I am pretty sure you have at least once in your life been in a position, where you had to exist in an environment in which interactions were not smooth, fear and self-doubt was prevalent, and each action had to be thought over and over again, taken with lot of caution and it was always associated with great stress. We call such unpleasant environments negative and in the worst cases, we call them “toxic.” Toxic, because, just like poison, the experience in these environments stay with us, even after the exposure to it ends and forces us to think over and over, feel over and over, do over and over what causes instability to our mental state.
On purpose, I chose to talk about our interactions in a toxic environment and I refrained from referring to “toxic people.” I hear the expression “toxic person” often, even from mental health professionals and it makes me think every time. There are people, whose actions cause such emotional disturbance. When these actions are frequent and intense, then they reach the level of becoming unbearable. However, it is the actions that are toxic and not the people. We all know that a person who is called “toxic” by a person can be a good friend to others. Imagine a mother, who is constantly abusive to her children, her husband, and her parents. She can be characterized as a “toxic person.” However, is it any hard to imagine her at a coffeeshop with two good friends to make jokes and laugh? At that moment, she is not toxic to her friends.
By thinking the behaviors and not the person as toxic, we give space to ourselves to allow interactions with these people, which will not be toxic, but neutral, or even pleasant. This in turn, helps us deal with the problem better, because we focus on how to reduce the unwanted behavior. Also, by understanding the toxicity as a result of a certain action, and not as the result of a certain person, we give space to that person (who could also be us under certain occasions) to decrease the toxic interactions and increase the pleasant ones. This is one position and thinking pattern, which helps us deal with toxic environments.
After we can accept the person as a person who engages in toxic interactions at certain times and in pleasant interactions in other times, we can then find a way to discuss the actions that we don’t like. We can adopt responses, which will help reduce either the behavior, or our emotional response to it. Through trial and error, we can try to reduce the problematic interactions. Most of the people do change, because humans thrive in peaceful and flowing environments, not in stale ones.
However, some people might have experienced such extreme trauma and might have been exposed to toxic environments as well, that they cannot unlearn the behavior, regardless of whether they try or not. These people might continue to engage in toxic actions, which will in turn bring up toxic interactions. If our mental or physical health and security is in continuous danger and no matter how much we try the pleasant experiences remain few and the toxic ones remain many and constant, then the last solution is to leave the environment. But first, let’s give it a try.