top of page

What is it with this 'toxic' thing?

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

I wonder if it's just me or whether we've all gone a little bit toxic nuts? It seems you can't avoid it nowadays. Everywhere you look - someone is jumping on the toxic bandwagon.

It was brought to my attention after sharing the first draft of this blog post that Oxford Dictionaries has identified 'toxic' as its 2018 word of the year! Quote from their website: 'The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance'. Could this have become the latest 'buzz' word for the labelling of an inconveniently taxing person, like a kind of badge of dis-honour pinned onto the lapel of an unwitting target for someone else's blame?

I mean, WhoTF isn't bloody 'toxic'?

One has to wonder - what exactly IS not toxic then? Is it 'perfect'? An impossibly unrealistic 'not messed up by the challenges of life in any way, shape or form' state of Godliness? And who gets to call the shots on what exactly qualifies a person to be 'Non-Toxic'? Queue right round the block right there. Not!

Helluva fun job huh!

Bit of a 'watch your freaking back' one as I see it!

To be honest, even as a compassionate person, I'm a tad peed off with the whole thing!

Yeah. This is a truth.

And .. the 'more mature' I grow, with the exception of a small number of occasions where serious abuse has caused deep harm, the less patience I have with it! It so often just feels to me like - not to put too fine a point on it - a giant pity party! A 'this' happened to me and 'that' happened to me wallowing in some story we told ourselves back then; one that we've become so identified and enmeshed with that we have literally hitched our cart to it and now can't see a way to move beyond it.

While I'm all for exploring the places where our own thoughts, feelings, behaviours, beliefs, values etc originated, I do believe there's something very different in character between an honest exploration and a 'blaming' mindset. One is rooted in compassionate understanding that can still include good humour and maybe even a sense of irony while the other carries with it notes of anger and bitterness. It seems from my perspective that the 'toxic' label may, in certain cases, be entirely appropriate, though I wonder about the usefulness of this seemingly epidemic affliction that so often seems to result in the complete cutting of ties with specific people, often even without a discussion first?

Personally, I feel that there is a 'woe is me'ness' that has taken root in recent times that is such a disempowering energy drain! My feeling is that culturally, we need to snap right out of it and 'grow a set', if you get my drift. I feel like every damn place a person looks these days there is a 'toxic' person carrying a sh*t load of blame for something someone else perceives as their fault. What a load to carry! And oh, the self-righteousness of the one doing the dismissing can be so galling!

Some experiences in my own life set up, initially, huge compassion for the plight of a 'wounded' party. But over the years, as I saw the true 'toxin' - the blame - leak out and spill over everyone else, my compassion considerably changed shape! It had to because in order to stay in a place of sympathising with the 'wounded', I had to go along with the poison spreading and stand by like the captain of an oil tanker watching his black and lethal load wreak devastation on everything and everyone in its path!

In my case, the compassion wore a little thin, giving way in the end (many, many years down the line) to frustration, impatience and even anger. I still 'got' (get!) the hurt underpinning the initial damaged feelings but came to feel that the harm was perpetuated and nursed so determinedly that it became like the oil-spill mentioned above, devastating all touched by it. Though there is no longer any anger around this, it divided my family of origin.

I am one of those annoying people who usually ends up diverting any frustration or anger I may be feeling with someone else's behaviour to this kind of self-talk: 'you don't know what's going on for them'; 'they might be ill / have a crisis going on / have lost someone close'; self-monitoring and managing my own feelings into a compassionate (if a little maddening at times when I just want to give myself permission to let rip) and a sometimes begrudging putting up with things I believe in that moment that I wouldn't do myself and/or a prolonged waiting game for the thing to blow over; a 'grown up' course of action which I came to discover is actually not all that bad a way to go, as for the most part, in that cooling off/taking responsibility for my own feelings period, things - more often than not - DO blow over!

Also, I usually end up glad I got my grouse under control in that heated moment when I wanted to tear someone a new one in the full flow of my judgmentalness!!

This is not to say that I don't have good solid boundaries in place these days so as to take appropriate steps to look after my own needs where there is a case for expressing justifiable frustrations or anger - but for the most part, I'm much more able, with the benefit of much painful learning, to filter out the times when a 'cooling off' would benefit and not rush in like a bull in a china shop. I just make sure to take the time to think it through than to 're-act' from a place of 'feeling'.

Don't get me wrong here - in managing my own stuff, of course, there have been times when I didn't do so well at it, others where 'managing' simply did not fit the bill at all, and others where I sat with the feeling long enough to realise that the real emotion coursing through me was actually a much more vulnerable one that I didn't feel all that comfortable about 'fessing up to.

I can recall, for instance, having a day of getting increasingly hacked off with a particular long-time friend with whom contact seemed to have become a bit of a one way street. Our conversations are almost always full of laughter and genuine joy to catch up whenever we do connect so I knew deep down there was nothing more going on than the two of us having very different lifestyles during that time. But, I was feeling annoyed and ignored - having spent months living alone (motorhome life!) and being 400+ miles away from anyone I knew on an impossibly quiet out in the sticks campsite in Scotland over the winter (17.5 weeks in all, though I was still only about half way through that at the time).

Something had happened in my life that brought me a lot of pain and it had seemed to pass by with barely an 'oh!'. This wasn't the 'norm'. In the height of my angst, which had been building for a few days, I typed a 'say it like it is' text, all the while knowing I wouldn't send it, though also knowing I was for sure going to face down this thing going on in me. The typing of the initial emotion loaded message let the steam out of the pressure cooker a little and I reworked it again and again until .. there it was .. I was lonely! I was also hurt that something big for me didn't elicit even a comforting 'are you ok' message from my friend.

For a relatively self-sufficient person, it was hard to admit to myself that I was neck-deep in some 'billy-no-mates' story I was telling myself, where the simple truth was that I just felt very alone at that time, having chosen this lifestyle for a while, for specific reasons. So, what did I do? I cut through the crap and typed a genuine heartfelt message that, in between the light-hearted 'Hi, how are ya?' and the 'look forward to catching up soon' that made me have to swallow my instinctive gnarliness and act like a grown-up, I included something 'exposing of my vulnerable' like 'I'm really missing the laughter-filled chats with my buddy'.

The result: a quick response from my friend to organise a call later that day on her return from an outing with her new fella and an open heart to open heart natter with the usual laughter and a grounding about big changes that were going on in my friend's life at that time. No upset, no 'I'm right/you're wrong', no anger or blame or labelling someone as toxic; just a loving reconnection that left us both feeling uplifted and cheerful as usual.

I get that some experiences in life wound us deeply. I get that it can be hard to deal with certain emotions. I get that on some occasions, it may be the only sensible choice - if for instance there was abuse at the root of it, particularly if it was in childhood. I even get that it can be a big help to open up and share our feelings, and to need the validation that can come from having someone else listen to and understand us when we finally dare to open up that dark and scary place to let some light in so that we can begin to heal.

What I don't get is the popularising of wholesale blaming and labelling someone else as 'toxic' - as if that one word absolves us from responsibility to act with care and consideration toward them; to communicate like an adult; to 'own' our own feelings; to have empathy for the other and develop some grown-up understanding about how the 'situation' that squeezed the 'toxic' label out of us came about.

Considering the application of this word to the rejection of parents, can it really be an adequate excuse for dismissing someone out of our lives like they never meant a thing to us - even when they may have dedicated a good chunk of their lives to loving and taking care of us the best way they knew how? Worse, often without a word of explanation - leaving the 'toxic' one to find a way to work through (potentially) years of confusion, a profound sense of loss and desperate heartache? Is that really fair? Is it really a mature and responsible way to deal with feelings that were hurt, possibly from the perspective of a confused child, when we could perhaps take a hold of our own fears of speaking up as an adult now and expressing our truths to have an honest, albeit difficult, communication?

Is 'difficult' communication going to kill us? Are we really that feeble? Is it so difficult for us that we will cut someone who loves us and who we have loved in return for most if not all of our years right out of our lives without a thought for the horrendous impact this is likely to have on them - on top of the trauma of the empty nest? Are we so up our own rear ends that we will kid ourselves that other family members, particularly grandchildren, will not be hurt by our blocking and may one day ask 'why can't I see my `grandma/grandad'. Even more worryingly, who might one day emulate (as tends to happen) the 'family pattern' and inflict the same fate on us?? Because, after all, difficult conversations are so much less appealing than a lifetime of shared joys and happy memories, huh?

It makes my blood boil.

By stapling the label 'toxic' onto the forehead of another, so that we can bathe in the notion that they are too damaging to us to be considered even deserving of some basic human kindness and compassion, aren't we acting a little like the child we once were - perhaps when the initial hurt was caused: like someone who has no power to take responsibility for ourselves?

A little along the lines of 'if I can't see this person, then I can pretend that they don't exist and they can't hurt me any more!'

Isn't it childish? Or at the very least, child-like?

Isn't a painful reality still a reality, even if you deny it is so? Does denying it make it go away? Is it akin to getting bladdered when one is feeling so stressed that one wants to block the world out for a bit - but then still has to wake up with the hangover and face the fact that the world is still there for us to deal with another day?

I have witnessed, up close and personal, the devastation of being excluded from relationship like that - and it's not pretty! It rips your heart out to see someone you love suffering so deeply and not be able to do a thing about it. I've been on the receiving end of it too, though not, thank God, at the hands of a child of my own or those of my parents. Nevertheless, it was a close enough relationship to leave a deep psychic wound that had a profound effect on my life for decades.

On a side note, I used to do market research years ago and I can't tell you how many times I sat with elderly, and sometimes not so elderly people who would be so desperate to have someone to talk with that they'd end up telling me their stories instead of answering a host of pointless questions that nevertheless got me paid. I met people who'd been 'written off', some whom I ended up sitting with for hours, holding their hands while they cried, some who were parents who had been rejected by their children, whose photographs - sitting on the top of their TV's or window sills - they'd point out to me. Often, they lived alone, isolated from family in some poky little flat or cluttered and uncared for house.

One who had a particularly deep effect on me - a cheerful soul with tubes up his nose and an oxygen tank by his side - shared pictures of his long-lost children from whom he would likely never hear again. He spoke with no animosity or self-pity, just a deep sadness that made my heart weep for him. Then, as on other occasions .. a kind of compassionate rage would build in me so powerfully that I would be on the verge of asking for the phone numbers of rejecting children or other family members so I could stick my nose in, give them a wake-up call and talk some bloody sense into them ..

.. to reach into their heart and appeal for forgiveness; to ask them to open the door to healing; to ask that they let this human being they had rejected know some peace in their final years so they could know that however wrong they may have got it before they knew better, when they may have behaved in unknowing and perhaps even unconscious ways which were undoubtedly rooted in their own pain, that they still mattered to someone; to acknowledge the things that the 'toxic' one managed to get right; to let them know that they were loved, even if not understood ..

Of course, I always reeled my neck in and left them with a warm and caring goodbye, perhaps a light touch of a hand on theirs, hopeful that the compassion and kindness I could leave them with might have brought a little comfort into the never-ending pain they had shared with me.

I lived next door to one such parent for several years - a lonely man I came to see, but always pleasant, always kind, always chatty. He seemed to have only one friend who would visit from time to time and later, a companionable connection with another single male of a similar age (60ish) from the other neighbouring property. A father of a grown up daughter and possibly also grandfather to a young lady I don't believe he ever met. He used to cut our hedge for us and yet would always be dismissive of my effusive thanks (though he was very touched by the bottle of Merlot I sneaked onto his doorstep with a thank you note one time!).

He died - a big shock to us then - alone, in his armchair in front of his TV. The council arranged his funeral and I don't believe anyone went - I'd asked to be notified once a date was set but not being family, that didn't happen and when I chased it up, he had already been interred. My heart broke for this man - to leave his life this way - whatever his story had been.

Allow me to me pose a theoritical question: let’s say you had a leg injury in your teens which then began to develop into an arthritic knee, causing you pain for years. Would you ‘divorce’ your knee or have your leg amputated so that you could get rid of the source of your pain?

Probably not huh?

It is part of you; part of your makeup! You want to continue to be able to walk right? So what other options might there be?

You could ‘divorce’ the pain instead – perhaps try hypnosis, tapping, reiki or another modality that might help you to change the brain patterns that have been upholding the neural pathways that inform your autonomic nervous system and tell it to send a message of pain. You'd basically be interrupting the pattern, or upgrading the software. Perhaps you could even have physiotherapy or surgery to try and correct the problem? But ultimately, the source of the original pain would remain in your life - enabling you to continue to be a fully functioning human being.

Likewise, could you find ways to explore the territory of your emotional wounding from your adult perspective, rather than from that of the hurt, confused and powerless child you once were?

Maybe you could work some shit out in a 'difficult' - but not impossible - grown up communication that lays the groundwork for healing of all concerned and enabling a more natural and important relationship space to develop and grow - supporting you, the 'toxic' one, and any upcoming new family members to feel a sense of wholeness, belonging and connection that everyone would otherwise miss out on.

Surely, it has to be worth having that difficult conversation?

With love,


98 views0 comments


bottom of page