If your Facebook news feed is anything like mine, you may have noticed that it is occasionally sprinkled with articles about “toxic people.”
The topic of toxic people is frequently referenced in articles and books, and I have even attended corporate workshops that address this matter.
Those who advise us on how to handle toxic people through their writing or speaking typically give examples, such as, the coworker who gossips all around the office, the cousin who is addicted to drama, the friend who is perhaps jealous of all of your achievements or the mother-in-law who cannot break from her passive aggressive behavior.
Following the described traits of toxic people are usually general reasons and recommendations for ridding your life of them—which may or may not be an appropriate measure to take.
I would like to interject into this seemingly ongoing conversation and proclaim though that the main premise of this argument is all a fallacy.
There are no toxic people.
People are not toxic.
People struggle. Period.
We all have challenges to overcome in life, and some have not yet learned to handle these situations very gracefully, but that does not put anyone into any type of category that should ever be labeled as toxic.
If all of our thoughts, words, and actions stem from either love or fear, that means that anger, judgment, envy and all of the other negative behavior that sometimes people display are all indirectly as a result of fear.
People are scared.
I get scared, I get angry, I get jealous at times, and while these behaviors could be considered toxic, I am not a toxic person. None of us are, even those who seem to be stuck in cycles and patterns of destructive behavior.
I currently have two toddlers and I have been to various parenting education classes and have read books on parenting and most of the “experts” agree on the matter of not labeling your children. It is not our job to determine what or who they are at such a young age and as a result could direct their growth in a direction other than what is natural and healthy for them.
So I wonder at what age it becomes socially acceptable for us to determine labels for others?
What saddens me the most, is that I seem to see this labeling of “toxic people” the most within circles that consider themselves to be spiritual. To me, this is nothing short of what I refer to as spiritual elitism. The “I am better than you because of where I consider myself to be on my ‘path,’ therefore, I feel that I have the right to judge you” sort of affliction.
Calling people “toxic” is putting them into a box.
We are making them to be less in order to make ourselves feel like we are more.
We are judging them and creating even more separateness.
It is likely this illusion of separateness contributes to their struggles, so our contributing even more to this will only exacerbate the problem. As they say, “Hurt people hurt people.”
Our referring to people who are struggling as toxic can only hurt them further, and if you believe that there is karma involved for every one of our thoughts, words and actions, then we can also realize that by judging others we are also hurting ourselves.
I understand the need for healthy boundaries. I believe that there are more than appropriate times where we need to maintain distance from others.
After all, we are not loving ourselves if we allow others to hurt us, but it is mission critical to develop awareness of our own mindset in this dynamic before we just shun people from our lives.
How we think of those who perhaps hurt us will not only determine how we sever the relationship, but will benefit us as well. If we move forward with a certain level of understanding, we won’t carry around negative emotions like fear, anger or even self-righteousness as a result of what happened in the relationship.
So what do we do?
We understand that this behavior can likely be traced back to fear.
…to these people not knowing the true beauty of who they are underneath it all. Our labeling them as something that they are not only supports their not knowing.
…to feelings of isolation and the illusion of separateness.
We do not need to understand the specifics.
We can address the behavior, if appropriate, but it is so critical to be aware of our perspectives which will affect our intentions and, therefore, our approach in doing this.
We can choose to distance ourselves physically and/or emotionally from those who hurt others as a result of how hurt they themselves feel, but we have the option to do this with both grace and compassion.
We are no better than they are if our need to protect ourselves causes us to judge them and label them as something that they are not.
We can stop labeling people as toxic.
Toxic behavior is not indicative of a toxic being.
Toxic behavior is only indicative of a person who needs love. This can result as a lack of self-love or lack of love from others or likely a combination of both.
We can allow them to be exactly where they are.
And we can realize that nobody needs fixing—some just need healing, and we can send them love and continue on without thinking, speaking and referring to others in judgmental manners which are nothing short of toxic in and of themselves.
Author: Katie Vessel
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Mindaugus Danys