Redefining Toxicity

A traumatized griever removes her rose colored glasses

“Whether we like it or not, loss launches us on spiritual journeys of the heart and soul” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

There are those moments in life when you careen into your own misperceptions.  Facts about life that are so protrudingly obvious you wonder how you missed them in the first place.  And once you find yourself in your more complete and grounded version of reality, you are wildly amused at how you could have ever seen things your old way at all.

I realize this is part of any awakened life process.  It’s just that being 44 years old, it becomes more humorous on the account of, well, I’ve had some time.  When one is 14 or 24, the answer to “how could I have not figured that out yet” is rather obvious.  At 44, one has logged a few perceptive and contemplative miles.  One has technically had the chance to realize stuff.  I can only imagine the goofiness that will arise when I get to shake hands with my misperceptions should I get to live to be 64, or even 84.  The chances I’ll die amid my own gales of laughter are not so remote.

I have been focused for so long on expressing and communicating myself.  And on fielding the challenges – and barriers – in doing so regarding a trauma and loss that does not societally exist in a culture that is shamelessly emotionally averse.  Somewhere in the shuffle, I ended up taking full responsibility for how well others understood and accepted my losses, my needs, my healing process and my slowly forming new life.  If this illicited any groans or “what a dumbass” utterances on your part my lovely readers, don’t feel bad.  I’m so right with you.  And I’m glad you’re smart.  But oh there’s more.

When I received dismissals, disconnection, judgement, an unwillingness to integrate my reality in to the conversation and a lack of empathy from others a big part of me figured it was my job to share better, communicate better, explain better.  All while generously doling out time for people to “come around”.  I believed the empathy I received or didn’t receive was dependent on me being clear enough and open enough.  I took on full responsibility for connections between myself and others, even though connection involves TWO people last time I checked.  Now if that’s not an invitation for people to fuck me nine ways to Sunday well then I don’t know what is.

This past summer was nothing short of revelatory.  I finally saw (and I do stress the word finally) that no level of communication is going to overcome another person’s uncultivated emotional capacity or dissolve another person’s emotional aversions.  It will not override another’s unwillingness to respect the wisdom and transformation specific to significant loss.  It cannot positively alter someone’s inabilities to empathize and accept change.  I also finally saw that there are very real limits in people that have a negative impact on the healing process.  And that receiving particular behaviors and responses from people is actually re-traumatizing.  Regardless of their intentions.

I have finally realized that:

Judgement and non-acceptance are toxic.

A lack of empathy is toxic.

Emotional aversion is toxic.

Deeming the grieving process as anything less than worthy, healthy, brave and necessary is toxic.

An unwillingness to integrate is toxic.

Listening haphazardly, or hardly at all, is toxic.

Dismissing and minimizing someone’s very real pain and plight is toxic.

Disrespecting legitimate needs is toxic.

One thinking they know a better way to navigate shoes they have never walked in is toxic.

The rejection of mourning is toxic.

Serving one’s own discomfort under the guise of “trying to be helpful” is toxic.

Expectation of conformity to someone else’s reality is toxic.

I realize that being around these things is less than desirable, if not unhealthy, for anyone.  But for the traumatized griever, they impact on a whole other level.  These behaviors impede, or even stonewall, the healing process.  A process that is fragile, excruciating, hard won and sacred, SO fragile, excruciating, hard won and sacred as a matter of fact, that it doesn’t have any room to be messed with.  Plus, I make a consistent and faithful effort to not commit these toxic acts to myself and others, why in the world should I be holding major space with those who continuously do??

“We are transformed by grief and do not return to prior states of ‘normal’ based on interventions from outside forces” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

And so, I have taken this harsh opportunity to redefine my needs, boundaries and limits.

I will no longer take my pain over and over again to those who do not give it the care and honor it deserves.

I will no longer take my vulnerabilities over and over again to those who attempt to fix instead of respectfully abide.

I will no longer share myself over and over again with those who do not have a healthy respect for the grieving, mourning and healing process.

I will no longer bring my struggles and triumphs over and over again to those who refuse to acknowledge the nasty business of resurrection.

I will no longer try to connect over and over again with those who only want to skim the surface.

I will no longer share my new life again and again with those who clearly don’t want to hear it.

“Traumatic loss changes people’s lives forever.  And the movement from ‘before’ to ‘after’ is a naturally long, painful journey.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

The proposed assumption, which I don’t entirely refute, is that people are doing the best they can.  This is quaint.  And I get it.

But if someone’s best entails perpetually catering to their own discomfort above meeting me where I’m at

if someone’s best entails perpetually meeting my experiences with minimization, dismissals, judgement and silence

if someone’s best entails the perpetual viewing of grief as inconvenient and pathological, in spite of my continuous efforts to educate

if someone’s best entails perpetually talking at me and not to me

if someone’s best entails perpetually not being able – or willing – to integrate emotional content into the conversation….

This doesn’t mean I won’t hold any space with such people.  Or that I can’t enjoy their good qualities, respect and care about them as they are, work with them or even love them.

What it does mean is that I don’t need to be spending my time and energy on trying to form bonds and connections with them.  Which is, at least for me, a major purpose of spending time with people in the first place.

And what do I have to give up in all this?  Looks like it’s time to shed my need to make things work along with my propensity towards taking responsibility for that which isn’t mine.

My experiences and losses of the past six years have changed me profoundly.  In ways many of which I am still either grappling with, or am even not yet entirely aware.  One thing that HAS become clear is that I no longer need to spend time with people to just pass the time.  I don’t need to be around people for the mere sake of being around them.  Grief is a communal process, it is also a sharply solitary one, in this world even more so due to society’s current failure at the communal part.  Once you’ve existed in it, and in the physical and soulful symptoms of trauma, and I do mean truly existed in it, you form a bond with yourself that, while always imperfect, renders itself both unbreakable and irresistible.  Couple this with walking out into a world where the responses of so many to those grieving and healing are inadequate or, as I’ve had to acknowledge, downright harmful.  What a combination of truths.

Most things in life I’ve learned are rife with peaks, valleys and plateaus while being short of answers.  And I’ve become pretty ok with that.  For now, I’m able to settle into this encapsulation:


Power of Goodbye/Madonna//Your heart is not open so I must go/The spell has been broken, I loved you so/Freedom comes when you learn to let go/Creation comes when you learn to say no/You were my lesson I had to learn/I was your fortress you had to burn/Pain is a warning that something’s wrong/I pray to god that it won’t be long/Do ya wanna go higher??//There’s nothing left to try/There’s no place left to hide/There’s no greater power than the power of goodbye//Your heart is not open so I must go/The spell has been broken, I loved you so/You were my lesson I had to learn/I was your fortress……//There’s nothing left to lose/There’s no more heart to bruise/There’s no greater power than the power of goodbye//Learn to say goodbye/I yearn to say goodbye


6 thoughts on “Redefining Toxicity

  • Your post reached me at a very opportune time and struck a deep chord with me.

    These lines especially speak to me:
    “Listening haphazardly, or hardly at all, is toxic.” Yes, it is crazy making! I end up feeling as though I am not worth listening to or have to force my point which then gets me labelled as “angry.” It’s incredibly disrespectful to the person and the relationship and socially lazy IMHO.

    “Dismissing and minimizing someone’s very real pain and plight is toxic.” I’ve come to believe that this is done so that one doesn’t have to experience another’s pain. To listen and acknowledge would make oneself vulnerable, I guess. Nonetheless, it is cruel.

    And the personal vow:
    “I will no longer try to connect over and over again with those who only want to skim the surface.”

    I must admit I keep making the painful mistake of hoping that this time will be different. It never is. Operating in soundbites doesn’t cut it for me and I’m finally coming around to thinking that it’s not a personal failing to want to discuss things deeply.

    • Interesting! I couldn’t help but chuckle at “I’m finally coming around to thinking that it’s not a personal failing to want to discuss things deeply” – me too! It’s so easy to feel that way and I’m slowly learning to look at things in terms of capacity – some people have it, others don’t.

      And on not being heard, I’m slowly learning (and I do stress the word slowly) to disengage when this happens and not force my point (unless it’s a super close relationship who has to hear me, like my husband for example) and go focus on those who DO hear and get me.

  • Nice to know I’m in good company. I too had an awakening in my forties, when the light bulb finally turned on, better late than never right?
    The rejection of our loss, from others, only adds to the guilt we already carry.

    It took me a while to realise my ‘new normal’ wasn’t what I wanted. But there was nothing I could do to change it, to turn back the wheel of time to that optimistic dreamer, with all her dreams ahead of her. That door slammed shut a long time ago.

    I’ve always been happy with my own company but as I get older I come to relish it. On my bad days I give myself the space and pampering I sometimes need without having to explain to others why I’m having a bad day. As you’ve mentioned, finding empathy for our situation is often an uphill battle, so, with myself at least, I know my story and will pamper myself to the fullest accordingly… less chance of disappointment that way!

    • Always great to hear from you! I hear you on the different person you’ve become, both in terms of having a more realistic and less dreamy view of things and on being more rooted in your own company and self care. Seeing and experiencing our changes, transitioning into them, accepting them and understanding our new needs takes much time, work and patience. That’s where I am now.

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