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Tuesday 18 June |
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The problem with writing people off as “toxic”


Nomad_Soul | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 08/09/23

The phenomenon of cutting people out of our lives is growing, especially among young people, and it's not always beneficial.

Recently my young adult daughter declared that one of her close friends was “toxic” and she was going to end her friendship with her. Now this was a friend she’d known throughout her adolescence. She was a good friend who had developed certain issues, as many youngsters do, but fundamentally she is a decent person.

I must admit I was concerned about her use of the word “toxic.” It just seems that lately this has become a buzzword for people — especially among the younger generations — to describe someone who is less than perfect. Personally, it’s a phenomenon I find a little disturbing as there leaves little room for forgiveness, growth, or an adjustment of our own expectations.

(However, I would point out that there are some people in life who can be mentally and physically damaging to us. In this case I can totally appreciate that they should be avoided at all costs or encouraged to seek professional help.)

What makes someone “toxic”?

With this in mind I questioned my daughter about the behaviors she’d deemed toxic. While there were some elements that were concerning, I felt that my daughter needed to address her own expectations of what she thought her friendship should bring, and also try a little empathy — the girl in question had recently endured her parents’ painful separation.

We chatted some more about the different ways my daughter could try and manage their friendship moving forward, as well as ways to actually help her friend — after all that’s what friends are for. Happily, they are still friends, and while they may not remain close as they move into a different period of their lives, there’s no feeling of animosity or regret.

The whole experience made me realize just how important it is to teach our children about checking their own expectations, giving them ways to deal with bad behavior, and the ability to forgive. However, it’s vital to highlight what being a “toxic” person actually means.

In its most simplistic form, a toxic person is someone “whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life,” according to WebMD. Obviously, that definition could apply to many people. It’s therefore important that our children be able to identify signs of toxicity that can be truly detrimental to their own mental or physical health. The warning signs of actual toxicity, along with ways of eventually dealing with damaging people, can also be found at WebMD.

The lessons our friendships can give

I really wanted my daughter to appreciate that relationships go two ways. We should question our role in the friendship, and also assess what we can accept and what is too difficult to manage. Of course, this isn’t easy for most of us, let alone young adults. But it just seems too easy to discount people, give them a label, and move on.

Looking back at some of my deepest friendships, they have not always been smooth sailing. Sometimes our different life journeys have meant that we lose touch temporarily, or that we’re not so close over a given period of time. However, those people have been fundamental in shaping my personality. My relationships with them have taught me that there is often much to gain from forgiving bad behavior and in moving forward with the faith that sooner or later our friendships will blossom again.

ChildrenMental HealthParenting
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