By now, I think we’re all pretty aware of toxic people. Those emotional vampires who use, abuse and bully their way through life. We’re better able to identify those one-sided relationships that leave us shattered and shelled, picking our splintered pieces off the floor. And we’re less tolerant of the mistreatment, less willing to provide sanctuary and more apt to excise toxic people from our lives.
It’s important that we tend to that external garden, pull those weeds from our lives and erect boundaries to contain those prone to overgrowth and encroachment. Yet it’s perhaps even more critical that we attend to our inner garden, nurturing those thoughts that beautify us and eradicating those that become noxious weeds.
Are you harboring any of these toxic thoughts?
The “what ifs” are the kudzu of the mental landscape, covering everything else with their tenacious tendrils until your normal thoughts are starved for both light and air. The thoughts of what might have been or what could potentially be are seductive, whispering possibilities of dreams unrealized, situations untenable and paths never taken. These thoughts of “If only things were different…” are toxic because they are rooted in fantasy and magical thinking, counting on only wishes to grow. Their winding ways make us feel as though we’re taking action, yet they really just keep us moving in circles.
Instead, use your desire for things to be different to identify areas of discontent. Then, clear away the winding wishes to see what truly lies beneath. You may likely find that the source of your dissatisfaction isn’t what you initially thought as you begin to see things differently. And then, once you know what you’re working working with, you can devise a plan. And some real action.
The toxic thoughts of “I can’t” cause us to see walls where they do not exist, holding us prisoner of our own minds. “I can’t” and its cousin, “it’s impossible” shut down any possible solutions before they’re even entertained. These toxic thoughts are fertilized by fear, the anxiety of attempting something and finding it difficult or even reaching failure stamping down the motivation to even try.
Before you allow yourself to reach the conclusion that something is impossible, allow your mind to explore the possibilities without censor. Play with the ideas. Don’t worry yet about the feasibility. Yes, part of this exercise is to help you discover a potential solution or option. But perhaps the most important part of this assignment is simply to help you realize that you are not trapped. Even though some ideas may be impossible, others will be within reach.
The injurious thought of “I’m broken” has a permanence to it. It suggests that the breakage is absolute and endless, a shattered and worthless self scattered upon the floor. It’s a natural thought to have when you’re experiencing the gut-ripping of piercing pain and facing a situation that has left you undeniably changed.
It makes sense to accept the alterations that have occurred in your life and, in response, to you. It’s healthy to begin where you are (as opposed to living with the “if onlys”). Yet it’s limiting (and not accurate) to think that the pain and the change mean that you can never be whole again. You’re different, yes. And you have everything you need to be okay again.
You may feel like you’re in pieces, but you don’t have pieces of you missing. Here’s one of the best allegories of that concept ever done.
It’s All or None
“I’m not ready to get married again, so I can’t date.”
“My ex was unfaithful, therefore all men will cheat eventually.”
“My attempt at online dating was unsuccessful, so I’m destined to be alone forever.”
All of these statements contain the poison of all or none thinking at their core. An inevitable line is drawn from a single date to a wedding. One person’s bad behavior is extended to an entire gender. And a failure in one venue for a period of time is assumed to continue in all arenas and for all time.
All or none thinking is a form of mountaining – looking at our obstacles in such a way as to make them appear much larger than they actually are. These can be difficult thoughts to dismiss because they do contain some truth and it’s often easier to write off an entire choice rather than explore the issue further.
Be conscious of the path your thoughts lead you down. You may be reaching conclusions that are more mirage than reality.
This type of toxic thinking is related to, “I’ll be okay if…” It confuses our agency over our actions with control over the outcomes. And that’s a fruitless and frustrating place to occupy because your energy is being directed elsewhere while you begin to feel drained.
When our thoughts are focused on the external results, we risk missing opportunities for internal adjustments. Furthermore, we may attach false beliefs and labels to ourselves, believing we “failed,” when really we’re measuring the wrong thing. Be aware of your locus of control. If something exists outside of that, release any attachment to the outcome and instead pay attention to what you can alter.
Here’s a quick rundown of what is your stuff…and what is not.
I Give Up
Knowing when and being willing to let go is an excellent trait to have. And it is completely different than the toxic thought of giving up.
Giving up is born from fear or frustration. Sometimes this is wise. Your fear may be telling you that the path is too treacherous and it is safer to turn back. However, fear is a sly companion. It is the taxi driver capitalizing on your ignorance to lead you astray. Fear will lie to you and tell you that you are in mortal danger when, in fact, you are perfectly safe. When you quit, you are listening to that fear and believing its stories. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed that you chose to throw in the towel. You may get defensive, throwing up walls and justifying your decision. When we give up out of fear, we often feel unfinished. Unsatisfied. Unsettled. When you let fear be your chauffeur, your destination will not be the one you intended.
Letting go happens when you face your fear. It is that moment when your fear is telling you to grip tight and you choose to release. Letting go is born of acceptance, an understanding that you cannot control all of the outcomes. Letting go gives a sense of peace. Of weightlessness. Giving up is easy. Letting go is not. It is conscious, deliberate act that may take years or decades. It requires patience and compassion. Give yourself that gift and be the driver of your own life.