We all have toxic people in our lives. Sometimes they are US.
One morning last week in the communication class I teach at a local college, we were covering relationship-damaging behaviors, and what indicates a potentially toxic future relationship. I saw an act of bravery that gave me a moment of pause. One of my students raised her hand and asked, “What do I do when the toxic person in my life, the negative critical person, is ME?”
After thanking her for her vulnerability, I made the correlation to interpersonal relationships, in other words, we have to get the relationship we have with ourselves right FIRST before we can have a healthy relationship with someone else.
We talked about taking thoughts captive, ignoring some, rejecting others, and looking for positives. We talked about how we don’t even remember the times something good happens because of how our brains are wired. I spoke about University of Oregon emeritus psychologist, Robert Weiss’s concept of “Negative Sentiment Override” and moved into how the practice of daily gratitude combats this in relationships, including the one we have with ourselves. I spoke about giving ourselves grace (benefit of the doubt), pointing out our strengths to ourselves, basic mindfulness, and how focus and self-awareness are wildly useful in maturing our relationship with ourselves into a healthier space.
We HAVE to stop being toxic to ourselves before we can stop being toxic to others OR deal with another person’s toxic behavior. It’s a thing.
She thanked me for the answers and said she could see how she needs to get aggressive about her relationship with herself. She talked about scoring high in “neuroticism” on the Big 5 Personality Test and how she was working on not having so many negative thoughts. (BTW, it’s worth taking – the Big 5 is one of the few cross-culturally reliable and validated personality tests out there – it correlates to the Myers Briggs, AND introduces the construct of neuroticism, which is wildly connected to healthy relationships and a happy life)
It’s hard work to become mindful and have positive thoughts – but useful if we want to have a decent go of it here on planet earth. I also believe these negative habits of thinking get in the way of connecting with God, but that’s a discussion for another day.
I am crazy proud of her. The internet famed, Dr. Jordan Peterson, PhD psychologist and University of Toronto Professor, author of 12 Truths for Life, tells us that the best thing we can do to learn and grow is to realize there is something WE can do about our problem. The brain itself will not be open to a new way of doing things as long as we are stubbornly stuck in our own perceptions. It’s only when we realize that there is something wrong within US which then creates the hope for change. Blaming others for our problems only continues the problem and gives away our power to actually DO something about it.
Another reason why we simply cannot change other people – we can’t make them see their perspective isn’t the only one. They have to be brave enough, ready enough, wise enough, to see it themselves and only because they are actually LOOKING for a different option, one that may involve them being wrong.
This only happens after they’ve been sufficiently validated. No matter how absurd we may think their perspective is – until they feel heard, they simply can’t let go of it. Well, that’s not exactly true. Sometimes people can a blinding flash of maturity and discover that they could be wrong. Peterson’s thoughts seem to promulgate that thought and “the how” of it.
I was thinking about how much more peace we can have as followers of Christ when we put God’s Word in Philippians 4:4-13 into action.
The word, “disciple,” actually means, “learner.” It’s kinda the whole point of following Christ, to continue to learn, grow, mature, transform into His likeness this side of Heaven. Today, I want to challenge us all a bit, past the notion of knowledge alone being enough. James tells us in chapter 1:
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing
Having said all this, I find it useful to remind myself and others that knowledge from the learning isn’t enough. We are also to be “doers” of what we have learned. We are actually sinning when we know what we should do, and don’t do it. Seems like too many of us like to know but not do. I’m like that sometimes too.
Might be an uphill battle, but being a disciple means constantly growing in these things. I don’t know about you, but I love having a lack of stress in my life – I’m not perfect at this, btw, but when I remember to follow Him everywhere, His peace allows me to simply BE in the circumstances of this life, not taking the arrows slung at me, nor slinging them at myself. And like you, I need the reminder sometimes, also.
Love to you,
PS – want more? Please join us as we walk through relationship challenges in our Strength & Dignity class for wives. We’ll have the Strength & Dignity CONFERENCE info out to you soon (yes, NEW new NEW experience and teaching and practice!!).
And stay tuned… my gift to you this Christmas is how to make it a memorable holiday, with LESS STRESS!!
Here’s the top ten ways to destroy your marriage as a bonus today!