The word “toxic” has been thrown around a lot this year, used to describe what seems like anyone and everyone who causes minor drama. Sure, some people are unhealthy to keep around, but being able to identify so many people as toxic makes me wonder if toxicity is really occurring to the extent we believe it is, or if toxicity is in the eye of the beholder? In other words, are the people in your life really that toxic, or are you the toxic one?
This is not meant to be a call out. Or at least, not a personal one. I just think that society as a whole has become too keen on “cutting off” anyone who has proposed a minor disruption to our peace, permanently marking them as toxic and unable to change. I have been guilty of this too, I admit. But, I have found in the recent years that not viewing the removal of someone out of my life as an “easy way out” solution has improved my communication skills, confidence, and overall happiness drastically. Of course, there are situations where cutting ties with someone is necessary (abuse, bullying, harassment, etc.), but most conflicts and misunderstandings should be worked through with proper communication.
Conflict is inevitable. It seems obvious, but it’s also an easy concept to forget. There is no way that you can become close with someone while never getting into an argument with them, getting your feelings hurt, or hurting their feelings. We are human; we make mistakes and our relationships grow from them. But, how are we supposed to grow with someone if we cut ties at the first sign of drama?
I am frequently asked how I have kept the same group of friends since the first grade, and how to this day we remain each others’ closest friends. I truly believe that the answer to this question lies within the purpose of this article. If I were to cut off these lifelong best friends for causing any sort of anger, sadness, disappointment, or inconvenience in my life, I would have lost each and every one of them by the time I was 12 years old. And I am so glad that I didn’t, because my life would be a lot less happy without them.
Cut-off culture, within definition, is selfish. You are removing someone from your life for the betterment of your own situation. While I believe that it is ever so important to value your well being, there is a fine line between doing what is best for you and being temperamental and sporadic in who is “allowed” in your life. In this sense, we are deeming the people who we once saw as valuable and important as instead disposable. In the attempt to increase one’s self esteem by advising them to put themself first, we are consequently creating a vast lack of empathy for others and their faults.
This relates to the social psychology theory of the fundamental attribution error, which describes how we as humans automatically equate other people’s actions with their personality and conscious motive, while equating our own actions with the situation we are in. For example, if a friend shows up to dinner very late without letting you know why, the thought that they are unreliable and lazy automatically crosses your mind, even though that may not be true. But, if the situation was flipped and you are the one who is late to dinner without letting your friend know why, the thought that you had a hectic day and lost track of time crosses your mind first, before anything about your character does.
I am mentioning this because conflicts that arise in relationships may be situational, even if we do not know about the situation at hand. People keep sensitive topics private, and the reason why someone in your life is acting negatively towards you may be because of something that has nothing to do with their character or your relationship. We are quick to jump to the conclusion that someone is upset with us if they change how they act with us. This is a bad habit of mine, too, and one that takes a lot of conscious effort to break. But, does the fact that someone is acting differently, or even lashing out at you, for a reason unbeknownst to you make cutting them out of your life completely a valid decision? What if the situation was flipped, and it was you who got cut off from a meaningful relationship because you lashed out temporarily in response to an uncontrollable situation?
I have observed a trend of invulnerability and lack of care arise in personal relationships lately. The ideology that all you need is yourself, that others don’t deserve you, and that people shouldn’t be given chances has been increasingly popularized. This is very saddening to see. The thing that makes relationships stronger is vulnerability and mutual support, no matter the situation. Starting to be more honest and open with those closest to you can be a difficult state to transition into, especially if you are used to suppressing any negative emotions in fear that you will anger someone or come off as overly emotional. However, trust me when I say that people will respect you so much more when you are honest with them about something that bothers you. Most of the time, if someone is a true friend and really cares for you, the two of you can find a plausible plan for change and your relationship will end up even stronger than it was before. You’ll never know, though, until you cross this bridge, start being assertive, and stop ignoring/walking away from issues.
The notion that everyone is replaceable is something I have never believed; every person brings something special to your life that nobody else will be able to emulate exactly. So, hold onto the ones who are special to you, even if they are being a little “toxic” at the moment, and you will insight growth in all of your relationships as a result.