Facing My Own Toxic Traits as I Heal
There’s a very tangible fear instilled in many of us who grow up feeling invalidated, being physically and emotionally abused (sexually or otherwise), lied to, witnessing violence, and on a daily basis, feeling unsafe and afraid of the uncertainty and unpredictability we lived through. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I developed some really unhealthy coping skills and an overwhelming fear of being rejected and abandoned by everyone. Everyone, including insignificant people in my life. I also never trusted anyone, and many days, I still don’t. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the conundrum of feeling afraid, not good enough, unable to trust (fill in the blank, I’ve felt it), lead me to become someone who would say and do almost anything to keep people in my life. I would also become so jaded by being gaslit for years and people coming in and out of my life for various reasons that I lost myself in people and reacting to my sadness and fear. In short, I was incredibly toxic and unaware of how self-destructive I had become.
It wasn’t until years later, in my late thirties, that I was able to begin to view the actions of my younger self up until the last couple years of my life and see them clearly. What inevitably followed was an unbearable amount of shame and grief, but my story doesn’t end there. This is the first time I have actually allowed myself to share this with anyone other than my therapist and husband. I was someone who loved hard, fast, in spite of what made sense, and I was so needy and clingy in friendships and relationships. I cringe when I see myself through that lens now, but I am still learning to try to have grace for myself in the wake of the many mistakes I’ve made. I was desperate, and I now see that.
Healing, while it sounds wholesome and overall positive, is gruesome. For me, when I finally went no contact and began to seek answers for my pain and inner turmoil, I started healing. Unbeknownst to me, healing would be just as hard as feeling lost for so many years. Healing requires us to look inside at the inner wounds inflicted upon us that were beyond our control. In doing so, you have to revisit the darkest places and moments that reside within your heart, mind and memory. This was extremely difficult for me, because I began to spiral as I realized not only had I been beaten, neglected, psychologically ransacked, and subjected to sexual abuse because of the neglect, I became a person who had no idea what real love looked like and sought love by whatever means necessary, oblivious to how much self sabotage I was actually lending myself to. I had to face how I was going to process what I’d been through, as well as accept that I, too, had developed a toxic mindset in certain areas of my life and needed to do the very essential inner work of unbecoming what I had grown to understand was extremely unhealthy and counterproductive to being the person I wanted to be. Though my trauma wasn’t my fault, my healing and changing was (is) my responsibility.
I believe every person’s journey is different and demands something different from us all through the various stages of this process of unbecoming. As already mentioned, I’ve felt immeasurable shame and grief over how I view my own actions. But realizing that what you went through was nothing short of tragic, you feel angry, rejected, lost, misunderstood, confused, scared, and deeply broken all over again. To this day, I still have nightmares that are directly related to PTSD. Those nightmares are usually oddly similar to what I went through, or different scenarios completely that invoke the same feelings. I wake up sometimes feeling like my chest has a block on it, and it’s a struggle not to let those dreams set the tone for my day. I lose a lot of sleep. I’ve developed chronic health problems, chronic pain, and autoimmune disorders. I’ve also been diagnosed with Carcinoid Syndrome, which is a beast in its own right. In my healing, though, I see that I can only move forward from here and make healthier choices. It is up to me to do the hard work of healing what is broken, including my mind, body and spirit. I must right the wrongs I’ve put forth into the world, whether I realized how awful it was at the time or not. I am to take responsibility for being kinder and more accommodating to myself and not expect it from others who lack the ability to fly away from the branch of self preservation and selfishness they have firmly perched themselves upon.
The one thing that has been a major stumbling block to my healing is expectation. The person or people who hurt you will not always be willing to see it; they’re usually more concerned with sweeping the doorsteps of others instead of their own, never taking accountability. So, from my experience, expecting to pour your heart out and be understood and embraced in all your inner
turmoil and pain, is very unlikely. Expectation will set you up for failure. At the end of the day, all you can do is work on yourself, relentlessly pursue the healing of your soul, make decisions that are best for you unapologetically, and work the tools you’re given and learn along the way. Healing from psychological trauma is an active and intentional process. It’s not a pretty one and it doesn’t always feel good, but we’re made for it. Just as our bodies are made to heal and form scar tissue, our emotional pain is way worse, but similar in that sense, in my opinion. That said, I want to also make it clear that you do this at your own pace and be patient with yourself. What happened to you isn’t your fault, so treat yourself as graciously and delicately as you would your younger, inner child.
You cannot heal in the same environment or around the very people that aid and abet your anguish. You must create a safe emotional space for you and those you love most. For me, I didn’t see progress right away. I still question myself and if I’ve made the right choices, but I can feel the healing taking place. No longer do I feel obligated to allow anyone to stay in my life who is a hindrance to the unbecoming that has taken place and the healing I have desperately needed.
The smear campaign will also undoubtedly make you want to tap back into those toxic traits if you developed any, but I learned the hard way that it doesn’t work and will only help anyone who seeks to smear your name and reputation. It is hard. When you know there is a great injustice taking place and it hurts, it’s easy to come undone. Please focus on the healing. If you’ve developed toxic traits, please focus on the unbecoming. There is so much to be gained from seeing the toxicity for what it is and remaining committed to the good that will be the end product of the work you’re doing. You will one day be able to help others once you’ve reached a point of seeing things more clearly. This thought consoles me.
In closing, I want to say that the most important person not to lose is yourself. If you lost yourself, you can find yourself again, or even completely reinvent who you are. I truly believe this. I think this will always be an area of weakness and something I struggle with, but so long as there is breath in my lungs, I will continue to look at myself and my actions, make efforts to become who I’m meant to be, unbecoming who I never was meant to be, and continue to seek my own healing. You are worth it. You are valuable. You matter. I wish you nothing but love and light as you make your own journey, fellow warrior!
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