What makes a person toxic? I am confident that at least a few ideas have come to mind. These may include being manipulative, judgemental, narcissistic, or ultimately unsupportive.
Dealing with people who exhibit these traits can be frustrating, as their impact on one's mental health is undoubtedly draining. We are told time and time again to avoid these people, and quite frankly, this advice is usually quite sound.
However, contrary to popular belief, some toxic behaviors do not cause direct harm towards others around them. In fact, many of these habits first affect the person practicing them. And with that being said, here are nine of the most common toxic habits you might not know have an effect on your mental health.
1. It's Never Your Fault
Let's say there is a boy named James who shows up fifteen minutes after first period starts, causing the teacher to give him a tardy for being late. What does James do? He angrily retells the story during lunch, insisting to his friends that he was practically on time and that they're all lucky they don't have his teacher.
Then, he gets back his test paper and discovers that he failed the exam. James immediately pins the blame on the teacher for giving him little time to complete it and his classmate Albert for ruining the curve.
I will admit that I am sometimes guilty of the latter. When we don't immediately achieve what we want to in life, it is so easy to blame it on other people or factors. People do it all the time.
But ultimately, this habit can become compulsive and extremely hard to break. And no one wants to be the person who is always finding a way to complain when things don't go their way. Not only does this mentality irk others, it also leads one to struggle with taking responsibility. Being able to hold yourself accountable for your actions is crucial to increasing your self-awareness and improving your well-being.
2. Avoiding the Conflict
Have you ever refrained from bringing something up with a friend because you don't want it to affect your relationship with them? We've all been there. Conflict avoidance is, in theory, the easy way out. After all, how can a situation get worse when you do nothing about it?
Unfortunately, there are countless ways for this to happen. You could grow even further apart from a formerly close friend. The lack of communication could cause you and another person to jump to incorrect conclusions.
Or maybe not speaking up for yourself causes your friend to be oblivious to a boundary they might have crossed, making it more likely for them to step past it once more. Avoiding potential conflicts ironically tends to lead to less trust and understanding on both sides. And as everyone knows, slow pains can be far worse than quick ones. Make sure to establish your boundaries early on, and don't let people step all over them.
3. Everything Bottled In
Imagine Gina, for example, who is having an off week. She has a throbbing headache that won't go away, her friend group is going through more drama, and she has trouble falling asleep every night. After receiving an apologetic text message from her mother in which she cancels their planned movie night, Gina assures her that it is okay. She doesn't want to be a burden on her busy mother.
While this is a very thoughtful decision on her behalf, it is far from healthy. By suppressing her thoughts and feelings, she is indirectly invalidating them. She may later believe that they aren't important, or that nobody cares to hear them. And as research shows, this sort of alienation is continually linked to mental health struggles such as depression, anxiety, and anger.
Many people believe concealing emotions will eventually cause them to go away. This is utterly false. They might fade for a while, but that doesn't change the fact they're still there.
In the long run, this is the cause of a lot of unnecessary tension and stress. Keeping things to yourself may prevent yourself from hurting others, and yet, is that something worth the risk of hurting yourself?
4. Comparing Yourself to Others
In a world like this, competitions are arguably everywhere. People are pitted against each other every single day. This is seen through application-based systems, sports rivalries, and celebrity feuds, to name a few.
We subconsciously compare ourselves to everyone we know. And with the introduction of the media into this equation, these comparisons are even perpetuated.
Of course, comparing is not necessarily always a bad thing. They provide us with something to aspire to be- an important step on the road to self-improvement. Despite this, comparisons can be extremely unhealthy.
The illusion of perfection has always been incredibly misleading. What we see in social media profiles and LinkedIn pages is but a brief and sometimes distorted glimpse into their real lives. Success does not look the same in every individual. We all have different skills and talents. The act of comparing demolishes this entirely, potentially resulting in unhealthy obsessions and reduced self-esteem.
So be sure to celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small. Focus on your own journey! And love yourself for who you are. You owe that to yourself.
5. Excusing Someone Else's Behavior
This is something we all engage in, hardly without second thought. I, for one, do this all the time. When my parents are rude to my friends, I explain that they're just tired.
When my best friend ghosts someone they're talking to, I explain that they're just really busy. When someone is outraged that someone else treated me a certain way, I explain that it is possible for me to have misread the situation. Somehow, I always find myself trying to come up with excuses that justify the actions of others around me. Not only is it an attempt to see things from their perspective, it also allows me to tell myself that what they're doing isn't entirely bad. It allows me to pretend that nothing is wrong.
I learned the hard way that you should never be held accountable for the actions of others. I would advise everyone to focus a little more on themselves, and less so on the problems of those around them. It is not your job to fix everything.
In fact, it's often better when you don't try to. Stop protecting others, let them deal with the consequences, and support them the whole way. That is a far healthier path to take.
Have you ever second-guessed your answers to a test? Have you ever thought extensively about your past mistakes? Have you ever been fixated on things that are way beyond your control?
There is a fine line between mental problem-solving and overthinking. It is almost too easy for the line to be unknowingly crossed.
Overthinking happens all the time. For some, it happens every day. Getting lost in the downwards spiral of what-if's is easier than it seems. Once you've fallen through the rabbit hole, it is extremely difficult to climb out of it.
How does this habit affect one's mental health? While this may not be recognized as a formal mental health condition, overthinking is quite frequently linked to generalized anxiety disorder. This condition not only entails further anxiety and distress, there are also a multitude of side effects, including difficulty controlling anxiety, trouble concentrating, struggling to make decisions, and constantly seeking validation. What might seem harmless can quickly develop into something far worse.
So stay in the present and trust your gut instinct. You are a resilient individual, and you should never let your past get the better of you. Your past does not define who you are.
7. Exaggerating the Truth
We see this everywhere. Okay, so maybe you resisted the temptation to fudge the numbers on your resume. But you cannot tell me that you've never embellished any details while recounting a particularly hilarious story to your friends, or exaggerated a conflict to elicit further sympathy from someone.
Exaggerations can seem entirely harmless, and at times they are. Even so, it is important to consider how they may impact yourself in addition to others.
Shakespeare once said: "what a tangled web of lies we weave, when we first practice to deceive." His words summarize my point perfectly; once you tell one lie, there's no going back. Countless ones are consequently built upon that first one to simply cover it up. And pretty soon, keeping track of your half-truths becomes a source of anxiety.
A loss of integrity, trust, and ultimately the destruction of relationships are only potential side effects. No one wants to live with this sense of constant guilt, and luckily, this toxic habit can be easily avoided. Develop habits of open communication and don't be afraid to admit your mistakes. It goes a long, long way.
8. Being a Perfectionist
To clarify, being motivated is rarely a bad thing; it can lead to a stronger work ethic, closer attention to detail, and continually improving skill set(s). Nonetheless, this perfectionist mentality has its significant drawbacks.
I used to be somewhat of a perfectionist myself. My successes and failures alike were always equated to my self-worth. I would criticize myself when things didn't go the way I had hoped, which contributed to my previously low self-esteem.
I was unable to meet the unrealistic expectations forced upon me by myself and others, and this was the cause of an extensive amount of stress. Looking back, I was hard on my younger self, and it really did show.
This does not mean that you should not immediately drop all of your ambitious goals and self-standards. However, it is pertinent to have a balance. Self-awareness is key: knowing where your limits are and recognizing them turns the toxicity of perfectionism into a drive, an initiative.
Take breaks, smile, and remember to cut yourself slack. You're a human being, and you're learning. Maybe at the end of the day, that's what really matters.
9. Believing You Deserve Less
One of my favorite quotes of all time from The Perks Of Being a Wallflower goes as follows: "We accept the love we think we deserve."
What is your family dynamic like at home? What do your relationships with your peers look like? And most importantly of all, how do you treat yourself?
All of our answers to these questions almost define our relationships. If you were raised in a physically or emotionally abusive household, for example, you might start to normalize these behaviors. You could search for similar dynamics and repeat toxic patterns.
After all, it's all you've ever known. You might not even recognize the damaging impact of such behaviors, because you are so accustomed to them.
This is not the case. We are all worthy of love and respect. Internalizing this, in addition to recognizing the times we don't, will allow everyone to pursue healthier, more fulfilling things in life.
The next time you catch yourself doing any of these habits, pause. Acknowledge this. It is the first step towards navigating your thoughts and developing better relationships, which in turn improves your overall well-being.
And if you ever find yourself struggling along this journey, I urge you to be brave and reach out for support. No one is a burden, and there will always be someone who is there for you, even during the most difficult of times.
My heart goes out to everyone, and I sincerely hope that with this knowledge you will be able to foster empathy, trust, and a little humility. Spread it. Make the world go round.