The term toxic has been used and even overused in the ways that we describe people and relationships that harm more than nurture us. A cursory internet search will offer numerous articles on how to recognize if you are in a toxic relationship in some aspect of your life. There are far fewer articles talking about if YOU are in fact toxic.

I recently had the somber realization that in one of my personal relationships I was the toxic one. I was selfish, defensive, manipulative. Toxic. It speaks to a larger realization that I had started to believe that my suspicion, rage and general bad behavior was just who I was. I conflated the concept of “accept me as I am” with not wanting to take responsibility for my words and actions. I was so far beyond the reality of where I was that I felt any challenge to my behavior was an attack and any consequences were a punishment. I’ve read so much about the importance of setting boundaries. Boundary setting works. Not because I have done it and have had positive results but because I have been on receiving end of it.

When someone has had enough of your toxicity you have no choice but to confront yourself. I went into deep contemplation, internet searches, cryptic questions posted on the gram and conversations with close family and friends. Friends are friends and while they know you, they for the most part will see you in a positive light and want to protect you and will probably always take your side because that’s the only side they know. The most valuable experience for me was speaking to close family members who knew me best. People who are very close to you often times cut you more slack than you may deserve. This comes from their kindness and who they are, and not because of who you are. It’s a devastating acknowledgement.

When people around us try and help us change our behavior, it doesn’t work unless we want to change. But if you don’t want to change because you are convinced that this is just who you are – it creates inward and outward conflict that is hard to resolve. This is not a new concept at all, we flout it all the time when giving advice – talking about horses and making them drink. But the magnitude of it can only be understood if you’re in it, with the internal and external struggles that pretty much take over your life.

For me the concept of changing was more than being kinder or more understanding or actually just being a “normal” person with a filter and a sense of humor. I realized how deeply rigid I am in thinking and action. At some point I defined a version of myself and haven’t let that go. I was singularly unable to allow change of any kind into my life. This lead to control issues and abnormal expectations of others. And if you can’t accept outward changes that challenge small issues in life then what chance do you stand in changing the most stubborn and petrified parts of yourself?

I’ve changed outward things for the start, I dyed my hair even though I loved my dark healthy strands. This is to remind myself that I’m not attached to any one idea of self-beauty. I’ve started intermittent fasting to take control of weight gain and health and to challenge myself to follow through on a decision and also to not judge people who follow health trends. I started reading a crime novel rather than struggling through a tome by some dead Russian, though I will meet you one day Raskolnikov…

I’ve started enquiring more about other people and more actively courting relationships with colleagues and acquaintances. But most importantly I’ve started paying more attention to my own thoughts. A very dear friend from long ago, reached out and sent me a book written in 1903 about the way our interior world creates the exterior one. It has been the perfect thing. It’s called As a man Thinketh by James Allen and its freely available online if you’re interested.

Interestingly I’m talking about what I’ve started not what I have stopped. Have I stopped being defensive and overly sensitive? Probably not. But what I can say is that when someone says something and I feel attacked, I now stop and react only when I’m sure I won’t regret it later and when it comes to someone who loves me, I consciously accept it as it was intended, or at least try.

I have no advice to give anyone who wants to confront their own short comings or toxicity if you believe it’s that. I can’t even tell you that my changes have yielded tangible results in my life and relationships – I believe I’m still in the nascent phase of this progression but it is a progression, one with no clear destination. But every time I catch a glimpse of my now brown hair, or feel a hunger pang during my fasting or open my novel, it reminds me that I am full of the potential to change my behavior and my outlook on life. Not for anyone else, but truly truly truly for myself and the woman I know I am.