Tag Archives: toxic

Toxic things

Nature is full of toxic things. Some of them will kill any of us, some will only make a few of us sick. Sometimes those same toxic things can be used for healing by those who know what they’re doing. The poisonous foxglove gives us the medicinal digitalis.

For some people, bee stings are unpleasant, while for others they can prove fatal. Even plants that many people find beneficial – like clove and garlic, can turn out to be toxic to some of us. I have terrible trouble with cloves. At the same time, I have a far lower reaction to stinging nettles than is normal.

What proves indigestible for one person, may be the best thing imaginable for another. What drives one body into violent allergic reaction may heal and nurture another body.

I think sometimes this is true with people, as well. Some people are toxic to anyone they encounter. Some people produce reactions in a few, and not in everyone. Some of the people in our lives come like bee stings, and a lot depends on whether we’re fatally allergic to that. Some people may contain nuts…

As with the rest of the poisonous natural world, sometimes toxicity in other people can act as a healing catalyst. Not that this necessarily lets them off the hook. Sometimes what we find toxic in others has more to do with what’s going on inside us in the first place than ever it does with them. But, just as I have to avoid cloves for my own wellbeing, there are also people it’s better if I don’t engage with.

We need to know what we find toxic, for our bodies and for our emotional lives. We won’t all find the same things affect us in the same ways. How you react is entirely yours to own and be informed by. You shouldn’t feel any more obliged to deal with a person who makes you uncomfortable than you would feel obliged to eat a food that does ghastly things to your insides. However, it’s always important to remember that your personal reaction may not be a measure of the thing as a whole. My allergy to cloves doesn’t make cloves a toxic, dangerous food that should be banned. My aversion to some people doesn’t make them terrible people, either.

However, my aversion to air pollution for example, is very different. None of us do well with polluted air. None of us do well with abusive people, or unsolicited physical violence. Some kinds of toxicity are limited and personal. Some kinds of toxicity aren’t good in any context or useful by any measure. If we can glean some good from a situation, it doesn’t make it any less toxic, it’s just a measure of our own determination to make something better.


Danger signs in human relationships

How do you tell when a relationship has crossed a line and become genuinely toxic rather than merely uncomfortable or challenging? When you’re in the thick of things, especially if it’s impacting on you emotionally, it can be hard to make good decisions about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. To further complicate things, a deliberately abusive person will try to persuade you of their world view in order to keep abusing you, and that can make things incredibly confusing.

Here are some things I think it’s fairly easy to spot even in emotive situations. These are danger signs. The amount of them and the context will of course matter, and people in crisis can flail about in horrible ways and still deserve our sympathy, but on the whole if it looks like this, be very careful.

Double standards – rules for you that do not apply to them, and/or entitlements they have that you are not allowed.

They can only be right and you can only be wrong unless you totally agree with them and do everything on their terms.

Not being allowed to express any kind of pain or discomfort. If you are punished, verbally or physically for expressing pain or discomfort, this is a very dangerous situation. Leave it carefully – leaving is when abusers are at their most dangerous.

De-personing you – not allowing you to think, or feel anything that isn’t agreeable to them. Refusing to hear you if you express something that doesn’t suit them. Rubbishing your opinion. Minimising your distress by telling you that you are over reacting, making a fuss, that it’s drama and attention seeking. Being very quick to dismiss you. Decent people tend to be slower to complain that other people are doing drama.

Attributing things to you that are of their making – ‘you made me angry’ and ‘you made me hit you’ are classic examples of this, but it can be more subtle. For women, the effect our bodies have on male bodies is something we are routinely blamed for and made responsible for. There’s a limit to how responsible you can be for the effect you have on other people, and this stuff is definitely on the other side of the line. Also, the same people will not take any responsibility at all for the impact they have on you, even when we’re talking bruises. They will treat these things as comparable – their anger and your bruise. Either you’ll find that if you can be heard, everything they feel is then blamed on you using that as the justification. Or, if you can’t be responsible for how they feel about you, they can’t be responsible for anything either. It’s twisted and difficult to sort through. Watch out for un-nuanced, binary thinking in which one thing is taken to mean another.

Changing the story. Now, we all change stories as our understanding of a situation shifts over time. It becomes a danger sign when the changes are rapid, illogical, contradictory, if you are clearly being lied to, and then lied to in a different way to cover the first lie, and when you are expected to go along with the ‘truth’ that the other person has at any given moment and they get angry if you can’t keep up or make sense of things. This is a mind game, and a form of gaslighting. If they treat you like you are crazy for not being able to make sense of their shifting story, it is definitely gaslighting.

This is by no means a definitive list, but I think it’s a useful place to start.


Questioning the toxic people

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.