When I was younger, my parents (and my Kindergarten teachers) always enforced the golden rule: “Treat Others How You Want to be Treated.” The rule would be posted on gold stars throughout classrooms, and also dictated to me at home. It’s simple really. People just want to be treated like people. Confession: Despite me being now twenty-two, I still always reflect back to that Kindergarten ideal. Although this childhood rule is golden, it’s lost a little shimmer throughout my adolescent and transitioning adult years. I’m a college graduate and no longer in classrooms, but I realized that as I got older, in general the rule was almost forgotten amongst people. It’s as if people had simply abandoned the rule of basic human decency that was expected of us since age five. I could see the ways in which people disregarded it, and at times as in some cases even myself. What seemed like such a fundamental value, now was a selective choice.
Although I always prided myself on being a kind person, which I can attribute to my upbringing, there were times when I saw how easily it was to be selfish. In a world of societal hierarchy and greed, selfishness is usually rewarded. The truth is, what nobody really tells you, is that being outwardly understanding of others and compassionate is actually selfless. Due to our societal structure, selflessness is something people actively choose to opt out of, whereas selfishness is a trait we kind of instinctively know. I mean how many times in a day are we told to “Always put yourself first”? More often than we care to admit. Although this is something we should do, there is a fine line between setting boundaries for your overall well being, and being a toxic individual.
We hear the word toxic probably everyday of our lives. From describing relationships, to friendships, to even parental figures. What exactly does it even mean? To this day, I have only my own narrowed view of the description of a toxic person from what I have experienced. Someone who is self serving, egocentric, and even at times a bit self sabotaging. Wait, doesn’t some of that also describe me occasionally?
The hardest self discovery I had to learn was the fact that sometimes I could be toxic too. Looking back on failed relationships and tainted friendships, it was sometimes difficult for me to admit the fact that at times I actually contributed to the problems. For instance: When an important friend in my life at the time tried to talk to me about my behaviour in our friendship, I combatively defended and denied what I subconsciously knew. I was the toxic one. With some introspection I began to see that the problem wasn’t owning up to my past mistakes, it was the fact that when people would give me honest criticism, I oftentimes saw this as a negative attack on my self worth. This is something most people usually do when we go through the world operating from a place of ego, instead of from a place of understanding. This mostly leads to self sabotage in both personal and professional relationships.
The truth is criticism isn’t hard to take, it’s the self discovery that comes after the delivery. It’s coming to terms with the fact that you in fact do not know everything, and must grow in order to move forward. The hardest part of this new self discovery, if you choose to take the advice given, is holding yourself accountable. Why? Because choosing to take accountability is not only demanding, but humbling. Humility and selfishness do not pair, therefore in a society that deems selfishness acceptable, taking accountability for your actions is usually a last resort. Taking accountability forces you to see another person’s perspective, and requires you to be vulnerable. It is much easier to play the victim.
Sadly, victim mentality is at an all time high. I’m not talking about unfortunate situations where you can actually fall prey to being a victim. I am directly speaking about the mindset that we have the tendency to embody, which tells us that in every situation it is not our fault. I realized a common theme in the fallouts I had experienced in workplaces and in relationships. I examined that the storyline ending was always the same, I was the one wronged. While some situations were entirely out of my control, after a hard examination of the ones that may have been, I realized things I did and tolerated, did not warrant me feeling like a victim. This hurt, but the realization forced me to grow. I had to understand that at a time, I started to only attract toxicity into my life by adopting the ideal that I would always be hurt or upset. It was something that was subconsciously premeditated and therefore manifested into my reality.
It was in this space of unlearning that I taught myself how to actually set boundaries, and learn the discipline of taking responsibility. In other words, I started to grow up. In turn my friendships, and relationships both old and new started to blossom. I created a new space inside myself to accept what I deserved, because I was giving others the full extent of what they deserved.
So you’re almost done with this article and have realized you are the toxic one. Now what? Well firstly, congratulations! Trust that not everyone has that level of self awareness. Secondly, know that just because you can be toxic, does not mean that you have to choose to stay as a toxic individual. There are usually underlying factors that contribute to our harmful behaviors. Some major contributors I realized from my period of toxicity in myself were feeling insecure, unsafe, or unworthy.
It is also knowing that toxic traits are in fact a form of self destructive behaviors, that allow us to cling to comfortability. Sadly, we never evolve in our comfort zones. In truth, our comfort zones and insecurities contributing to toxic habits prevent us from experiencing genuine connections and all life has to offer. Lastly, know that there is nobility in accountability. Once you identify the source of your behavior, it is important to take ownership for things you could have done differently, more effectively, or just more genuinely. Choose to change moving forward.
My journey of self discovery is far from over. Yet, the older I get, the more I see that it isn’t really about finding yourself, but more about coming back to who you always were. Oddly enough I think for me it’s getting back in touch with that Kindergarten kid, who always got a gold star for following that golden rule.
McKenna is a NYC native performer and creative with a BFA in Musial theater from the University of the Arts. She aims to create art that inspires vulnerability and societal change. You can catch her sparking conversations and spreading light on Instagram, exploring the city, or at your local thrift store