And I quote: “Whether it’s a parent, sibling, friend, or family member, do not allow a destructive person to drag you down a hole for the rest of your life.” Or how about, “Life is short. Don’t waste it on toxic people.” That one is from Dr. Laura. Or, “The pity train has just derailed at the intersection of Suck It Up & Move On,” etc.
Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Sounds right. But what if you are the “destructive person?” What if you are the one considered toxic? What if your life has been a very difficult journey, one that has delivered blow after blow and you’re having a hard time sucking it up? What if, because of this, you’re the bad guy?
Not on purpose, mind you. But what if, in spite of your best efforts, you can’t get your act together? What if you are a person with “issues.” A person with needs. A broken person. Making you, per all the definitions, toxic and destructive, a person who should be dropped, avoided, and rejected.
I am afraid I fit the description. In spite of all my efforts to not.
I struggle with depression. With low self-esteem. A “glass half empty” kind of outlook. I have a sarcastic sense of humor and don’t give off “warm, fuzzy” vibes. I tend to be too serious, too dark, too distrustful and wary, too sad, too negative, too odd, too needy, too broken, too messed up. I have trouble connecting and rarely say the right things at the right time in social situations. I was badly abused as a child and it shows. The mask only goes so far; only covers so much for so long. No matter how hard I try to act…and be…”normal,” I can’t seem to pull it off.
As a result, people don’t especially enjoy being around me, even when I’m on my best behavior. I’m not the one people are drawn to or who they instantly like and feel comfortable with. The beaten, defeated perspective seeps out of my pores in spite of all efforts to keep it in check. I’m awkward. Different. So I don’t get calls to go to a movie. To come over and hang out for awhile. To do some window shopping on Saturday afternoon. To go for coffee. And when I call, people are busy with other things and other friends. I understand. When you can choose between being around someone who is upbeat, bouncy, happy, funny and fun, why in the world would you turn to someone like me?
No, I’m not the one others turn to. Unless. Unless they’re struggling. People in pain are drawn to me. I’m the one who gets called when the darkness overwhelms them. Because I can relate. I can understand. I can handle it. I’m the one they can share the ugly problem and hurt with, then walk away and forget they ever had that desperate moment. I’m the one they leave behind when the pressure is off or circumstances improve. They leave me behind, along with the pain.
I remind them of their desperate moments. I am too much like the nightmares they have in the dead of the night. Too much of a reminder of their deepest fears. I drag them down. Into the darkness. Into the hole. And they are, therefore, justified in keeping me out of their happier life.
In our society, one must put on the plastic smiling mask before leaving home and it must be worn all day. It must fit you like a glove. Only the perfect, near perfect, or those with “acceptable” flaws will be embraced. Only those who can perform and achieve. You are expected to be successful, together, positive, competitive, strong, happy, capable, efficient, and invincible. Everyone loves a winner. And they hate a loser. Everyone wants to hear a big success story. You can only talk about the darkness after you have managed to overcome. Then, you are an inspiration. A good person who has won against the odds. And those successes? They have to be big. Not things like, “I was so depressed today, I didn’t think I could get out of bed, but I did.” No. It has to be wowing. Not just doing what you’re supposed to do. You have to slay dragons, storm the castle, fight the guards, save the princess and escape to live happily ever after. Then you can talk about the difficulty of the trial. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut, your heart closed, and stay to yourself so you don’t get your muck on anyone else.
The rule is that you must perform. And win. And keep that smile on your face while you do it. You need to pump out the positive chit-chat, always have the right thing to say on the tip of your tongue, be buoyant, boisterous, benign, and brilliant. And look the part of a successful person to boot. People who don’t are bullied, rejected, overlooked for promotions and awards, minimized, marginalized, made fun of, and avoided. The experts and inspirational speakers will tell you this avoidance is justified. Because those people are harmful. You should avoid anyone who is the least bit of a toxic and destructive influence. You’re only taking care of yourself by keeping them out of your life.
In some ways, there is truth to this. In other ways…let’s just say, it’s taking a selfish path that insulates you from anything that might be difficult. We are often quite accomplished these days at avoiding all things difficult and inconvenient. We miss the boat because we don’t want to chance anyone rocking it.
Generalizing rarely works. There are too many variables. So as I generalize here, please keep that in mind. I do understand there are people who are truly toxic because they use and abuse. Who take advantage, care only for themselves, and take everything everyone has to offer, including their soul. I’ve experienced this growing up, being abused by my parents. But we avoid people who have had difficult lives, who are trying with everything within them to overcome, but who have failed in their attempts, and we label them as “destructive” because they bring us down. Because they are hard to be around. Because they aren’t pretty and bubbly and inspiring. They are negative and they show us the darkness in life instead of shining light. But the truth is, they will NEVER win, they will NEVER overcome without help. Sometimes, they need a lot of help. A lot of love. A lot of acceptance. And all we offer them is more rejection and proof they aren’t worth our time. Or anyone’s time.
I know. I have a lifetime of being on the outside looking in, of being unwanted, pushed aside, rejected, and told I will never be good enough. And I’m not alone.
So I would challenge you to make sure that the person you are judging and pushing aside is truly toxic. Make sure they are destructive, abusive, using, taking. Make sure before you push them out of your life. They may not be the most comfortable person to be around. They may be a little different. Even a lot different. Maybe they’ve never seen love. Acceptance. Maybe they need someone to show them an alternate reality to their own. To show them they have value.
Sometimes messy people are worth your time and energy. Even if you get a little dirt and darkness on you. You may be the only light they have ever seen.
I know I’m one of those destructive people. Because I am depressed, messy, broken. But I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like today if someone had believed I was worth a little bit of trouble. Or maybe quite a bit of trouble. I have a feeling it would have rocked my world…and set me free.
Food for thought: