I’ll make a wild guess and say that the word “toxic,” when used to describe a person and not a substance, is probably an American invention. I presume if a person would be described as toxic in the olden days, it would be someone who literally wants to poison you, using a literal poison. Killing me softly, even unconsciously, must be a phenomenon of our modern age. I’ve already discussed tough love, which may be taken as a sub-category of this practice. When we’re talking about toxic people, we’re not talking about people who clearly hate us, overtly or secretly. Really, these people are either much too invested in or indifferent to our existence to wilfully hurt us. In the extreme scale of love and hate, they occupy the grey area. Unlike the ones who hate or the ones who love, these people often escape detection and continue the slow poisoning process, trying to make you bitter without realising it, in some way or other. They never take responsibility, assuming the position of love or indifference to stand in. Worst of all, their poisoning is not a death but, an initiation, a contagion, when they eventually turn you into one of them, if its too late. You move on with a conviction to continue the process.
To an extent, I can understand why such people exist. We’re in the age that believes “anything is possible.” Some may call it the American Dream but, that is the pioneer of that idea, not its cultural, geographical and ideational limit. Before, throughout time, the roles of men and women had been far more determined than they have been in the past century or so. There wouldn’t have been much time and space for practising toxicity as people’s “fates” were more or less determined. That didn’t mean there wasn’t scope for discontent, jealousy, betrayal and the like but, there wasn’t such scope for subtlety and effectiveness of toxicity with limited contexts. “Anything is possible” includes the possibility of anything negative, as well as anything positive. That provides hope and freedom but, also chaos. Not many are able to handle that chaos. Emotionally, intellectually. Socially or in a singular relationship.
The greatest failure of our age (some call it the Age of Anxiety) is our inability to handle failure. The biggest reason why toxic people become so is because they were not taught how to fail. Winning is an easy enough emotion to deal with. Everyone around you is happy, they look at you as if you’re special and whatever be your age, you’re believed to be a valued member of the community. But, no one teaches you how to lose. They leave you alone or say that they “don’t know what to say” or worse, say the things you don’t want to hear.
Neither is in our hands. It is beyond human capacity to gauge if you can win or lose in a situation. That is why fear and inertia set in; because you don’t know what to do if you lose. That is why us humans are so good at celebrating birthdays and weddings and dreadfully inappropriate at funerals. The first job of any guardian with a child is to teach them how to deal with failure. That failure is not to indicate you are a person who should be isolated, cast off because you are inadequate.
It is difficult to be empathetic towards toxic people. Too often these are people we can’t avoid – friends, colleagues, family – and all we’re fixated on is how they do not empathise with us or even have our best interests at hand. The reality is, you can’t do anything about it. If they decide not to see your point of view, you can’t make them. If you believe what they say and do, they’ve won. Because they cannot handle failure, they feel pleasure and success in making others lose. The best you can do, and you must do this constantly for these are people you can’t get rid of, is to develop an inoculation against that poison. And that inoculation consists of the things you love. The ones that keep you going, that make you feel passionate. The ones you love so stubbornly, nothing in the world could diminish that love, let alone decay it or make it sway. People say it is more important to be loved than to love. But, being loved is not in your hands, loving is. It is so, so crucial in life to feel love, to love something or someone. That is the strongest defence you can have against anything in a moment of crisis. Love itself is the inoculation against ALL toxicity and hate. Cherish and cultivate what you love, and nothing will be able to break you down.