Since the onset of the New Year, I’ve seen many posts about “removing toxic people” and “eliminating for-no-good relationships” and “cutting people out who don’t serve anything less than happiness” and “purging bad people”. But, as I read these posts, I begin to wonder: Could this be me? Am I a toxic person? Does she think I’m a bad person?
I recently watched the episode of ‘Shameless’ in which Fiona’s ex-fiance (Sean) came back to apologize to her as part of his alcohol-rehab-program. At first, Fiona thinks that Sean comes back to apologize and get back together with her (to which Fiona is ecstatic at that opportunity), and is crushed when she finds out that Sean is ‘happily’ with his wife and, actually, his apology serves one of his steps towards recovery. In Fiona’s mind, her intentions are pure, her motivations secure, and her judgments good; she treated Sean well, they had an acceptable romance, and could get back together. But, this is not what Sean thinks. Despite Fiona’s innocent intentions and her attempts to do good, Sean sees her as destructive, as a negative influence, as a feeder of his addiction, and therefore, he must purge her from his life.
This happens in the Bible as well. My Bible study recently finished Job: A Story of Unlikely Joy by Lisa Harper, in which Lisa Harper discusses Job’s friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. In short, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar lament with Job when all the bad stuff starts happening to him, but shortly into Job’s suffering, the three abandon him on the burning pile; according to Lisa Harper, we should view Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar as good-for-nothing friends; they scorn Job, blame Job, and ultimately desert Job, rather than offering Job support for all the bad things that are happening to him (like Elihu does). In the study, we are encouraged to reflect upon relationships in our own lives that may serve the same destructive nature; relationships in which do not bring us closer to, but rather, plant wedges between us and God and our ability to live out a Christ-like life–relationships in which perhaps the enemy is attempting to infiltrate, relationships which force us into a cycle of unnecessary pain, relationships that prevent wounds from being healed.
I would not consider myself a malicious person. I try to act from a moral center, attempt to consider how my actions may impact others, strive to be inclusive and thoughtful and politically correct with the things I say and post–and yet, I’ve definitely been in positions before, much like Fiona, or Job, that, despite my well meaning intentions, another person created a perception of me that was painful for them–toxic, destructive, hostile–and the relationship between us needed to be severed (or, I needed to be unfollowed on social media, cut out of social plans, deleted from the contacts list).
These perceptions can be created through very valid reasons. Perhaps I was a little too honest with my thoughts about Reese’s book club picks, and I offended their favorite book choices. Maybe I stole a project, an award, or a title in which they hoped to obtain, and I took away their chance to showcase something they’d been working very diligently on. Or, possibly they just got annoyed with my self-gloating about writing a book (or, more recently, about Michael) and I got unfriended or unfollowed (but don’t worry, I wouldn’t blame you because I’m totally guilty of doing this myself, too).
These perceptions could also be attributed to reasons outside of myself. Perhaps someone related to the character in the Reese’s book club book, and my criticism of the book, unbeknownst to me, feels like a criticism of them. Or, maybe the title I stole has nothing to do with the title itself, but that the person suffers from second-child syndrome, in which the first-child got all of the attention. Possibly, the reason I got unfollowed from all the annoying pictures about Michael had nothing to do with Michael, and everything to do with a relative that recently received a diagnosis–and the constant reminders are just too much.
There are many things I can control when interacting with others. I can be mindful about how I word things on social media, the amount of #selfies I’m putting up. I can make efforts to say thank you upon exiting a social gathering and sending out handwritten cards. I can avoid rolling my eyes when I’m irritated, yelling and screaming and calling mean names when I’m mad, interrupting people and interjecting my now thoughts when I’m frustrated.
But, no matter how hard I try to filter and control my interactions with others, how people create those perceptions of me are created, I have very little control. In my head, I could think of myself as the humblest, most altruistic, loving person in the whole world–and yet, based on valid or not valid factors, someone could create a perception of me in which they find me antagonistic, selfish, aggravating.
To which, if I were in their shoes (or Job’s, or Sean’s), I don’t think I’d blame them for unfriending me. If I’m causing that much pain and suffering, then by all means, get rid of me.