Yesterday I was asked a question on twitter about “toxic” people. The question and answer (both largely edited and/or paraphrased for use on this blog).
The exchange is here:
Question from a reader (edited and paraphrased for clarity): Do you have articles or can you suggest books on how to deal with toxic people? People that cause harm, injustice, abuse, manipulators, domestic violence…emotional vampires, etc?
Answer: No, I don’t have books like that to recommend nor do I write about others in that manner. I have generally concentrated on my shit…not other peoples and so I don’t actually follow that sort of stuff.
I have found that learning to be straight and honest and clear in myself has allowed me to make boundaries and create healthy relationships with others.
This morning I woke up to this in my email inbox which seemed to go along with yesterday’s exchange and so the idea of this little post was born:
When we talk about changing other people that supposes the existence of someone else that is separate from this self. But if, as the Buddha taught, that is not the case, then if I change that change affects the entire universe. – Cheri Huber
It also makes me think of this bible verse from Luke 6. There are versions of it in all the gospels as well:
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I’ve basically stayed away from labeling people whether it’s toxic, bipolar, schizophrenic, narcissistic or borderline because frankly, labeling always “others” a person. We all end up with stuff that ain’t pretty in this culture and society, which is indeed toxic. That toxicity doesn’t leave any of us untouched. I prefer to deal with our communal shit in a way that embraces it all and recognizes the sometimes very messy and also painful, but also incredibly wondrous reality of being human. Ultimately the only person we can change is ourselves. I’ve seen the power of doing that in my life. Everything changes as we do.
I will say that recognizing difficult behaviors in others is part of taking care of ourselves as well and there isn’t a problem with that in and of itself. I personally do find problems with extending those behaviors to label people without regard for the context of their lives. Is there good reason to stay away from people that harm us? Absolutely. And I have found the best way to do that is to know myself, good and bad parts both, and therefore, know how to make boundaries. This is what I do. It may not be appropriate for everyone at all times. I share what has worked for me. I grew up in a milieux which does point fingers to the other and label them as well and so, I do know a lot about people from that standpoint. It helped shape me and in that regard was not useless. I basically realized that we all play the victim and the perpetrator at one time or another, so owning my own perpetrator helped more than pointing at other’s.
The way I approach things, is, in my mind, the best way to be deeply non-coercive. Something very near and dear to me give the amount of coercion I’ve experienced in my life that has deeply harmed me in psychiatry. I opt to practice non-coercion in all my dealings with all people as much as possible. Psychiatry loves to label people…it’s had a far-reaching influence in my life.
oh! have to add this now too, that I just saw on twitter:
Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one. Nietzsche
— Philosophy Quotes (@Zoraidacz) September 12, 2014