Toxic (adj): poisonous
Toxic is such a powerful adjective, especially when used in the context of life. It has easily taken me the better part of the last decade identifying toxic behaviors, habits and people in different spheres of my life. That being said, it was far easier to identify toxicity with other people than my toxic relationship with myself. A lot of the other toxicity in my life fell along the way once I fixed my toxic self-relationship — it also allowed me to draw boundaries, reduce or remove people.
What is toxicity?
In the context of behaviors and relationships, the range of toxicity is vast: it can be manipulative behavior, it can be one-way, extractive relationships, it can be families who guilt and shame, partners who gas light, friends who mock weaknesses and undermine your happiness and success, it can be the constant negative self-talk in our head. Toxic people disregard boundaries, they manipulate others, they often see themselves as victims and blame others, they express themselves in passive-aggressive ways. One of my pet peeves what is called the ‘help rejecting complainers’. Nothing is working out, they are not willing to make changes and they would like to keep complaining.
Where can toxicity exist?
Anywhere and everywhere. It can start with your relationship with yourself — you may find that you are constantly shaming yourself, that you have a low self-esteem, that you have body image issues. It can exist in your relationships with your family – immediate and extended. It can be parents who try to live their dreams through you, who do not allow you to make choices or berate every choice you make or compare you to others constantly. It can be extended family who question and doubt your choices in your career, in your relationships, your lifestyle, the things you like to do for fun, how you dress. Toxicity can also exist at work — it can be peers who are manipulative, it can be bosses who behave unprofessionally. People you are friends with can be toxic as well – whether they are constantly comparing you to themselves or others, demeaning the things you enjoy, guilting you for not doing things with them. Partners in romantic relationships can be abusive, manipulative, shaming and more. This may seem like a long, despairing list but just because toxicity can exist in these spheres, does not mean that it does. Only you can figure out what feels toxic for you.
When is enough, enough?
How much toxicity you can tolerate, what is toxicity for you is something you have to define — everyone has to have their own measure and scale of toxicity as well as tolerance. If you are struggling to figure what is and what is not toxic, think about who are the people in your life who make you feel defensive, angry, frustrated? Are there any particular spaces where you find yourself struggling?
Toxic people and places are the ones that actively deplete you – healthy, meaningful lives and relationships recharge or at the least do not drain you of energy. This is not something anyone else can figure out for you — you need to have a good read on how people make you feel.
So what can I do about it?
For some of us (including me), a healthy boundary is an absolute one and it has meant removing people from my life, distancing myself from them — whether it is friends who are no longer friends or ex-partners whose behavior made me uncomfortable. For others, healthy boundaries are more malleable. Not all of us can or want to choose to cut people out of our lives completely — oftentimes there are salvageable bits in these relationships. Like with life, you have to figure this one out for yourself.
Also read: 5 Mental Illness Myths We Must Do Away With