Seven Surprising Reasons You Go Toxic (Even When You Know Better!)

A recent study of more than 30,000 people revealed that harping on negative life events can be the prime predictor of some of today’s most common health problems.  In fact, this pattern unknowingly can create a toxic relationship with situations and people that can actually cause as much harm to your health as having the coronavirus!  Toxicity, as you may know causes mental health issues and even life-threatening physical challenges. 

Surely, there must be a way to not become toxic, even when everything around you is falling apart.

A study by the Cornell School of Industrial and Labour Relations (2010) found self-awareness to be the strongest predictor of overall success of leaders, and a key to getting out of toxicity.   “Self-awareness is the beginning of all wisdom,” Aristotle taught long before anyone ever made statistically significant findings about it.  This means that if you can understand how you got into toxicity, you have taken the first step toward changing it.   Check out these reasons why you might get stuck in toxic feelings and find your typical patterns. Toxicity can happen when:

  1. Other people around you are toxic.  If toxicity becomes a part of the normal social behavior of others, you are more likely to engage in it.  You may often find yourself unknowingly mirroring others’ negative behavior when this happens. 
  2. You are under pressure, making mistakes, or caught in uncertainty.  The ability to wisely respond to situations and people using your strengths is the hallmark of mature self-leadership.  If you don’t understand your strengths and how to wisely use them, you can get caught in toxicity pretty easily  because your strengths are flipped into weakness when you become triggered or have unmet needs.
  3. You are trying to manipulate, control, or shape other’s behavior or situations.  While this is not a particularly effective strategy, you might get stuck trying to use contempt, criticism, or blame as a backward way to make other people behave.  Most people avoid the unpleasantness of being singled out in negative ways, and you might use this to get others to conform to your expectations.
  4. You are not at your best.  Scientists describe something called the “fundamental attribution error,” which means you blame others for the very things that you, yourself, are guilty of when you are not behaving appropriately.  You become toxic and criticize others, show contempt, or stonewall, as a way of deflecting your self-judgment on to others.
  5. Your identity or sense of value feels threatened.  Society’s tendency to make your value equal to your performance, popularity, and external indicators of success can be one reason you go toxic.  For example, defensiveness toward others or criticism of yourself is a natural response when your value or self-identity seems compromised.
  6. You experience weakness, mistakes, and failures.  The belief that weakness, mistakes, and failures are bad often triggers shame, and that can quickly flip into toxicity toward yourself or others
  7. You were let down because you thought someone “should” do or be something.  If you are like most people, when the situation or interaction with someone doesn’t align with your view of the world, you might judge and blame others.

If you identified with any of these patterns, and you’re not proud of it, you can change starting today.  New insights can mean new choices!  Here is one quick trick you can use.

Think of a time when you were caught up in negativity and toxicity – and you got out of it.  What did you do then?  How did you escape?  More than likely your story will you tell something about a success pattern that is available to you the next time toxicity threatens to choke the life out of you.

If you take the time right now to make a proactive decision about how you’ll choose to respond to the next toxic opportunity, you’ve taken the first step to re-programming your brain.  This means that when toxicity comes to call, it will be met by a “No Solicitors Allowed” sign.  Not only will this redirect energy to be used productively, but it also offers a new trend for others to follow.  You can model a higher way for others who go toxic even when they know better.  Who knows?  Maybe your choice will be the first step toward a whole new culture trend for you and others around you.

This article has been written by DeAnna Murphy – the founder and CEO of People Acuity and principal author of Shift Up! Strengths Strategies for Optimal Living and Choose to See You – in collaboration with co-thought leaders, Lisa Gregory and Steve Jeffs. It includes information about Interdependent Leadership, which redefines the task-relationship dynamic and helps leaders balance people and performance effectively.  DeAnna is a Top 100 Global Coaching Leader who has provided keynotes and leadership development experiences in 32 countries.  For a free coaching conversation around your leadership, or to learn more about Interdependent Leadership, sign up for 30 minutes with DeAnna here.