Why We Wonder If We Are Toxic: Examples

In this installment of "Why We Wonder If We Are Toxic," I'm going to walk us through a concrete example. I've created this example based on my personal experiences and from the people I've worked with.  

For this example, we are going to have Cindy our stand in toxic person and Jessie our non-toxic person. Jessie has been in a relationship with Cindy for two months. Jessie has recently learned some about toxic people and is wondering whether Cindy might be a toxic person. Jessie decides to gently have a conversation about toxicity with Cindy. 

Jessie brings up the topic of toxicity over dinner one evening. Almost immediately, Cindy recognizes that Jessie is suggesting that she is toxic. Even before Jessie gets too many words out of his mouth, she starts to interrupt him.

Cindy begins to tell Jessie that he doesn't know what he is talking about. She then begins to give a bunch of reasons that everything Jessie just said actually applies to Jessie. Cindy is careful to prevent Jessie from getting a word in edgewise. 

After a long-winded lecture from Cindy, she concludes that it is really Jessie who is the toxic person. She concludes this with almost absolute certainty. Just as Jessie is about to say something in response, Cindy ends the conversation with "That's enough. I'm not going to talk about this anymore" and leaves the room. 

Over the next two week, whenever Jessie does something Cindy doesn't like, she explains it as an obvious result of Jessie being toxic. This ranges from simple stuff like not putting the toothbrush back in the cup to more substantive stuff like getting home late from the office. Cindy doesn't really explain why she thinks Jessie is toxic. Instead, her goal is to weaponize the term "toxic" and use it as a way to make Jessie feel bad. 

Meanwhile, Jessie is feeling very confused. In the original conversation, Jessie was just trying to discuss some things that he learned about toxic people. He was wondering about Cindy, but he wasn't trying to directly say that she was toxic. He just wanted to have a casual conversation about it. Now Cindy seems to incredibly confident that Jessie is toxic, he begins to wonder if she is right. 

Jessie begins to think that he might really be leaving the toothbrush on the bathroom vanity because he is a toxic person. Jessie begins to doubt his own ability to judge his behaviors and the behaviors of the people around him. Jessie isn't sure what to make of the way Cindy is treating him, or the way he is treating anyone. 

When Cindy needs Jessie to do something for her, she intentionally utilizes this toxicity criticism to get Jessie to do her work for her. Cindy starts saying things like, "Well if you aren't toxic then you will go pick up my dry cleaning for me." Jessie doesn't want to be a toxic person and is no longer trusting his own instincts about who counts as toxic, so he complies with Cindy's demands. Thus, Cindy has used the toxicity criticisms to more easily control Jessie. 

Throughout all of this, Cindy has never once actually considered that she might be toxic or at least engage in some toxic behaviors. Cindy has completely avoided doing any real introspection or reflection. Instead, Cindy has reassured herself that she is great, she is in control, and she can get whatever she needs from the people around her. 

Jessie is now more dependent on Cindy than ever. He is concerned that he might be toxic while going in to the intital conversation he thought no such thing. He no longer trusts his instincts, and thus is more easily controlled by the things that Cindy says. Since Jessie is not a toxic person, and he can tolerate criticism, he is seriously considering whether he might be toxic. This means a lot of emotional and intellectual energy is being devoted to his own self-analysis. As a result, he is no longer thinking about the problematic behaviors that Cindy is engaged in. 

Let's step back a bit and look at what has happened in this example. Overall, Cindy took what Jessie intended to be an innocent conversation and found a way to turn it into a method for controlling Jessie. What could have been a moment for Cindy to reflect and potentially improve herself became a campaign to create a narrative where Cindy was perfect and everything Jessie did was bad.  

Does Jessie's experience resonate with you? If it does, you may be wondering whether you are the toxic one because the toxic person in your life is pushing you to consider it. 

Want to think more about these questions? Be sure to give us a follow over on Instagram. We post content related to this week's topic twice per day and you can often catch me over on our stories. Check it out @empowermentthroughthought



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