Let’s do some word association! When I say “toxic,” what pops into your head?
A bad relationship
Britney Spears’ iconic 2004 single
How you treat yourself
Wait a minute, one of those can’t be right. Yourself? How can you be toxic to yourself?
Unfortunately, it is possible — and even common. If you catch yourself thinking these things or recognize these habits, you may be in a toxic relationship with yourself.
Burying Your Feelings
“I shouldn’t be so upset that she forgot, it’s not a big deal. I just need to get over it!”
You probably think like this if you’re trying to apply “fake it ‘til you make it” to your emotions. It’s like gaslighting yourself: maybe if I tell myself over and over again that I’m not mad, eventually I’ll actually believe it. This doesn’t work because your feelings are real, no matter how inconvenient they may seem.
There are a lot of practical reasons to hide emotions — I have to be pleasant with customers no matter what, my boss is counting on me to handle this, my kids need me to stay cool-headed. Just don’t confuse controlling your emotions with ignoring your emotions. You can’t choose what emotions you feel, but you can choose how you act on those feelings.
Journaling, exercise (get those endorphins!), or just a good, hard cry with your favorite sappy movie are all good options to express your emotions without being controlled by them. Long-term emotional turmoil may need the help of a professional therapist to relieve, but it will be difficult to explain to them what’s going on if you’re in the habit of burying your feelings.
“Why can’t I just get over this? I’m so stupid. I should never have even tried.”
Imposter Syndrome is where someone who is capable and qualified feels like an “imposter” in their field — everyone else knows more, and it’s only a matter of anxiously wiling away the time until they discover the “imposter.” Imposter Syndrome is very common, but that doesn’t make it any easier to fix. When your inner voice is constantly discouraging you, the slightest mistake can lead into a spiral of self-doubt and anxiety. There is a reason so many people live by this simple rule: if you wouldn’t talk to your friends that way, don’t talk to yourself that way.
Yes, it feels silly to look in the mirror and compliment yourself. Yes, you should be doing it anyway! It’s important to get out of the inner echo chamber of negativity. This won’t instantly fix a penchant for harsh self-criticism, but it’s the first step towards being kind to yourself.
You Are Your Own Worst Enemy Enabler
Self-destructive actions are so easy to ignore at first. Just a little bit won’t hurt…right? Just this one time? Then one time leads to another, then several others, and before you know it, you’ve got a bad habit that’s hard to kick. This category of toxic is pretty broad; it can include everything from binge eating and drinking to procrastination and relationship avoidance. But self-destructive habits don’t just hurt yourself, they can have a domino effect on your health, your relationships, your professional and family life.
Accountability is a huge help in kicking self-destructive habits. A trusted partner or friend will be able to tell you “you need to stop doing this,” while also encouraging more positive habits. Gym dates, cooking healthy meals together, or simply checking in with a text are a few ways that your social life can help support your emotional life.
Distract Yourself With ‘Bigger Issues’
“Sure I’m not perfect, but compared to them, I’m doing great!”
It’s easier to justify our own self-destructive habits when we see someone else doing even worse. My problems aren’t a big deal, so let’s talk about them instead. But this habit doesn’t just stop at gossip; it’s so insidious that it can affect your positive actions, too.
There is war in the world! Discrimination! Health crises! Natural disasters! I don’t have time to sit around and whine about my feelings, I’ve got to organize fundraisers and make protest signs and research the latest pandemic news and protect my family and support my local charities and shop for the food drive and donate old clothes and so many other good things. The world is a messy place, so it is all too easy to get so preoccupied with Big Global Issues that we neglect the [wo]man in the mirror. (Yes, I was listening to Michael Jaskon’s ‘Bad’ album today!)
Busying ourselves with doing good externally gives us an excuse to avoid doing good internally. Maybe if we just keep moving without a moment to stop and think, we can ignore our inconvenient feelings and ignore the negative self-talk and ignore our self-destructive habits. Sometimes taking care of our inner emotional life means saying ‘no’ to good things. If we don’t make time to fix these habits, we’ll keep being toxic to ourselves.
Do you recognize any of these traits in yourself? Share with us in the comments!
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