I can’t go a day without seeing or hearing someone post or say something about toxic relationships, or toxic things. And, I find my self, further focusing on (ok, struggling with) how I can rid myself of these sorts of dynamics, situations, habits, and things, as well. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what “toxicity” is, and why I have allowed it to persist in my life. I have come to the conclusion that getting clearer about the “why” of letting toxicity persist, helps the rest begin to shift.
For the functional purpose of this article, I think it is important to define “toxicity”. Toxicity is anyone or anything that doesn’t bring us closer to greater accountability, empowerment, realization, authenticity, and true health and happiness. It is a quality that instead feeds fear, ego, delusion, domination, blame, disempoweredness, and negative beliefs.
A toxic person (more like a person behaving in a toxic way), for instance, can be someone that spreads negativity and fear, who also lacks the self-awareness and desire to be accountable, and instead feeds off of domination, disempowerment, fear, ego, and destruction. A toxic person, despite many opportunities to change and transform, instead chooses to blame, project, and remain the same. They also seek others to help them for this purpose, and usually promote dynamics based in exploitation, projection, blame, and drama. A toxic relationship is a dynamic deeply entrenched in these core themes of toxicity, with one or both parties being not aware or willing enough to shift and transform. Situations and things that are toxic, essentially follow this same format, though if the thing is inanimate, it lacks will or sentience.
So, why are we attracted to these people, relationships, situations, and things? Why do we keep them around, and allow ourselves to be poisoned by this toxicity?
My main conclusion is that we are under the conscious or unconscious belief, or series of beliefs, that lead us to believe we need toxicity, in that way, or at that time.
Before everyone who empathizes with and experiences oppression, as well as has ever been in an abusive relationship, jumps on the bandwagon here to inform me that some toxic things we hold on to are “choice-less”, let me explain. I am not necessarily “blaming the victim”, for ending up with toxicity in their life. This is not about blame. This about an honest inventory of why we let toxicity continue to impact our lives.
I have come to understand being a Person Of Color on this planet is a daily experience of receiving conscious and incognizant forms of racism, all the time, and that this gets in, and is traumatic. I also understand there is a strength, wisdom, and resilience people who face this daily toxicity (racism) of culture and society, have had to build in encountering this constantly, in order to still participate in a culture that is dominated and controlled by White people. I am not saying you are keeping the toxicity of racism around, as it clearly exists as something beyond your control. Also, I am not saying you should remove yourself to find a space where White culture and racism doesn’t exist and only participate in life there, as that would be impossible (e.g. internalized racism), and not very practical anyways. However, of course I see the importance and necessity of safe spaces, for all people who are oppressed.
However, in the above example, as well as in all examples, I see this through-line: we have a tendency to hold on to what is toxic, and allow it to be harmful to us. We let ourselves continue to experience the drama, disease, and the pain of getting caught in toxicity, and we do it because we believe we need it.
So, why do we believe, on some level, that we need toxicity? Because we have come to believe we won’t exist, survive, we won’t belong, we won’t be connected, we won’t be ok, be loveable, or be worthy, that we won’t be who we think we are (or are supposed to be), without it. We become so identified with needing to engage with toxicity, that we don’t realize that by the act of engaging with it, we are affirming we need it, and cannot do without it, in the moment. Why else would we eat, drink, or smoke something toxic to our bodies? Why else would we engage in an abusive relationship when we are routinely being harmed? Why else would we engage in arguments and situations that exploit, confuse, and victimize us? We aren’t just addicted or ignorant, or having bad luck or are an unfortunate victim, we also feel on some level, we need it.
And, to finish, why do we believe we literally cannot go without toxicity, that we need it?
We are terrified (terror = fear) of letting go into the unknown, the unfamiliar, and into a realm of self-love, trust or faith, and acceptance.
We are terrified of the bottom falling out, or of being suspended in this liminal, disorienting, foggy space of identity, reality, and experience. We are scared of losing what allows us to feel comfortable, secure, and in control. However, this process of entering the deep space of the unknown, where we often lose sight of the door we came in, and the way to exit, is PRECISELY what we need to transform. So, instead, we get repeatedly drawn to engaging with toxicity as a reaction to avoiding the inevitable growth processes we need to face in this unknown deep space of life and self. Despite banging our head against a wall, and finding ways we feel stuck and depressed or anxious, we keep doing this, because, at least toxicity is predictable and it is easier to practice our own forms of delusion and toxicity, through blame, instead of having to face the way we are that we associate with “failure”, or with being “shameful” or “pathetic”. It is much easier for many of us to avoid growth and transformation, and thus allow toxicity to persist, and to keep blaming the “other” for toxicity in our own life.
To drive home my point, I will share a common example. A person may stay in an abusive relationship for many years, based on their belief that they couldn’t survive or exist without their abuser. I understand the dynamic is complex and how they came to this belief is a part of the cycle of abuse, but let’s just focus on this belief, here. This belief of not being able to survive or exist or be happy without their abusive partner, is based on a terror of the unknown, and of a terror around needing to trust in one’s inherent strength and capacity to transform. Yes, if you split up with this person and severely limit contact or block them, there will be a gaping hole in your life, and your terror will arise. However, by letting go of this person, and allowing the gaping hole and terror to be there without going back or getting engaged in a new toxic dynamic, you are affirming that you don’t need toxicity, because you can exist, survive, and love yourself, without them/it. You no longer need them to distract you from your own issues around power and control, and are instead able to realize and honor these issues, and deal with the unknown in this transformational process, rather than to fall back on blaming them for your fear around dealing with the unknown, and why you are thus not where, how, or whom you’d like to be.
You may be asking yourself, well, “Specifically, how do I overcome my need for toxicity, then?”
Overcome your fear of the unknown, and of being accountable for your own life, then you won’t need toxicity. This is a process, and I have come to believe that the end point is what many spiritual masters call “enlightenment”.
These beliefs and versions of reality that are reactions to your fear of the unknown, are the source of what has actually been your own toxicity, because they have encouraged you to keep feeding fear, and to do harm to yourself and others, and have thus caused you to engage, externally, in toxicity.
In a practical sense, start by taking an inventory of whatever you label as “toxic” outside of yourself, and identify the beliefs about your self, and the version of “reality” you believe (what’s inside of yourself), that caused you to hold on to (and need) this toxicity. Both are toxic. Then, begin to systematically let the toxic person, place, or thing go, or stop engaging. While in this letting go process, let yourself feel to the unknown and spaciousness of it, and the terror, and do not let fear motivate you to fill the space with affirming those negative beliefs and realities (indulging your toxicity), or with something externally toxic. In other words, become aware of your own toxicity, and transform it through letting go, and aiming to love and accept yourself through traversing the unknowns in life, rather than using what is externally toxic as a crutch of blame.
Take responsibility for your own toxicity, and you will then left go of holding on to toxicity everywhere else.