How to Free Your Mind from Toxic Behaviors
Accept the person you would rather not be
“Just as there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to every person. One that we reveal to the world and another we keep hidden inside. Within each of us is the capacity for both good and evil. But those of us who are able to blur the moral dividing line hold the true power.” — Emily Thorne, Revenge
Whatever you feed your mind, you become.
Our view of the world is distorted when we are in a negative state of mind. We just see what’s wrong. Our mind gets caught in a vicious cycle of rumination.
When we pay attention to negativity, we can’t see the positive within us. We can’t integrate our both sides — the good and bad. Failing to reconcile what seems mutually exclusive is the root of toxicity
To free your mind, you must meet the person you would rather not be.
Toxic Thoughts Harm Us
“The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by often falling.” — Lucretius
How much harm can a small dose of gossiping or self-criticism cause? Negative thinking is deceiving — it initially seems innocuous. Until we fall into a repetitive pattern that ignites a toxic mental spin.
The drops of rain are not stronger than a rock; patience and persistence are their secret strength. That’s the same effect your thoughts cause — they erode your mind one drop at a time. Until it’s too late.
Toxic thinking is harmful — it results in emotional and physical stress. You can’t live with negativity, but you can’t live without it either. Your mind becomes addicted to what you feed it the most.
Unforgiveness, gossiping, self-criticism, hatred, guilt, remorse, jealousy, and envy are some of the most lethal mind poisons, as I explain here.
Toxic thinking causes more than 1,400 physical and emotional responses. Research by Dr. Caroline Leaf states that feeding our mind with toxicity activates more than 30 different hormones and neurotransmitter — it throws our body into a frantic state.
We become what we feed our mind.
Being a frantic state for long periods weakens us — we lose mental and physical balance.
Conversely, positive thoughts such as forgiveness, patience, and self-regulation help our body release good chemicals — it keeps us in a healthy, peaceful state.
You Become What You Feed Your Mind
There’s a terrible battle going inside our mind, according to an old Cherokee. Two wolves are battling to see which will take over. One is negative — full of anger, envy, resentment, criticism, and doubt. The other wolf is good — full of joy, appreciation, love, compassion, and clarity.
Which wolf will win?
The one you feed the most, right?
That answer is simple, yet trickier than we realize. Most people equate feeding the good wolf with ignoring the bad one. And that’s a mistake. We can never get rid of the toxic wolf — both animals will always live within us.
We have to find the balance. Trying to banish our ‘bad’ wolf can be harmful. Not only is denying we have two sides; ignoring negative emotions can do us more harm.
Research by Author E. Van Winkle suggests that the inhibition of our feelings during a fight-or-flight response shrinks the neurons that cause norepinephrine — it leads to a toxic process in our brain.
Acknowledging the toxic wolf makes it easier to deal with the healthy one.
Not accepting our bad wolf harms our self-esteem. Most people avoid their dark side because they confuse having a bad wolf, with being a bad wolf.
The best way to avoid being paralyzed by the toxic wolf is to treat it with tender care. You have to meet the person you would rather not be.
Learn to accept yourself as a whole — flaws included. When we can’t take our negative side, we feel guilty and ‘attack’ ourselves. Resentment is a manifestation of low self-esteem.
The Person You Would Rather Not Be
“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” — Carl Jung
There’s an aspect of ourselves that we are unaware of — it follows us everywhere, but we don’t notice it. That’s what psychologists call the shadow — the term refers to everything we can’t see in ourselves.
What you are unaware of about yourself causes you the most damage. It sabotages your success, limits your potential and feeds negative emotions like frustration, demotivation, self-criticism, and anxiety.
Psychologist Carl Jung referred to the shadow as “the person you would rather not be.”
All we deny in ourselves — whatever we perceive as evil, inferior or unacceptable — become our shadow. As children, when we used to express certain parts our ourselves, we received cues from our parents, educators, and others. They shaped our notion of good and bad — they trained us to feel embarrassed about our wholeness.
Our shadow is like the wolves that live inside us. We can’t get rid of them; they stay with us whether we like them or not. Whether we see them or not.
You can either own your shadow or try to run away from it your entire life. If you don’t tame your shadow, it will own you. Either you become the master or your shadow will.
Intolerance is the manifestation toward others of what we can’t accept in ourselves. For example, you might get irritated if someone takes longer than expected to finish a project at work because you can’t tolerate you being slow.
Toxicity is an indication of imbalance.
When we can’t accept our whole self, we let toxic behaviors and thoughts take over. To find balance requires integrating all aspect of ourselves, not just the ones we like or are aware of.
Working with the shadow is immensely rewarding and liberating.
Navigate the River of Integration
“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.” — Carl Jung
When we live integrating all aspects of who we are, we experience greater harmony and balance.
In his book The Neurobiology of We, Dr. Daniel Siegel uses the metaphor of a river of integration — our life flows between two kinds of banks: rigidity and chaos.
When we find the balance between rigidity and chaos, we are sailing on a river of integration.
Siegel views integration as a verb, not a noun; we continually move toward an integrative flow. As the river flows, our life unfolds. Integration is the journey, not the destination.
As Siegel writes, “Harmony emerges from integration. Chaos and rigidity arise when integration is blocked.”
Once you balance your positive and negative sides, you can balance your individuality with collective harmony. Practice mindfulness to turn your mind into an ally. Practice integration — find the space between chaos and rigidity. Allow room for personal reflection and clarify your mind. Integration drives openness.
I find working with my shadow a rewarding, yet challenging process. Here are some steps to kick off your journey.
1. Acknowledge the shadow
Start by observing how you react or judge others. People are mirrors; they reflect our shadow when we fail to see it.
Identify ten people in your life — five that you admire and five that you dislike. Next to each person, write one trait or aspect that you admire or dislike. Review the list and reflect on what those words say about what you don’t want to see or ignore about yourself.
2. Superpower and Kryptonite
On a piece of paper capture your superpowers — the things you feel proud about, your sources of energy, what you are good at.
Then, do the same with your Kryptonite. List all the things — mindset, beliefs or behaviors — that take your energy away, make you feel embarrassed, what you suck at.
Your superpower and Kryptonite are the two sides of the same coin: yourself. When I facilitate this exercise with teams, I tell participants to analyze their list without judging. They are not strengths and weaknesses. How you use them— positively or negatively — turns them into either a weakness or strength.
3. Start small
Not feeling motivated to exercise? Work out anyway. Your toxic wolf will say you are tired. Just keep moving on. Build momentum. Start small. Feed your healthy wolf — little by little — by building momentum and doing what you want to do. Even if it’s just on a small dose.
Building positive habits is not easy — feeding the healthy wolf is harder, it take a lifetime to train our mind. Learning new things, experimenting, making mistakes, becoming vulnerable, or developing positive habits requires energy, time, dedication, practice, patience, and determination. Precisely what the raindrops do.
Toxicity is like a rock — it feels a hard opponent. Keep your raindrops coming.
4. Embrace the ‘bad’ wolf
Make peace with the dark wolf. Learn to accept your perfect imperfections. Your flaws are part of who you are too; don’t run away from them. When you embrace your wholeness, you stop seeing life as a battle.
Integration cleanses your mind by removing toxicity. You learn to accept that life is full of tensions or contradictions that can coexist. Start opening your mind to accept those who think differently too — stop seeing everything through the lens of good or bad.
When you learn to live with both your wolves, you become at peace. You accept both who you are and the person you’d rather not be.