We’re told to avoid toxic people, but what if you realize you’re the toxic person in your relationship? It’s not the end of the world. The good news is that awareness is the first step to changing something. If you’re ready to be honest and make some serious changes, you can move away from toxicity and move towards more healthy partnerships. Here’s how to do it:
Stop assuming you’re better or worse than anyone else. One sign that you’re toxic is that you’re an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. You either think that you’re way better than your partner or way worse. Sometimes, you think both of these things in the same day and you act out in jealousy. Instead of having this mindset, try to work towards being equal. Know that your partner is a human just like you. They have their strengths and their weaknesses. They’re no better or worse than you.
Take some time for yourself. One form of toxicity is codependency. You think you require a partner to be okay, so you pile an immense amount of unreasonable expectation onto your lover. This results in inevitable disappointment and fighting. Instead, try taking some alone time. Getting familiar with yourself can mean literally breaking up with your partner or it can mean intentionally spending some time apart. Taking this time is crucial in learning that another person is not the source of your well-being.
Seek therapy or some sort of structured support. Chances are that if you’re acting out in toxic ways, you have trauma or emotional baggage you haven’t sorted through. Perhaps you had a troubled childhood and didn’t have any healthy relationships modeled for you. There’s no shame in getting support. Seeking professional help in the form of a therapist is one way to take action in the right direction. If the first step to healing your toxicity is awareness, then the next step is structured action.
Practice meditation or breathing exercises to cool your emotions. I’m a big fan of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, also known as DBT. Its founder, Marsha Linehan, is a Zen Buddhist, so she draws many techniques from spiritual practice, which has been helping people for thousands of years! One struggle with being toxic is that emotions often get the best of you. Anger feels uncontrollable and sadness is devastating. Meditation or breathing exercises are great ways to ground yourself in the present moment and to literally slow down on a cellular level.
Be honest with yourself. You’ve already done the hard work in admitting that you’re the toxic one. This takes a ton of self-awareness and guts to come to terms with. You need to keep being honest with yourself if you want to heal. The thing about toxicity is that there are many layers to be uncovered. Your toxic habits didn’t appear overnight and they won’t disappear overnight.
Lean into the messiness. Realizing you’re acting toxic is just the beginning. There are going to be continuous months and years of human messiness ahead. No one ever has perfect relationships, but you’re going to have to work extra hard to function normally. You’re going to make mistakes along the way. You’re going to act out old habits and make a muck of things. That’s okay. As long as you’re trying, you can go ahead and lean into the messiness.
Take responsibility for your actions. You’re going to make mistakes and you likely have already made a whole bunch of them. It’s okay. What’s important now is that you start taking responsibility for them. A simple “sorry” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Your apology needs to be followed up by a sincere intention to change the behavior and stop causing harm.
Do the right thing, not the easy thing. Way easier said than done, right? Step seven in 12-step programs is about getting rid of defects of character. To start to loosen old patterns and eventually get rid of them, you have to practice doing the right thing instead of the easy thing. When your partner talks about a female coworker, instead of doing what you usually do (making a passive-aggressive remark), instead try being neutral. You don’t have to like being neutral. You can do the right thing begrudgingly, but give it a shot.
Bite your tongue. Your mouth is likely what gets you in the most trouble. Maybe you lash out when you’re feeling insecure or you nitpick and call it “being honest.” Whatever it looks like, your tongue is quick and sharp. It causes a lot of pain. Practice biting it. You don’t even have to say anything nice! Just practice not saying anything at all.
Know that you are not broken or unlovable, you just need to heal. Sometimes realizing that you are the toxic one feels utterly devastating. You start beating yourself up and layering on self-hatred. This reaction is not useful to you or anyone else. At the end of the day, you’re just another human doing the best you can. You’re not damaged goods and you are not unloveable. You just require some space and time to heal, that’s all.
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