Bridging the Divided

Toxic, A Matter Of Definition…..

‘Toxic’ relationships. I see it on social media, the phrase is bandied about during talk shows, in conversations, and television programs. It has become too familiar, and its definition so broad anyone may be considered ‘toxic’ by another simply because they disagree. What is the definition of toxic and when should we cut toxic people loose? In a nutshell, toxic relationships involve an imbalance of power between family members, lovers, friends, and co-workers. Toxic relationships are the new “bougie” term for abusive relationships. (Fun fact: bougie is short for the French term, ‘bourgeois’ meaning “middle-class people with materialistic capitalist attitudes”, according to the Urban dictionary. In my medical world, a bougie is a small tube-like instrument used to exam small spaces like sinus cavities, the urethra and the like.)

Imbalances of power can be overt or subtle. Even when imbalances of power are overt it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge the imbalance of power, in other words, the abuse. What are some characteristics of toxic relationships? Toxic people like to create chaos, shattering otherwise peaceful homes, moods, or get-togethers. Specifically, toxic people find fault with everything others do or say, make others feel small and insignificant, cannot take responsibility for their words and actions, display explosive tempers, are jealous, controlling, or shut others down instead of working on a solution to a problem or discussing relationship concerns. Toxic people are masters at making others feel like they are the problem, not the toxic individuals. 

What is the solution? Stay clear of toxic people. Sounds easy enough unless the toxic people are family members. Advice columnists tell us to cut toxic family members loose, initiate no-contact boundaries, but is that healthy? Humans are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world and our mission, should we choose to accept it, (Mission Impossible reference) is to learn to live among other imperfect beings. Not an easy task. 

Toxic is an ill-defined word. Truly toxic people need to be cut from our lives, and while I agree, not everyone deemed ‘toxic’ is truly toxic. If we cut everyone with whom we disagree out of our lives we will eventually find ourselves alone in the world. The difference between a truly toxic person and those who believe others are poisoning their lives lies in the definition. Truly toxic people are intentionally abusive physically, emotionally, and mentally. When they are called out they blame others, throw temper-tantrums, and threaten to leave. Truly toxic people do not welcome the opportunity to talk through issues, come to workable resolutions, they don’t want to understand from the perspective of others. 

Labeling everyone with whom we disagree toxic without the opportunity to talk through the rough patches, to understand from the other’s perspective, causes unnecessary hurt. Life is short, and the older we get the shorter it seems. Time is precious and is not to be wasted. People in our lives are precious and are not meant to be cast aside over disagreements when viable resolutions exist. Simply said, think carefully before kicking people to the curb. 

Here’s another thought, a morsel to chew on: Is everyone else toxic or am I the toxic person in relationships? The toxic person may well be the reflection in the mirror staring back…..

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