Several years ago, I wrote an article on "6 Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them In Yourself and Change Them." A great deal about that post and the reaction to it was a huge surprise to me. But most of all, I was touched and moved by how many people wrote (over 1,100 people) that they were sick and tired of their own toxicity, and were desperate to change and heal.
I was inspired by the bravery people demonstrated in being willing to recognize how they were poisoning their own lives and relationships, and slamming the door on happiness, success and joy. And I saw more clearly how wounds from our childhoods and early years carry over to dramatically color our ability to feel and experience joy, reward and success in our current careers and personal lives.
In the years that have passed since that post, I’ve expanded my coaching work to offer more personal transformation and healing work, drawing on what I learned as a family therapist in the years after my corporate life. Recently, for instance, I launched a Facebook group for adult children of narcissists called Thriving After Narcissism, and every single day I connect with people who’ve been wounded by narcissism, and also who are suffering from their own toxicity, and want the poison to stop.
In thinking about how and why so many people stay stuck in their own toxicity, I’ve seen there are five critical factors that perpetuate the problem:
You’re not self-aware.
So many people who are toxic to themselves and others are totally unaware of who they are and what they’re doing. They view everything from the lens of “Why is this happening to me?” They don’t understand why people are mean to them, why they have terrible bosses, why they can’t attract love and respect, why they’re working themselves to the bone with zero positive result, etc. They haven’t learned the foundational life principle that we co-create what happens to us, including our challenges , pain and the difficulties that follow us wherever they go. If you have a chronic pattern in your life that’s hurting you, you need to look inward, and understand what you’re doing and allowing that perpetuates this negative pattern.
Tip: You cannot lead a happy, fulfilled life if you refuse to look at how you are contributing to what’s happening to and around you. You are 50% of every relationship – not more, not less. If you don’t own your 50%, and shift it, you’ll never find the joy and peace you’re longing for.
Your wounds from early life are great, but you’re not open to doing the work to heal them.
I once had a career coaching client who came to me with some serious challenges in her work-life and career. She felt she never got the recognition she deserved, and believed she was “invisible” as a leader and manager, despite all her incredibly hard work. As I read over her prep materials before our first session, I had a very strong gut feeling that something terrible had happened to her in early life that colored everything from that minute forward, but there was no overt sign of that in what she had written.
As we began talking, I felt strongly she was indeed hiding something, so I “braved up” and asked her outright if there might be something that had happened in her life that had been terribly traumatic. What she said then brought tears to my eyes. She shared that had been brutally raped as a teenager, by a group of boys whom she had known and trusted, at an event miles from her home. Her life was shattered then, but she never shared that experience or told anyone in her life except her therapist, in later years. No one in her family knew anything about what she had endured.
At age 52, she was alone, scared and working herself to the bone, without peace, joy or a sense of life accomplishment. In effect, the pain of that past trauma was poisoning her. My heart broke for her. As you can guess, we then began talking about how this one event had shaped her life, and how she had been, in effect, “hiding” her whole life (and in her career), afraid to be seen and never feeling safe to be who she really was. Our coaching work together changed dramatically that day, and so did her life.
Tip: A great many of us were wounded deeply by our parents, families, teachers and others who perhaps meant well (or maybe not) but failed us, or life circumstances that brought us to our knees. If you’ve experienced trauma or pain in your life, it’s time now to address these wounds bravely and openly, and get support from others to help you heal.
Your boundaries are insufficient, so you feel pain and shame at every turn, and you can’t stand up for yourself.
Over the years, I’ve connected with many folks with psychological disorders, including severe personality disorders. One is called “borderline personality disorder,” and the hallmarks of this disorder are readily apparent: a total lack of personal boundaries and a complete disregard for others’ boundaries. It’s virtually impossible to build a positive, mutually-supportive relationship with people who disregard or violate your boundaries, who won’t take no for an answer and who don’t even recognize when they’re walking all over you.
Your boundaries are the invisible barriers that separate you from the world around you and regulate the flow of input and output to and from your outside “systems.” Your boundaries define who you are and keep you safe and secure, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Having well-developed boundaries ensures that you are shielded from behaviors and actions that are injurious, disrespectful and invasive. Those with healthy boundaries know their limits and are able to express themselves with quiet strength and authority.
Those with unhealthy boundaries push and pull on you in uncomfortable or aggressive ways and don’t know when to stop. They can’t regulate their behaviors or language to honor and respect the boundaries of others.
Take a look today at the people in your life. Do they respect your boundaries? Do they act appropriately and honor you when you assert yourself and say “yes” or “no?” Or do they continually demand of you what you’re not comfortable to give and what you have said you would not give?
Not being able to stand up for yourself is a toxic condition – to you and to your life. As one who has personally suffered with having a very hard time standing up for myself, I know the havoc this can wreak on our lives. And I’ve seen how doing the work to build stronger, healthier boundaries changes our lives overnight.
Tip: Look at who you are allowing to trample on your boundaries today. Where do you need to stop being a doormat, and start speaking up and enforcing your “non-negotiables.” What are the things you need in life to be safe, secure, loved, and respected? Have that one critical conversation today that will make it clearer where you stand, and what you will – and will not – allow going forward.
Your negativity is pervasive – you won’t let yourself have hope or faith.
I know a good many people who are unremittingly negative. They simply won’t see anything good in the world. They resent others. They hate what’s happening around them. They hate their challenges, life and responsibilities. They’re angry, and won’t recognize that change and growth are possible. And they won’t let even in a sliver of hope that our lives mean something more than all this suffering and disappointment.
Sadly, they push everyone away. Why? Because they’re in pain and they haven't experienced or been taught to cultivate self-love. Those who hate the world, hate themselves. We love others and our lives only to the extent we love ourselves. And somehow, being locked in this negativity feeds them. But this type of “food” is poison because it keeps them stuck inside a small, dark and suffocating box with no way out. And this box keeps out anyone who could love and help them.
Tip: Think about how you’re approaching the world and operating in it. Are you coming from a completely negative place and perspective where no good can enter? If so, you need to understand that your mindset, your self-hate and the way you operate with others is a CHOICE. Don’t kid yourself that “this is just the way it is.” You’ve chosen it to be this way from a place of pain. You’ve (subconsciously) elected to take this negative path, but you can consciously choose another path.
You live in a dream world – not understanding how much power you have, and not accepting your own accountability.
Finally, I’ve seen in working with over 11,000 people in the past 11 years that the vast majority of us don’t understand how much power we potentially have, if we only chose to access it. People act as if they have no alternatives, no choices, that they’re stuck with what the past has shown them about their own capabilities. It’s a dream world, really – thinking that they can’t change their lives and are stuck with all the painful results of all their past behaviors and decisions. They don’t see that they hold a great deal of power to change everything in their lives and in their work.
Tip: If you feel hopeless that you can’t have what you want in life and work, understand that there is so much more power you can wield – internally and externally -- to shift what’s happening, but you have to own and believe in that power. You need to brave up in 10 critical ways (including speak bravely, ask bravely and serve bravely), and muster your own courage to get in the arena of life, and fight for what you want. When you decide to stand up and fight tirelessly for what you need and want, and finally stop taking “NO” for an answer about your own life, the toxicity and pain start to fade.
Read the original article on Forbes.