Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Do Toxic People Know They Are Toxic?


The word toxic has become a popular part of US culture.  We call men toxic for being masculine.  Women are toxic for being feminine.  Soon we will call dogs toxic for barking.  In the US, we have become so obsessed with accusing others of being toxic that some people are afraid to be themselves in public.  Isn't that

toxic?  This notion of cancel culture only exacerbates it.  

What about the people in your life who really are toxic and don’t know it.  Let me give you a couple of examples.  

At work, if the boss is always yelling, most people see him as toxic.  While there is a time to yell, like when the building is on fire, screaming at people as a normal form of communication can be disempowering.  Yet, that boss may believe he is effective because everyone jumps when he speaks.  Over time, many will resent that boss, especially if he uses pejorative terms to get his point across.  

The dilemma with this kind of boss is he mistakes people jumping for success.  If he does not see resentment from his people, he has a blind spot.  If he does not notice the best performers leave, he is in trouble and does not realize it.  While he may say those high performers are weak people, he is stunting the growth of his department or company. 

Many studies say people don’t leave their jobs.  They leave bad bosses.  Those bosses that have blind spots to their bad behavior may be viewed as toxic.  Furthermore, there is a chance only toxic people thrive in the environment toxic bosses create.     

When it comes to intimate relationships, you can have a similar pattern.  Like the boss that yells, one or both intimate partners may lack the ability to resolve conflict.  Therefore, they believe the only way to protect their emotions is to lash out at one another.  This can be a disaster if both have this mindset.  However, if it is only one person, they may not see the impact they have on the other.  In fact, they may claim they are tough and other people just can’t handle them.  

For sure, one of the signs of a toxic person is they use shouting as a normal way of communicating.  For them, conflict resolution is a distant thought on another planet.  Instead of logically talking things through, yelling allows them to have their way.  If they don’t get their way, screaming louder is the formula.  When that does not work, the silent treatment may be the flavor of the day.  

Another common strategy for toxic people is to test the other person.  While people who yell lack conflict resolution skills, people who test lack discernment.  In other words, they do not trust themselves to make good decisions.  They lack the ability to determine what kind of person is in front of them.  Therefore, they will want the person of their desires to jump through hoops to prove they are committed.  While they are doing this, neither of them is really getting to know one another.  It is a game where no one wins.  They may also fear being taken advantage of. 

In addition, this game sets up dysfunctional relationships.  Testing another becomes so important that it feels like an accomplishment.  As a result, when you are not testing them, it seems as though nothing exciting or productive is happening.  That means you constantly test the other.  That’s not an intimate relationship.  That is a game designed to make the tester feel validated.  Instead of providing value to your significant other and then feeling good about what you accomplished, you manipulate them to pass a test that makes you believe you are worthy.  The flip side happens when no one joins them in the game.  The person who always has to test may wonder if they have any worth to others.  To defend themselves, they may conclude that everyone is too weak.    

What makes bosses and lovers like this so interesting is they will both see themselves as victims.  They are constantly in protective mode.  They don’t want to be dominated by others or exploited.  To protect themselves, they dominate others by yelling or demanding you jump through hoops.  What they don’t see is in their attempt to avoid being a victim is their fear is spewing traits that create a toxic environment for any relationship.  In their mind, though, they are innocent.  Their actions are justified because it is the only way they know how to protect themselves.  

These are just a couple of things to notice in people. 

What do you think?  I would love to hear your feedback.  And I’m open to ideas.  Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, leave a comment.

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