When Helpful Behavior Becomes Harmful

Ms. Micah
Ms. Micah
Aug 13 · 8 min read
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Recognizing Polarities Within — Photos of Author by Jim Hesterman Photography

“You’re Toxic”, said my doctor matter of factly. These words have been ringing in my head like a catchy yet obnoxious commercial jingle. One of the main reasons these words have stuck with me is because I was just speaking with my partner the week prior about how I am working on recognizing when I’m toxic and how important it is to not have a conversation until my toxic mood or thoughts have subsided. Then, the following week I had severe stomach pain and found out I needed a good detox. So it would seem, when I professed my need to detox psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, my body decided it needed to detox as well.

This is a good time to point out the distinction between labeling vs. identifying with something. This includes judgments made for the sake of healthy boundaries vs. judgements made to condemn something or someone which essentially equates to giving up, no longer offering compassion, etc. For example, if someone received a diagnosis from a doctor (a label or judgment) that helped them understand how they’ve been feeling then they’ve been given the opportunity to see their problem with the clarity they need to know how to address what’s going wrong. Their response often differs from someone who has been told that whatever they have been diagnosed with is terminal, although, even in those cases many people have still beaten the odds… which is somewhat my point. The way the doctor delivers this information also has a significant bearing on how the person responds.

So with those examples in mind, let me get back to how I began to see myself as toxic and then my body quickly began to force me to address it sooner rather than later. I laid awake one evening, trying to sleep, angry and frustrated from lack of sleep and because my partner hadn’t come to bed yet I was frustrated with him most of all. I suppose I was angry at him because he doesn’t need as much rest as I do, he’s a machine compared to me; or maybe I was angry at him because he was engrossed in a creative project that was fulfilling for him and I was jealous that I wasn’t the project he was engrossed in. Or maybe I was jealous because I had forgotten the feeling of being so engrossed in a creative project; that feeling of being so filled with fire and passion that you can… sometimes you even want to stay up late, or wake up in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s just because I’m an Aries and my Mercury is in Aries, the child of the Zodiac, making social skills a constant challenge as I try to understand my own feelings for hours, sometimes days, but usually have to communicate much sooner then that so inevitably my communication is usually direct — abrupt if I’m hungry or tired. Realistically, it was likely a combination of all of the above.

The distinction here lies in accountability. When I let my partner know when I’m in a “toxic mood” I am also acknowledging a pattern. Maybe I picked up this pattern from past unhealthy relationships. In these relationships, I usually had to bottle everything up and the other person was often too volatile for me to even attempt engaging in any kind of productive dialogue with. My solution would be to internalize and self-soothe in the attempts to self-regulate and hopefully change my mood. This was helpful for me in those moments, it gave me a sense of safety and control, even if I was the only one I could count on, it didn’t matter as long as I could attain a sense of security and peace. This behavior however, became toxic when I had a partner who was in no way responsible for triggering any unsettled emotions within me, now I was my own perpetrator. My partner is consistently loving and accommodating without compromising who he is. He’s in the other room working on his project because he’s inspired and has commitments, not because he’s abandoning me, punishing me, being emotionally distant, or chatting up other women while I sleep. My feelings and thereby my actions, however, were the same as when those upsetting alternatives were the truth of the situation — past tense. Now the behavior has become toxic because I’m projecting my past into my present reality when the truth of the two are not remotely similar, other than the physical distance of our bodies.

In recognizing this toxic pattern I have adopted, (and yes, who we are from the moment we’re born plays a significant part in how we adopt coping mechanisms and why we choose certain ones), I take its power away. I face it head-on and say, “I see you, I recognize you, I understand why you’re here. Thank you for taking care of me so often.” After that though, I get to say, “Now, I am safe and loved. I have proven I will be ok no matter what happens. This behavior has run its course.” Now it’s time to notice whenever this pattern begins to emerge, what triggers it, what feelings show up first, before I’m even aware of my feelings, can I go back and recall them and name them? Does that feeling evolve into another feeling? If so, what direction do my feelings go? The power of awareness gives me the ability to determine another way to be. It also gives me the freedom to choose how to handle this situation and those old feelings of abandonment and betrayal the next time they arise… because they will.

In no way do I shame myself for my feelings or patterns. I acknowledge it compassionately, appreciating how it once served a purpose. Sometimes I need to name or label something in order to see it objectively, such as, “This is ‘panic’. Where is it coming from?” It’s important to remain objectively curious while making sure not to identify with it. It’s also important to not over-identify with the pattern or the name you give it. If you become too identified with what’s unhealthy, you give your power away to whatever caused it, You empower the problem and not the solution by feeding it your energy. You remain a victim to the past and you are now the perpetrator.

This is also representative of the distinction between the different types or degrees of judgments. A healthy judgment helps you see things objectively, you can remain compassionate, even empathetic, (if it’s appropriate), and you see yourself as a sum of the parts, every part, from the attractive to the more unattractive aspects of a situation. A judgement, a moral opprobrium that can be disproportionate, attaches you to the problem, it keeps you in a perpetual cycle of victimhood. A judgement leaves you defeated, even if you are judging something that may seem separate from you, you have attached your energy to it simply by being adamantly opposed to it. We do this for a reason and it’s important to not judge our judgements either. The more passion we offer anything, even if it’s blind fury, the more of our selves we offer up to it, like a perpetual sacrifice of our own soul for the very sake of our continued suffering. Focusing on solutions to those things that trigger us, as opposed to focusing on the abhorrence of what bothers us can help pull us from this cycle, it offers a positive energetic attachment to counterbalance the negative pull this ‘thing’ or situation has. Raising awareness is critical, but once awareness is achieved, we must move into solutions. This keeps us in line with the laws of perpetual motion or the law of perpetual transmutation of energy. To be truly alive, we need a healthy balance between tension and perpetual motion.

Of course it may seem necessary at times, to pass harsh judgements, in order to keep yourself from harm’s way, but that doesn’t change the energetic, adrenal charge we experience in relation to that which we judge. It doesn’t change the fact that the reasoning part of our brain, the frontal lobe, becomes hijacked along with our parasympathetic nervous system. We go into the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for involuntary responses ie. fight, flight, freeze or fawn and we are thinking only with our amygdala. When all of this happens, when we’re “triggered” and we are running on emotions first, we allow this ‘thing’ that has triggered us to take us over, it has demonstrated its power over us and our ability to manage our response to it. We all have these triggers, it’s the awareness of them that’s key. The more we recognize these triggers when they happen, and the more time we can allow ourselves to get clear and grounded when they do come up, the more potency we will have stored when we do choose to respond vs. react. If we are diligent then we will begin to understand what’s at the root of these triggers and we will be able to recognize our triggers earlier and earlier until we aren’t even triggered anymore. If we feel as though we need to act on these triggers instantly, that ‘the world’ needs to know how we feel about something, it may be valuable to investigate what part of you isn’t feeling heard. You can claim righteous indignation but perpetuating toxicity only adds to the toxic environment. How can you shift that trigger to a passionate solution? If you don’t know, then find a way and see how that serves you and your community better.

One caveat however, some people may hesitate to own something like I do, when unhealthy behavior patterns reveal themselves and I say that I’m ‘too toxic to communicate’ for fear of spewing my toxicity everywhere, especially on my loved ones because that’s not love. I’m a tough love kind of person, I knew my body was growing in toxicity before this came up, it all just came to a head when I acknowledged my toxic behavior pattern. I am not identifying with being toxic or with my behavior that was once self-protective but has now become self-indulgent. When you see toxic waste and you can do something about it, you identify it and then you take care of it accordingly. How you communicate this within yourself is most important. If it feels toxic to say that something about you is toxic, then don’t say that. Find the appropriate words that raise awareness in a compassionate way while still holding yourself accountable. There is a balance for everyone. Adjustments can always be made as you learn and grow with this tool.

No content ever created by Ms. Micah is intended to replace any professional medical advice or treatment. The intent is to share one journey and the lessons learned to offer a unique perspective in the hopes that it helps you on your own journey. If you are having any concerns regarding your health or overall wellness, please contact a medical professional, especially if they are persistent.

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