The internet is resplendent with memes about getting the toxic people out of our lives. It sounds simple, and of course in some cases is true. If you’re feeling miserable or anxious, before you assume you’re experiencing mental illness, it’s always worth checking to see if your feelings are largely caused by arseholes. Anyone who is ‘stealing your energy’ and bringing you down seems to be fair game in this process, but life isn’t as simple as memes.
It’s certainly true that if we successfully surround ourselves with people who only tell us how great we are, that we will, in the short term, feel better. If this is because we’re largely awesome, then getting rid of the haters may help us continue to be awesome and happier with it. Most of us, it has to be said, are significantly flawed. It’s part of what makes us human. We aren’t saints. Sometimes, it’s the people who love us most who will tell us what we most need to know about our own cock-ups.
Are the toxic people really toxic, or are we just experiencing them that way for our own reasons? It’s easy to get annoyed by people who share our failings, or possess qualities we dislike in ourselves. They are no more toxic than we are, and learning to tolerate them, can help us be more at peace with ourselves. Throwing them out of our lives can increase our discomfort with those shared qualities, it can do us more harm than good.
Are we finding people draining simply because we don’t have much to spare right now? Recognising our own shortages and insufficiencies, and perhaps a dash of guilt for not being able to do much to help others, we can be kinder to us, and perhaps a bit more tolerant of them as well. They aren’t toxic, we aren’t toxic, we’re all a bit stuck right now – this happens.
Do we find people toxic because they fail to be who we wanted them to be? Did we have ideas and expectations and needs that they’ve not magically fitted in with? Did they turn out to be flawed, human and possessed of their own agenda? Are they not our soul’s reflection, guru, glorious leader, saviour, hero after all? We don’t have to hate them for that. We can get over it and get to know them for who they are.
It’s important to consider that other people make honest mistakes, or have different ways of making sense of things, or different beliefs about what would be useful. That’s not necessarily toxic, just unhelpful.
When we can recognise and honour each other’s humanity, many of the things that might otherwise look like the toxicity of others starts to wear a much more acceptable and human face. It might not be great, but it doesn’t need running away from. There are people for whom this isn’t true, and they become more obvious when looked at this way. The people who keep doing the same things even when they’ve been told those things aren’t good. The people who always put themselves first regardless of the cost to others, who kick you when you’re down, demand, take, blackmail, manipulate and keep doing it. The people who trade in endless put downs and humiliation, power trips, ego trips. These are the people to move away from.