I am thrilled that now, more than ever, people are having out loud conversations about their mental health. I love seeing tweets, colorful infographics, and a lot of accessible information about a delicate function that affects us all. There is still a stigma associated with mental health and mental illnesses, especially as society lacks accountability for the structures that supply poor determinants of health. There is a lot we can do to inform ourselves, but there is only so much we can take care of on our own. With all the information available from trained professionals and humans sharing their lived experiences, I’d like to think folks are gaining a deeper understanding of themselves and others. However, with all this information and reflection, I am growing concerned about one term that has been on the tips of people’s tongues, and that’s the word “toxic.”
From my understanding, toxic behaviors are actions that cause harm to others or the self, be it physical, emotional, or psychological. Some people embody toxic behaviors that are abusive, confrontational, hurtful, and leave long-lasting impacts. Some folks are intentional about their toxicity, while others have no clue and perpetuate toxic behaviors without realizing it. Toxicity, toxic behaviors, and toxic dynamics do exist.
However, I feel like the term toxic is overused and not with nuance. Society loves labels and identifiers, but there’s a tendency to take things as black and white, binary thinking, without much consideration. You’re either toxic or not.
We all have the propensity to cause harm. Whether we intend to or not, our actions inevitably will impact people. It’s part of being human. I can’t emphasize enough how humanity is not perfect, it’s not binary, and it’s nuanced and complex. Our actions do have consequences. If you caused harm, does that mean you’re a bad person? Not necessarily. Self-accountability is very important. Did you cause harm, and you have little to no regard for the person or their feelings? That’s toxic.
Keep in mind that does not mean that we must accept toxic behaviors or give multiple chances to the people we find toxic. If you’re experiencing a pattern of behavior, you may need to speak up, set boundaries, or create a safe distance. People can change, but this is where self-accountability comes in as well. Do you allow them around you or back into your life? They may not be a bad person, you may love them dearly, but it does not mean they need to be close to you or have access.
Our society is toxic. We are gaslit every day to believe we individually have caused all the internal conflicts and relational issues. Toxicity is in our foundation; it’s a part of our culture. I might even say it is our culture. Generations of traumatized people have been trying to raise traumatized individuals in a world designed to traumatize us. It’s clear, very few of us have grown up unscathed. Of course, we have “toxic traits.”
I certainly know what it’s like to be engulfed by toxic people and environments. I know the challenges of trying to heal from the long-lasting pain of being exposed to toxicity, especially when you didn’t realize what you were experiencing at the time. I even know what it’s like to question if you’re a toxic person or not. Not everyone takes an honest look at their behaviors. They may not possess self-awareness; it’s not your job to convince them. Not everyone takes accountability. Not everyone listens. But, we can become aware of ourselves and others. We can try to understand people from where they are, accept it or not, and choose how to interact moving forward. There’s a lot of peace, compassion, and humanity found in that.