When it comes to self-care, relationships of all types, and living a happier life, the talk of “removing toxic people from your life” is common. Articles, books, and advice of all types encourage people to remove the bad vibes: bad people, bad food, and bad habits. In truth, that advice is helpful. You only get one life, so subjecting yourself to toxicity is harmful no matter which form it takes. However, it’s not enough to remove the toxic people — you also need to be honest about your own toxic tendencies.
People aren’t all good or all bad. People are complex. This means that even the best kind of people have the potential to be toxic to someone else. What is important is understanding what type of behavior is toxic, reflecting on your own potentially toxic behaviors, understanding that toxic relationships are everywhere, and realizing that it’s possible to change those behaviors. Sometimes it’s not them; it’s you.
Recognizing toxic behavior
There aren’t many relationships that are effortless. Each person needs to give a little and take a little. Some give a little more, while some take a little more. Where relationships get difficult is when toxic behavior becomes the norm. It’s hard to realize who is being toxic if you don’t know which behaviors are toxic to begin with. Here are some examples of toxic behavior:
- Being controlling
- Being defensive
- Manipulative behavior
- Negative talk
There are endless examples of each of these behaviors. Many times, toxicity is more subtle. Sometimes it’s not what you say — it’s how you say it that is toxic. Sometimes it’s how you treat others. Sometimes it’s your attitude that is toxic, even if it’s not aimed at the person who is being affected by it. Toxicity isn’t always obvious; it’s how you make the people around you feel and the vibes you’re giving off.
Self-realization and maturity
It can be hard to admit when you’re the problem. To realize you’ve played the victim instead of analyzing why others don’t want to be around you. To admit you get more out of your relationships than you give back. To be honest about making excuses for why you did something wrong or selfish to someone else. However, self-realization is one of the biggest signs of maturity. It is hard apologizing, not getting defensive, and accepting that you hurt someone instead of claiming that you didn’t. Being reactive is toxic; listening and communicating is the mature and healthy response.
There is a connection in our brains between our neurons and how we behave. This means it’s possible to rewire your brain to increase compassion and make new pathways in the brain between certain behaviors. It takes work to control the part of you that wants to get defensive, be reactive, say something hurtful, or do something selfish, but it is possible. The first step is being mature and making the effort to have some honest self-realization.
Toxicity is everywhere
Toxicity exists in all relationships: romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, work relationships, etc. It’s important to note that just because you’re not toxic to your spouse, friends, or family doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not toxic to your co-workers, for instance. A toxic co-worker or manager might gossip, play favorites, or focus on blaming instead of helping. This can cause disengaged employees or an unhappy work life, which is dangerous when employment is so important for a person’s ability to live and provide. Family relationships can also be toxic, which can be hard since family is permanent, and it can be hard to walk away from a toxic family member. This leads many people to feel safe in being toxic to family since they may think they are not in danger of losing them.
In reality, toxicity can happen in every type of relationship imaginable. And, just because you’re not toxic to one person, or in one type of relationship, doesn’t mean you can’t be toxic in another. It’s important to be sure you’re being honest about your behavior and toxic tendencies in all of your relationships, and not just your friendships or your romantic relationships.
Change is possible
No one is perfect, and everyone has exhibited some toxic tendencies at some point in their life. Admitting that is a sign of maturity and self-realization, which is so important in changing toxic behavior. What is important to know, once you’ve realized when you’re being toxic, is that change is possible. Stop gossiping, saying hurtful things, being selfish, being prideful, jumping to anger, or judging others. Stop expecting everything and giving nothing.
While you’re removing your own toxic behaviors, remove your toxic vices as well. Work on self-care, loving yourself, and realizing you don’t have to be negative to demand respect. Work on being mindful, removing the toxic food and drinks from your life, and making healthy choices. There’s a reason why you might subject yourself to toxic and unhealthy foods, and it may be similar to why you subject yourself to toxic or unhealthy behaviors. Behaviors are learned. But that means they can be unlearned as well. Change is possible as long as you do the work.
Admitting the problem is sometimes the hardest step. Realizing you’re a toxic person to others doesn’t mean you’re the only one; oftentimes it can be both people in a relationship. The advice that you always read about “removing the toxic people from you life” is still true. Sometimes, that person is you. It means removing your own toxic behavior in addition to removing the others in your life who are toxic.
It’s also about being better to yourself. How you talk to yourself, what you eat, how healthy your choices are, your mental health, and your own self-worth are all tied into why you’re being toxic in the first place. Admitting when you’re the toxic one is the first step. The next is to make the changes for those around you — and for you as well.