Luckily, throughout my life, I have met few toxic people. However, some of them stood quite nearby. It let me take a very close look at them, and, as I usually love to do, see right through them.
Everyone keeps talking about the impact of toxicity, and I have to admit, its impact is dramatic. Toxicity is an epidemic and it is devastating. I would compare it with the Dementors from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. The description can be accurately applied to toxicity:
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”Remus Lupin’s description of Dementors
Just like Dementors, toxicity feeds on human happiness and generates feelings of depression and despair. And although toxicity is not so powerful to suck our souls out, it has enough power to drain our creativity, positive thinking, and team spirit. Sometimes toxicity of our beloved ones sucks out our belief in ourself and stamina, leaving us in a vegetative state. To recover from this state is a challenge. But it is possible, especially if you understand that toxicity is the effect rather than the cause.
I’ve been always wondering why toxic people are so critical to others. Why are they so negative? And I came to the conclusion that they don’t look in the mirror very often. Figuratively, of course.
In my previous post I was writing about empathy. And it came to my mind that the lack of empathy in people and their toxicity are interdependent. Empathy is not only about sharing other peoples’ feelings and understanding their thinking patterns. Empathy also involves projections of how people will react to what you say or do. After you make educated guesses about what the situation is, you think over your possible reaction including what feelings and thinking patterns it can trigger.
If we recall the Golden Rule of ethic reciprocity – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – it would make the empathic guessing similar to looking in the mirror. Before you do or say something you look in the mirror and ask yourself about what reaction you would give or expect from others.
If toxic people looked in the mirror each time they were about to spread some portion of toxicity, I guess, they would see how it would also affect them, and it might stop them. But, unfortunately, it is something they hardly ever do.
Empathic guessing becomes more insightful thanks to reflection. Apart from the situation, reflection also involves seeing yourself with the eyes of the others. Reflection is something that toxic people might not be willing to embark on. Or their ship can be sailing in the wrong direction, being heavily biased by their previous experience or psychological issues.
People usually do a lot of reflection all the time. However, reflection can be constrained to the safe areas, the ones that do not make people feel vulnerable. It can avoid the areas that make them feel insecure. It turns out that quite a lot of people are unwilling to reflect on their relationships. They avoid perspective-taking on purpose and run away from compassion and empathic thinking. It creates favorable conditions for toxicity.
Reflecting on the relationships can be very painful. Especially if they often go wrong. Almost everyone went through relationship issues. Painful break-ups, fights with parents and friends, unresolved conflicts at work. But the key to overcoming them is reflecting on them the way that can help you put blaming aside and see the other’s perspective. It requires a certain skill or a professional who can help. If we decide to avoid reflecting on some topic and make it a taboo, we bury some part of our social competence with it. Reflection never takes this prohibited path and with time the area gets deserted. But the inner conflict does not go away. It gets rotten and toxic with time.
Depends on how old is the wound, you might not be able to withdraw it or overcome yourself. Chicken soup books do help but seeing a professional would be a more effective start. Even if you cannot decide to take regular sessions, you can get the direction and ideas about how to get to locate the source of your toxicity and deal with it better.
Reflection is something we can learn from others. People around us, our relatives and friends, teachers and colleagues, they all teach us to reflect on our relationships. But they can teach us both good reflection patterns and less positive ones. We don’t choose parents, but in many cases we do make choices who to spend our time with. Toxicity can be highly contagious. Especially if you are not immune to it. But so is positive thinking. The more you surround yourself with positive thinkers, the higher is the chance your reflection about relationships gets positive and your soul gets immune to the fits of toxicity. People who face the same challenges and learn to reflect on them in a positive way are a powerful inspiration to others.
We are not immortal, but still we can live thousands of lives and see different destinies. We are lucky to have all the creativity and story-telling of the world to learn how to predict better. Deeper empathy develops because we already saw something similar, felt, understood or got some explanations. Books, movies, opera, art, theatre, music, and everything that displays peoples’ lives, how they handle their relationships and reflect on them is here for us to learn. The more sophisticated is the content we consume the more versatile our reflection and empathy get.
Toxicity is not fatal. Nor is it irreversible. Toxicity level will certainly go down with more positive people around and a regular good look in the mirror.
And one more ingredient. Each time you look in the mirror, say, with all the warmth and care you have:
Love yourself like a mother would. Help the world become toxic-free. 🙂