I have seen a lot of comments on social media about our need to rid ourselves of “toxic people.” Yes, it is a grand change to decide that harmful relationships are something we may actually choose or reject. Nonetheless, I balk at the implication that any one person is entirely, well, anything. I caution you to beware those who launch into sweeping generalizations about those with whom they struggle. Perhaps they are many bad things, but I am interested in just what role we ourselves play in our choice to dismantle a relationship, to tear away, to burn it to the ground. It seems like a truly spiritual life will entail a bit more than ghosting or blaming or reducing a human being to the status of garbage. This reminds me also of the label, “narcissist,” as though we are all psychologists with the expertise to determine the actual one percent of bonafide excessive and harmful narcissism that truly exists. Offense is not always the best defense.
What about the narcissist who lives in each and every one of us? Can we just have a bit of compassion and dial it down on the unfair and overly broad definitions? I have seen narcissism in a lot of people I treasure. So what? It is my boundaries and my self-esteem that can protect me from all that, not attacking them with ferocity. If you really know who you are, no one is any real threat. And that leaves the door ajar for your loved ones to be flawed and messy and sometimes downright wrong.
The injury caused by these character assassinations is real, but more so, we are neglecting to see that the extremes of a person’s behavior is typically rooted in pain. Fear is another large factor in someone’s poor choices. Perhaps we could just settle down a bit and recognize how deeply this person needs to be loved. It is one thing to distance yourself as you see fit. It is an entirely separate thing to publicly or even privately demonize them.
I’m not just talking about romance either; although that is a biggie. Relationships with friends, siblings, parents, kids and coworkers are just as relevant in our choices to keep on keepin’ on. In fact, the way we walk, talk, think, and feel about all of our relationships is good practice for romantic love. This is about our capacity for intimacy and deep need for all of the varied relationships we hold. The common denominator is within me…or you…as the case may be. How do I behave when someone I care about is being difficult, maybe even ridiculous? My experience is that most people just pull away without any real explanation, and leave that person floundering in confusion.
My modus operandi is to retreat! I have often determined this woman is a wicked slut, or that man is an abusive monster. Generally with a indignant attitude, thus justifying my choice. Today, I see the signs of how I might have done it differently. I am more open to how I could have kept the love alive, even if it meant just having a different or distant relationship, instead of a hostile relationship.
A few things I do today are helping me to stay in relationships without losing my self in the process.
First, gentle honesty. If I am going to jump ship, I try to express what it is that I need and give them a chance to try. At least I can do that much out of respect for what we have been.
Second, I see the struggle as a way for me to grow, to evolve into a wiser and more refined woman. Go ahead, do that thing that I hate. Then I will be forced to review who I am, what I truly believe about myself, and how I can use grace and compassion to speak my truth.
I have people in my life that hold accomplishment and financial wealth as a measure of one’s character, a common American view. This always pricks my heart, as I have turned away from such things and live with less than I could earn. Does this mean people I love see me as a loser? If my kids don’t attend college, much less the best colleges, does that mean we are failures? What if they struggle all their lives with a meager income? Should we carry shame for it?
Let me tell you something. This is not about those who may judge us. This is not about their standards either. This is absolutely and undeniably about my own sense of human worth, dignity, and the fact that I am finally okay with my own life choices and the ways in which I have also not been lucky. If I am truly at peace, they will see it. They will understand that their measurement is no threat to me. I love my simple life and all the struggles that befall me, as they are a mirror for my strength and my own priorities.
Likewise, if someone I know begins to compete with me, sees me as a threat to their own value, I know full well that only my love will make them question it. Only my deep, sincere desire for their wellness will bring down their walls. If that is not enough, then I must detach from the system in which they live. Sadly, I must release them to their own lessons. But damnit, I am not going to angrily shun them, call them names, and declare my superior status. Because I really just need to grieve that they cannot love me and celebrate my strength. They cannot reap the rewards of my love if they persist in their comparisons and their own unhealed pain.
If the people in my life are cruel, I can love myself without hating them. I can even appreciate those parts of them I still love. I can commune with the divine and thank them for allowing me to not defend, not blame, not stonewall, nor dismiss them. I can protect myself and still keep my love alive.