Before you say “do the work” to your “toxic” friends, consider this
It’s frustrating coming across toxic people, particularly within polyamory, and especially when you didn’t get a say in whether you brought that person into your life. Your metamours (partner’s partners) have an impact on your life, whether you’re dating them or not.
Unhelpful traits in others are often way more noticeable than our own flaws and idiosyncrasies, the things we turn a blind eye to in our partners can drive us to rage in their partners. That’s understandable.
In the same way, none of us are perfectly formed emotionally and we all have traits which are unhelpful, many of which we can’t see in ourselves. Our own toxic behaviours hide in our blind spots like cyclists on a motorway.
We should all be striving to be the best person we can be, but we need to realise it’s not as easy as saying “just get therapy” or “do the work”.
Toxic behaviour is a set of self-created coping mechanisms grown by the subconsciouses of people who have been damaged by life in order to protect parts of their psyche.
Fixing them is important, yes, but when I look at the way the polyamory community often suggests this is done based on various well-read books it makes me shudder.
The emphasis is on making that person’s behaviours easier for other people to deal with. I completely understand why — instead of one hurt and damaged person that toxic trait is creating problems for their whole extended polycule.
No, it isn’t acceptable. I won’t in any way justify pain or abuse whether deliberate or not. But when most of the suggestions for “fixing” toxic traits seem focused on swallowing emotions and anxieties rather than dealing with the underlying causes I feel huge concern.
The people we label as toxic don’t get to simply “do the work” to go from problematic to super share-y and flexible members of your polycule overnight. At best, they go from acting out to numbed.
Repeating “I can stand it” as the Jealousy Workbook suggests does a great job of freezing my anxieties and emotions but once I grow weary of continually applying the ice spray those emotions are going to explode and set fire to everyone else with me. Not complaining anymore doesn’t equal no longer feeling.
Right now, I’m personally working on coping mechanisms I’ve had for over a decade, sometimes way longer. You call them toxic; I call them my safety blankets. When they’re removed, I don’t come blinking out into the sun like a new-born fawn. There are no quick solutions.
I don’t feel like I’m being fixed. I feel like my soul is shattering like glass and bleeding abrasions are forming in tiny mounds across my personality. I could manage my toxic behaviours in small chunks but freeing the underlying pain and memories which caused them has blown these behaviours to billboard size.
I didn’t instantly get better; I became a thousand times worse for a while.
For me, it’s worth the pain and the intense mental exertion. I’m lucky because I have a support network who are committed to this journey with me.
Would you be?
When I hear the words “do the work” directed at others in the polyamorous community I hear the privilege of people who have never had the severe difficulties in their lives which feed and grow toxic behaviour.
Some people can’t simply see a therapist for six weeks and have their trauma eased. I understand how frustrating it feels to put effort into your own behaviours and see others blindly walking about sprinkling bad feeling on all they touch because they haven’t “done the work” you have. But their work may be a heavier load than yours.
If you aren’t prepared to hold someone’s hand and stroke their hair whilst they metaphorically vomit nails don’t tell them to do the work in order to make your life easier. If you don’t want to deal with the shattered glass that makes up their soul, don’t insist they start a process which is likely to make them worse rather than better in the short term. If you can’t walk alongside with love and friendship and support don’t make their behaviour your problem to solve.
Limit or stop contact. Don’t insist someone goes through hell for you.
I’m strong and I’m super determined but I’m lucky because I’m doing this for me and the people I love. In the long run I’ll be happier and more settled. All the parts of my life will improve and the energy it has taken me every day to just put one foot in front of the other will ease. It will be worth it. But if I’d started this process without love and support to make things easier for people who aren’t concerned about my welfare, I may have given up twenty times already.
Everyone is toxic in their own way. We’re often drawn to people whose communication styles set off anxieties and triggers within ourselves
I hear the term being thrown around by people whose behaviour I consider to be just as toxic. We don’t exist in a vacuum.
Sometimes you need to take a step back and work out if that person has triggered behaviours in yourself which are equally unwelcome and damaging for everyone else.
How has your reaction been shaped by your own fears and life experiences? Putting up and shutting up is as much of a trauma reaction as fighting for attention.
Sometimes we know we’ve done as much as we can without giving away too much of ourselves. That’s all anyone can ask. Step away.
It’s not your battle to start.