Why Am I Toxic and How Do I Change It?Jun 28, 2022
I recently had a heartbroken client tell me, “I’m just a toxic person. Everyone says so. No matter how good the relationship is going, I end up ruining it. I can’t help it. I’m toxic. How do I fix this?”
Maybe you’ve had moments where you felt the same way, where it seems like you end up in the same pattern over and over again, toxically sabotaging your relationships. Maybe you feel like I have, that no matter how hard you try to be loving, you just can’t seem to show up the way you want with the people you love the most.
As discouraging and frustrating as this is, it can be different. I personally felt this way for years and then I learned why I was toxic and exactly how to change it and that changed every relationship in my life.
If you want to know why you are toxic and how to change it, here are the five things you need to know:
People Can’t Be Toxic
The first thing you need to know is that people can’t be toxic. No one can. Including you. There is no such thing has a toxic person. There’s no such thing as a difficult person either.
Toxic means poisonous. People can’t be poisonous. Plants can be poisonous, chemicals can be poisonous, but you can’t be poisonous because you are a person.
People act. People make choices. People can speak and they can do things, but even the things people do can’t be toxic in and of themselves.
Everything that happens in the world has to be interpreted by a brain. And that interpretation is what makes something bad or good, toxic or safe, hurtful or kind, but there there is nothing that is inherently toxic. For anything to be toxic, it has to first be interpreted as such.
For example, think about the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center in 2001. Some people might have considered them as toxic people doing toxic, horrific things. But there are other people who thought about them as heroic people doing heroic, noble things.
What this means is that human beings can’t be toxic and if our actions are “toxic” they are only toxic because we have interpreted them that way.
When you Think of Yourself as Toxic, It Matters
Now you might think this isn’t important, that the way you interpret what you do isn’t important, but it is! The way you think about yourself matters.
Our brains love to be right and hate to be wrong. They are biologically programmed to avoid being wrong because from a biologic standpoint being wrong meant death. This means that when we believe we are toxic, our brain works hard to prove that we are. When you think you are toxic, your brain would rather be right about that than wrong!
And then your brain filters everything that happens in your life through that lens. Our brain actually starts looking for evidence that we are toxic and reminding us of all the ways this is true. It keeps piles of “evidence” about our past and it even works to carry the same reality in our future.
When we believe we are toxic, we actually act in a way to make it true and we see everything we do through that “truth.” It’s like we put on a pair of toxic glasses and everything we look at is now tinged and tainted by our toxicity.
For the first 20 years of my marriage this is exactly how I thought about myself. I thought I was the toxic one. I told myself I was hard to live with and that I made life harder for everyone around me. I told myself that I made my husband’s life harder, my kids’ lives harder and that I was always the difficult one.
I really wanted to be different, but over and over again I wouldn’t show up loving, I wouldn’t show up patient, I wouldn’t show up kind. And it was because my brain believed I was toxic and that’s all it could see.
I started thinking that my husband and kids would be better off without me and this made me feel terrible and then I would show up even worse to drive them away from me.
The whole time, I thought it was good to know that I was the one that was toxic, that I was the damaged one, that I was the difficult one. I thought it was good that I knew that because then I reasoned that I could do something about it.
But thinking I was all these things, only reinforced my beliefs, emphasized my problems, increased my shame, and exaggerated my bad behavior. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t get out of by continuing to think I was toxic.
And while it was true that I wasn’t acting the way I wanted to around my family, it turns out that there was a good reason I was doing it.
The Real Reason Why You are Toxic
The truth is that no matter how we are showing up, how we are behaving, there is always a good reason for it. All of our actions (everything we do and say, everything we don’t do and don’t say) are a result of what we’re thinking and feeling.
As our brain processes the things that happen in our lives, it generates thought. Then your brain needs a way to communicate these thoughts with the rest of your body. It does this by producing feelings. And then our body responds and takes action from those feelings.
Feelings which fuel
Consider this question: When I think that I am toxic, how do I feel?
Most of us feel ashamed, discouraged, angry, embarrassed, frustrated, hopeless, or some other negative emotion.
Now think about what kind of action we take then we feel like this. Often from these emotions, we disconnect, we lash out, we isolate ourselves, or pick fights, or engage in self-destructive behaviors.
It turns out that everything you do is always proceeded by a thought. No matter what you do, it is because your brain had a thought that created a feeling that drove that action.
For those of us who have spent a while thinking that we are toxic and wondering how to change it, knowing that we act the way we do because of what we’re thinking is such a hopeful thought. Because when you know that THOUGHT is the genesis of any toxic action we are taking, then you also know what to do about it if you want to change it.
We now have answers to both of our questions:
- Why am I toxic? Remember you can’t be toxic, but if you aren’t showing up in a way you like it’s because you have a thought causing you to act in that way.
- How do I change it? Find the thoughts that are causing the behaviors you want to change, and change those thoughts.
Understanding these answers changed my life and every one of my relationships and they can change yours. I could clearly see why I was toxic and how to change it.
How to Change Your Toxic Thoughts
Once we understand that the only reason we are behaving in toxic ways is because of the thoughts we are thinking, the next question becomes obvious: how do I change my toxic thoughts?
The way we change any thought is always a three-step process
1. Awareness – First we have to be aware of what we are thinking. Human beings have 40,000-60,000 thoughts a day and for the most part we are unaware of most of them. We can’t change our thoughts until we know what we are thinking currently. So it’s time to get curious. You can start to become aware of what you’re thinking in a couple of ways.
First, you can do a thought download regularly. This means that you take out a piece of paper and write down everything in your head. Don’t edit it, don’t shame yourself, or tell yourself you shouldn’t be thinking that. Remember it is just your brain thinking thoughts. And you want to know what those thoughts are because they are unconsciously driving your actions.
If you show up “toxically” in certain situations or with certain people, concentrate your thought download to those situations or people. Ask yourself what you think in those situations, what you think of them, what you think of yourself, and write everything that comes to mind.
Another way to do this is when you find yourself in the middle of behaving in a “toxic” way, you can pause and get curious. What am I feeling? What am I thinking that is making me feel this way?
2. Acceptance – The second step is once you are aware of what you are thinking and feeling, you don’t make yourself wrong for it. Accept that your brain always has a good reason for the thoughts it gives you.
Your brain truly believes the thoughts it offers you will be useful in keeping you alive. It offers the thoughts it does because it thinks they will be helpful or protective in some way. Don’t judge yourself for this.
Most of us don’t want to accept our “toxic” behavior. We don’t like it and we want to change it, but ironically, we can’t change it until we make it okay.
A few years ago I went on a trip with my husband. I was in a bad mood for the first 2 days. And then I was mad at myself for being grumpy and rude on our vacation. It just got worse and worse. The more angry and frustrated I got with myself, the worse I acted.
Finally, in tears, I took a walk on the beach. Instead of telling myself to stop being toxic and stop being awful, I told myself it was okay. I told myself that it was okay that I was grumpy and prickly and rude. I told myself yes, you were toxic and it’s okay. We’re a human and sometimes humans do it badly. It’s okay.
After I made it okay I was able to change my thoughts and feelings almost immediately. Acceptance is one of the hardest parts of changing our thoughts, but it is also the most important.
3. Adjustment – After you have become aware of your thoughts and made them okay, then you are in a position to change your thoughts. Remember that every thought is optional and you can think anything you want, anytime you want to.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you decide what thoughts you want to think instead:
- How do I want to feel? What would I need to think to feel that way?
- What if I believed the opposite?
- What would someone else think? (You can insert a name of someone to show you how many options there really are. For example, what would Oprah think? What would Gordon Ramsey think? What would Christ think? What would my mom think?
- If I could believe anything I wanted, what would I want to believe?
- If I knew everything was going to be okay, what would I think?
- If I knew that they were doing it right, what would I think?
- If I didn’t want this (or them) to be any different, what would I think?
Once you have decided what you want to think, you need to practice it. Our brains have deep neural pathways that make thinking the old thoughts easy and fast. You have to create new neural connections and this takes practice. You need to think your new thoughts over and over again until your brain learns the new pattern.
The thoughts you think are why you are toxic and changing those thoughts is how you change that. But changing our thoughts is challenging work and it can be really helpful to have a coach help you with this part. A coach can help you question your current thoughts, see why you brain might be offering them to you, and help you see so many more options of thoughts to think.
If you want some personal help with your thoughts, you can sign up for a free coaching consultation here and I would love to help you how freeing it can be to think differently about something that has felt both true and toxic for years.
Forgive Yourself for Being Toxic
Sometimes we are tempted to think that it’s too late and too much damage has been done, but this is never true. You get to change anytime you want.
Stop telling yourself that you are toxic. You are not. That is impossible. And remember that there is always a good reason for the things we do. There is a good reason you did things the way you did them.
No matter what has happened in your past, it was created by your thoughts. And whatever you thought, that was what you knew to think. And it’s okay. We are always doing the best we know, thinking the only way we know to think, and as soon as you know that something else is possible to think and believe, you get to think it.
It is not going to help you to continue to condemn yourself for things you have done in the past. It is over. You thought thoughts. Those thoughts created feelings. And you acted from those feelings. And it’s okay.
What matters now is how you think about those things today. If you continue to think terrible things about your past, that will only created more negative feelings in the present and keep you stuck in your same patterns.
The key is to let go of your own toxic thoughts about your own past and let them go. Decide to think different thoughts even about you, even about your “toxic” past. You do not have to believe it was toxic. You can believe it was perfect because you were doing the best you could with the thoughts you were believing.
And that will allow you to move on and create something different today. Now that you know why you are toxic, this is the key to change it!
If you want more help with this, please reach out! I would love to help you and coach you so that you can live your life in the way you really want to be living it. You can get on a free call with me here.
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