bullied, it’s time to just move on.  Yes, not having a mentor to help guide you can be tough, but then again a mentor is there to temporarily give you a boost, not take the entire journey with you.

A healthy person will give you constructive criticism, words that help you improve.  Sure, they embarrass you slightly when they point out a mistake, but what they have to tell you is given with respect.  Toxic criticism, on the other hand, is meant to demoralize us and constantly point out our faults.

You’ll know a toxic personality by a few characteristics:

The seem biased against you.  Much of what they say is irrational. If you listen for an extended amount of time, you’ll get the idea that there’s always something supposedly wrong with you.  And it would appear (in their eyes) to be due to some generalized state of defectiveness.  They always find something…

Their critiques are unexpected.  They might start off friendly, but when you’re in front of other people their criticism comes up at you like a sniper.

The critique is destructive.  A healthy mentor points out problems while offering some helpful advice (remember the old adage of never pointing out a problem unless you have a solution).  Toxic criticism gives you a grand list of what you did wrong, without any advice on what to do to fix what you’ve done wrong.

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