I’m just so glad I cut her off. At the end of the day, she was toxic and I can’t have those kinds of people around me if I want to prosper. She only came around when she felt like I could benefit her in some way. But then I took a step back and saw that she was using me. She only wanted success for me in ways that could also benefit her. If I wasn’t making the life decisions she approved of, she would get passive-aggressive and try to manipulate me into doing things her way. How could I have been so naive? I was proud of myself the day I finally found my voice. I told her all the ways she had wronged me and why I couldn’t continue with our friendship. Of course, she argued back and forth about how I misunderstood everything... but toxic is toxic, and that’s that on that. One by one, I cut person after person out of my life for the same reason. It felt good, until one day it dawned on me that I was completely alone. Not even my support system could withstand my season of “cutting folks off”. And there in the silence, I realized the mess I had made while trying to clean up my circle.
Photographer: Jenny Desrosiers
In today’s society, the idea of “canceling” people has become widespread. This form of social-shunning often serves to hold people accountable for unacceptable actions or comments they have made. Other times, it can be used to temporarily, or permanently, disrupt someone’s means of income and/or opportunities based on said behavior. On a more personal level, some of the most trendy advice we see on social media pertains to canceling, or cutting off, people in our lives that we consider "toxic". Although it is healthy to remove people from our lives that cause us harm, it is important to consider the gravity of labeling someone toxic, and the ramifications of doing so. To begin, it must be noted that what one person considers toxic behavior, may not be considered toxic by someone else. For example, while one person may label someone who exhibits controlling behavior as toxic, someone else may classify a person who simply lacks ambition as being toxic for their space. Therefore, given the subjectivity of the word, it is safe to assume that at some point each of us may have been, or will be, considered toxic to someone else. To add to the complexity of the matter, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines toxic as: adj. containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation. With this definition in mind, it is easy to ascertain why labeling a person in this way can be extremely stigmatizing and alienating, especially when no context has been given behind the label. If something is truly toxic, it is unable to produce anything good, and it can only result in death or other forms of destruction. Although it may feel accurate at the time, comparing a person to “poisonous material that can cause death” can actually be quite dehumanizing when you are on the receiving end. Essentially, this mindset of categorizing people as either “toxic” or “not toxic” is unrealistic. It leaves no room for human error, misunderstandings, and ultimately, no room for a person to grow to a place of redemption. In addition, consider how it might feel to be labeled “toxic” for something you did or said when you were going through a traumatic or stressful situation. Would the other person have the right to feel like you caused them harm or were unhealthy for their space at the time? Absolutely! However, should that situation reduce you to being an overall toxic person? Not necessarily, especially if you have committed to learning from it and changing your behavior. In reality, no one is either completely good or completely evil. We all possess positive and negative traits. With that said, when someone labels a person toxic and describes that person to others as such, it usually serves to ostracize that person rather than calling for genuine change.
In addition to ostracizing a person, categorizing someone as toxic and then cutting them off completely can also serve as a cop-out to avoid conflict resolution in some cases. Although no one owes us a chance at redemption if we have wronged them, frequently cutting people off after minor discord, then labeling them toxic, steals away our opportunity to work through conflict using effective communication skills. If it is someone you care about, it can be beneficial for both parties to discuss what happened that was considered toxic, and see if there is a possible solution that works for both people. If not, it is always okay to cut your losses and move on. However, keep in mind that just because you consider someone toxic for the role they played in your personal life, doesn’t mean that everyone else will have a similar experience with them. All in all, it is important that we are intentional and careful about the labels we place on people. Since we as humans are constantly changing, using definitive labels like toxic can oftentimes do more harm than good in a situation. Instead, it is more beneficial to describe a person’s actions that you did not agree with, rather than reducing them to a label that could follow them for years to come. On the other hand, if you truly feel like someone is unhealthy for you personally, take a moment to define exactly what that means to you. If you believe it is worth talking about, feel free to communicate your feelings with them. In other situations, where you don’t believe a conversation is warranted, be confident in the fact that you don’t owe anyone a second chance or an explanation for cutting them off. However, when this tactic is used repeatedly, in order to avoid conflict or having difficult conversations, it actually stifles your ability to problem solve in social situations and can lead to unintended isolation. So the next time someone does something that causes you harm, try referring to their behavior as being toxic, rather than the totality of their person being classified as such. And if you still feel the need to cut them off… Get to choppin' boo! All Power And Love To The People, Shani