“Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can damage an organism. Toxicity can refer to the effect on a whole organism, such as an animal, bacterium or plant, as well as the effect on the sub structure of the organism, such as cell (cytotoxicity) or an organ such as the liver (hepatotoxicity). By extension, the world may be metaphorically used to describe toxic effect on larger and more complex groups, such as the family unit or society at large. Sometimes the word is more or less synonymous with poisoning in everyday usage “ - Wikipedia.
Now I fully and completely understand that there are people and situations that are not good for us, therefore we put distance between us and them, or even avoid them altogether. I myself do this and have no doubt that others do this with me.
This takes us to the rub number one: it is rather childish to divide the world into toxic people and... what is the opposite thing exactly? Non-toxic people? Life enhancing people? I just ran a search on antonyms of toxic: Harmless people. Helpful people. Hygienic people. Inoffensive people. Non-venomous people. Safe people... OURSELVES!
I hope that this list illustrates just how absurd it is to classify people in terms of toxicity. I think it shows pretty effectively that, unlike snakes, bees or scorpions, human beings do not carry venom. Not physically or literally anyway. Human beings can of course behave in nasty ways and resort to survival mechanisms that others perceive as pure poison. However this is (at best) a coping mechanism or (at worst) profoundly dysfunctional behaviour displayed by damaged (wounded) people.
No expectant mother intends to put a poison baby on the planet. And most so-called toxic individuals will have areas of competence, generosity and their moments of loving kindness. So your toxic parents may be the the ones who get the weekly shopping for the elderly man next-door, or your toxic colleague may be a wonderful dad who runs the local Under Fives football club.
So the first thing we need to release is the fantasy that other people are toxic and we are not. We all weave in and out of behaviours that range from severely dysfunctional to evolved or even inspired, all the time. This means that we are delightful and uplifting company some of the time and poor friends at other times. Or we are a great friend for X but we really let down Y when she most needed our help.
On reflections I would go as far as saying that it is irresponsible to describe other people as toxic. Words have an energy all of their own and they can be used as poison arrows. The moment we say; “so and so is toxic” (even only behind their back) we affect them energetically. It means that people who may have been positively disposed to them will actively start looking for trouble and hidden motives. Perhaps even put negative interpretations on their actions and statements. We, and only we chose to set that in motion – not the individual. We are using language in an irresponsible, and yes, toxic way.
The next thing we need to do is reflect on our own toxicity. When we gossip, we are displaying toxic behaviour. The same thing goes for slagging someone off (perhaps to make ourselves feel better), breaking confidentiality, shouting swear words at other road users in heavy traffic (even if we are alone in our car), giving someone the finger or an offensive nickname behind their back etc., etc. Having established that we are all more than capable of toxic behaviour and resort to this at least on occasion, we can start to look at what feels so wrong about toxic behaviour and how often it is not even remotely intended as toxic behaviour.
For instance, when I visit my family of origin, this feels like being shackled and forced to be an awkward thirteen year-old again. Not because my mother or siblings intend this, but because I have spent years changing my settings and moving on from the person I once was. I even moved abroad and embraced other cultures and other languages – anything to get way from the claustrophobic small town mentality! There is no doubt in my mind that prolonged visits are not good for me: they are both draining and profoundly upsetting, and I plan both duration and my ‘escape velocity’ with great care. But this doesn’t mean my family consists of toxic people! It does mean though, that I have rejected and released ways of functioning that they have never questioned. And from their point of view it would be highly questionable to claim that my way is somehow superior, or more evolved than theirs. It is just different, and certainly feels more respectful or ‘spiritually sound’ to me and when I behave my way and follow my chosen principles, I feel like a better person creating better outcomes and healthier relationships.
However, this does not give me the right to describe my family as toxic - though I absolutely feel the sting of their words and criticisms of me, and their lack of ability to see who I have become hurts too. Then again that is my journey; to learn about not taking that to heart. It ultimately teaches me that very little of what others say and do reflects on me – it only reflects on them, even if they are talking about me! That was a key insight in my life and it still came from my family. An unintentional but life-changing lesson.
Taking this to the next level, what about people who cause problems wherever they go? (I am a shamanic teacher by profession, believe me, I meet these people all the time. They do exist!). I have heard a colleague refer to this as ‘social pain.’ Those individuals (and I am not talking about psychopaths and serial killers) will keep joining collectives (classes, clubs, groups, circles) desperate for acceptance on some level, knowing that this will inevitably backfire and soon they will find themselves in the role of outcasts or scapegoats again. The human need for belonging, for having a community and rewarding social interactions with others is a core need, not a luxury.
Reflecting on that for a moment, (and we all know several people who fit this description), we see how incredibly sad this cycle is. Those people are not toxic; they are just hurt and carry a lifetime of rejections and bad experiences. Unless a group is actively therapeutic (meaning that it exists for the explicit purpose of healing and permanently changing our wiring) those processes will keep on repeating; these people’s own behaviour creates the defeating outcomes, but they have no way of breaking free. This is profoundly sad... but not toxic.
Pulling out all stops: what then of career criminals, mass murderers, psychopaths and serial killers? My youngest son likes reminding me that Hitler was a vegetarian because he loved animals. We have all heard stories about criminals stopping to help an old lady cross the road before robbing a bank. As regards to psychopaths and serial killers - I am no expert but I believe that they often had atrocious childhoods. Ask a police profiler or criminologist! Or look up profiles of young people who committed school shootings in the US. No teenager wakes up one morning and impulsively decides to shoot fellow students and teachers that day. Such acts are many months in the planning (and many years in the making as an individual becomes more and more alienated from their community). Imagine having a childhood where all you knew was abuse, not love. What kind of individual would you grow into? At the very least a twisted damaged one. You might be dangerous, but are you toxic?
The bottom line is that every human being alive has a divine spark somewhere within them; we are not robots, we are ‘ensouled’ beings, meaning that Spirit married Matter, so all of us could come into being.
When people (including ourselves in an unguarded moment) display toxic behaviour, we can make an active choice to see their soul, their spirit, their timeless Divine self. When everyone around us does this (switching away from criticism and committing to seeing our soul light and luminosity, even tiny amounts of it) a shift will occur. Just as a whole team of colleagues constantly (and secretly) referring to us as toxic will flatten us, push us right down - doing the opposite will lift us. This lift may just bring a brief two second awareness that other ways of being DO exist, that not everyone is ‘out to get us or laugh at us.’ From small acorns large oaks trees grow.
The choice is ours, in every moment. On occasion we may even choose to deliberately walk into toxic situations to embody the breath of fresh air, the catalyst. Not for too long, not to the point where we risk injury or illness, but long enough to make a slight difference by responding to a situation from a different level of awareness.
What are Toxic People? To my mind they are people who stick the label toxic on other fellow human beings
Imelda Almqvist is a shamanic painter, teacher, practitioner and author who divides her time between London, UK and Södermanland, Sweden. Imelda has also pioneered a shamanic
program for young people called The Time Travellers offering safe sacred group space for children and teenagers to develop a viable spiritual toolkit. Shamanic healing is all about restoring harmony
in the body, mind and the human energy field.