The Truth About Toxicity

I’ve been wanting to talk about toxicity for awhile now, but have put it off because I think it can be a very polarizing topic. For me, toxic people and toxic characteristics are real. They are very real for others as well.

For those of you who feel like you are in a toxic relationship of any kind, I’m here to say it’s okay to step away. You and your happiness matter and sometimes the only way to achieve that is to set boundaries or even completely cut ties with the people who are abusing you.

So what is toxicity? A dictionary definition explains that toxicity is “the quality of being very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.” Toxic traits include, but are not limited to:

Using Excuses
Judgmental Behavior
Controlling Behavior
Unrealistic Expectations

Unfortunately, I think the word “toxic” is being used too often as an excuse to just cut people out, which diminishes the real effects that some people suffer from actual toxic people. True toxicity is a pattern of behavior that persists without a person acknowledging it or choosing to do anything about it.

Something important to understand about toxic people is that they may not be toxic to everyone. I saw this quote attributed to Tamara Yancosky that says, “Extremely toxic people will only be abusive with a select few; this way their behavior won’t be found out by the majority.” If someone tells you a certain person is abusive or toxic, don’t just automatically brush it off or think they’re crazy just because you don’t see that person as toxic. I have had first-hand experience with toxic and abusive people who seem completely nice and normal to everyone else. And maybe they are nice and normal to everyone else. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t toxic to some.

Just like toxic substances poison, toxic people poison. If I knew something was poisoning my garden or my body I would do everything to remove that poison. It is also okay to set boundaries with or remove poisonous people. I really like this quote by motivational speaker, Hank Smith. He said, “I do not believe in using the word ‘boundaries’ to just cut people off simply because they do or don’t do what you want. That is manipulation. When I talk about boundaries, I’m talking about protecting yourself and others from emotional, physical, sexual, or any other form of abuse.” Setting boundaries with or walking away from toxic people is about protecting yourself from real harm.

Something I have been accused of from toxic people is that I just need to forgive, stop holding a grudge or that I’m only doing it to teach them a lesson. A quote that really resonated with me is, “We don’t walk away to teach people a lesson. We walk away because we finally learned ours.” This is what happened with toxic people in my life. I walked away because I finally learned my own worth and value. I finally learned that I was worth more than the poisonous way in which I was being treated. It was absolutely about me finally learning my lesson and had nothing to do with trying to teach them one. I don’t have the time or energy to spend on something like that. Just like I don’t have the time or energy to hold grudges, which leads into another awesome quote from Hank Smith. “Don’t let someone convince you that you are holding a grudge when you are holding a boundary.”

It is okay to have boundaries, and it is also okay to cut the poison, or toxic people, completely from your life—even if those people are family. I think that is something that is really hard for people in the culture where I live to understand. I live in a place that is predominantly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that families can be together forever. I believe that. The key word in there is can. Never is it stated that families will be together forever. It’s stated that they can be. Much depends on that. But this error in belief, or even acknowledgement of the actual belief (with that word can) seems to make some people think that they have to maintain familial relationships in this life even if they are toxic or abusive. That is absolutely not true. Another belief I, and members the church I belong to, adhere to is that God wants us to be happy. It is impossible to have happiness or joy when in a toxic or abusive relationship. That means that God does not expect us to stay in those relationships, even when they are family.

This is an important topic to me, one I will probably revisit again, focusing on more specifics, but for now I hope this helps others to understand and find their own hope.