Being “toxic” brings to mind the idea of quarantine. As though whatever is “toxic” must be isolated from whatever is not “toxic”. However, here, I offer a different way to view “toxicity”, through questions it might be helpful for you to ask yourself. I then offer a vision of how to collectively heal “toxicity”.

The best way for me to understand what “toxic” means, in the context of referring to another human, is to break it down into these characteristics:

  1. The person does (a lot of) repeated harm.
  2. The person seems to take very little accountability for doing the harm.
  3. The person seems to lack clear awareness of their own “toxic” qualities, and often employs projection, blame, and rationalization, to defend against seeing themselves.
  4. The person seems to lack empathy in response to learning of their impact, or is at least not motivated to change their harmful behaviors, upon seeing they have harmed someone.

There are a whole lot of articles about how to identify “toxic” people, how to defend against them, and how to rid your life of them. There are also plenty of articles that dehumanize people who are “toxic”, and essentially make them out to be monsters, and not humans, with so many implying these people should be given up on.

I want to note here, these are very important articles, as there are some people on this planet who are deeply wounded, and perpetuate the traumas they themselves have experienced, and it helps for us all to develop boundaries to avoid further harm being done. Boundaries are important for us all!

However, I rarely see articles devoted to exploring ways in which we each have individually been, or currently are, “toxic”. I don’t see articles exploring the phenomenon of “toxicity”, occurring upon a spectrum. I also rarely see articles humanizing “toxicity”, as a normal human experience, we all must face within the self.

Don’t we all have areas of our self, and patterns of behavior that we are yet unaware of, and clearly resist taking responsibility for? Don’t we all find contexts where we (repeatedly) lack empathy when faced with the fact that we are doing harm? Don’t we all have areas where we prefer to blame others, or use several defenses, in order to avoid seeing the self clearly?

Based on considering the above questions, where on the spectrum of potential “toxicity” are you?

In this process of facing your areas of “toxicity”, at what point are you considered “non-toxic”, in your development of awareness and healing? Should this standard be applied to everyone?

For those who have been labeled as “toxic” in your life, is there a way they could perhaps lose this label, given the right set of contexts, experiences, or reparative experiences with you?

In spite of areas we are or have been “toxic”, historically or currently, are we not all deserving of understanding that we are in a process of healing and struggling to gain awareness, and thus need love, forgiveness, and respect for our humanity?

As, until we all begin to face within the self, and lovingly embrace what is “toxic”, rather than quarantine it, we will all continue to support a system that labels others as “toxic”, and further alienates and causes harm. We must forgive those who are not *yet* aware of themselves, as we are ALL not yet aware of something, and thus do not deserve to be reduced to a label, and given up on. If we do keep upon the track we have been upon, in terms of the ways we relate to “toxicity”, we will continue to perpetuate wounds together, on an interpersonal level, systemically, and globally.

As long as we continue to give up on “toxicity”, when we see it in others, we give up on US ALL ever moving beyond “toxicity”, and its consequences, as a human species.

Dr. Ava Pommerenk is a women’s dating and empowerment coach. She commonly works with and explores themes of radical accountability and embracing the Shadow.

Coach. Psychologist. Writing about new perspectives, love, relationships, Narcissism, healing, transformation, & culture.

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