I’m about to offend a bunch of people, and I apologise in advance. All I ask is that you read this with an open mind; not consider me toxic and not cut me off.
I have been in the mental heath field for a few years, most of them as a student. There is a lot I didn’t know about mental health that now I do; and still there is a lot more I don’t know about the topic, and everyday I am educating myself.
The one word that keeps being thrown around these days is toxic people, and toxicity in relationships, and everyone who disagrees with you is being labelled as toxic and should be ‘cut off’. I have a few reservations about what we refer to as toxic and how fast we are doing this cutting off business.
Who are toxic people? My definition of a toxic person is one who is emotionally abusive, overly critical and derives pleasure and satisfaction from bringing you down, making you miserable and causing you pain. They never apologise or try to repair any damage to the relationship. And if they do apologise, it is manipulative and intended only to benefit them in some way.
We know people like these, they walk among us, and yes you have to cut them off from your life because they are toxic, and a huge liability to you and the journey you are on.
A friend who is willing to tell you difficult uncomfortable truths (that you don’t want to hear), to make your life better, is not toxic. They are being a good friend. If you expect that your friends should walk around you on eggshells; be ‘yes men’ and never call you out when you are on a destructive path, then you need to check yourself. That is no way to build and maintain friendships.
Friends who are truly making an effort to become better friends don’t need to be cut off for making mistakes. We are human. We are all learning and fighting battles you know nothing about, and we need you to be a friend to us as well. Everyone will disappoint you at one point or another, and it is how you both behave after that disappointment that makes or breaks the friendship. Stop expecting perfection from yourself and others. Perfection is not a human quality.
Your parents, who did the best they could, the best way they knew how, with what they had, to give you the life they gave you, but still somehow damaged you emotionally, are not toxic. They are flawed humans to whom you need to extend grace, unconditionally. Parenting is not easy, parenting several children and juggling jobs, to put food on the table, a roof over your head, and maintain their own sanity is not a walk in the park.
Of course, it goes without saying, but I’ll still say it, there are some parents who have been horribly cruel and abusive to their children, and have refused to do the work required to be better and do better. These are not the folk I am talking about in this article. I am talking about our regular parents who we know would have laid down their lives for us and truly did their best.
I am here to tell you that you don’t have to jump onto every new trend on social media that tells you what you should be defining your relationships as. A bunch of people now are labelling their parents as toxic and want to cut them off, but they have not even tried to have adult conversations with said parents about their experiences of their childhoods, and the experiences of their parents that led them to be the parents they became.
Some parents are hurting deeply and are yearning for intimate relationships with their adult children. Give your parents a chance.
Please aspire to be different. Aspire to give people chances, and space to grow.
I truly hope that you are willing to develop deeper relationships with your people and hold each other as we ride this wild roller-coaster that is the journey of life. We need each other. Remember that concept Brené Brown has taught us, applying the ‘hypothesis of generosity‘, do that, a lot.
People are not out to get you. Tell a friend to tell a friend.
Jennifer K. is a counselling psychologist based in Nairobi. She runs Safe Space Arena, an online platform that focuses on trauma therapy, therapy for creatives in Kenya, social media addiction, and general discussions about mental well-being.