Poison is something we all know we need to avoid. Yet we may not realize that some of our beliefs, thoughts and behaviors are poisonous to our lives and relationships. When our habits are toxic, we become our own worst enemy. Unfortunately, many people are unaware or remain in denial of their toxic habits. Perhaps it will be comforting to know that we come by our toxic habits honestly. In other words, most toxic habits originate from our avoidance of fear and pain. In some cases, there is psychopathy at the root of toxic beliefs and behaviors, however, most toxic habits are simply coping mechanisms we adopt to avoid pain or relieve stress that emerges from our fears. One of the greatest challenges in overcoming toxic habits is a natural, defensive urge to justify their existence. Our coping mechanisms are there for a reason, no matter how unhealthy, and we must summon the strength to face our fears and pain. To change toxic habits, it’s crucial to stop rationalizing behavior and instead begin to understand that poisonous habits create more pain then they help us to avoid. [PLEASE NOTE: this blog post does not offer professional medical, psychological or behavioral counsel. Please seek the help of a professional if you feel you are suffering from your own toxic habits or the effects of another’s toxic habits.]
As with all poison, people tolerate very little before experiencing its destruction. Like drops of poison, our toxic habits erode the quality of our lives and relationships. Our fears and ego-driven needs spoil our potential of achieving what we truly desire. Putting an end to toxic habits can help us to achieve happy, healthy lives and relationships.
Before you dismiss the idea you may possess any toxic habits, read the entire list below and see if any of these ring true situationally or otherwise. In order to purge your toxic habits you must first recognize their existence. Next, understanding how you lean on these toxic habits to avoid pain or to create a false sense of safety and security will help you understand what you need to address and why. Learning the reasons why these beliefs and behaviors are not serving you well will help motivate you to find a better way to deal with life’s challenges.
Top 10 Toxic Habits
- Insecurity plagues relationships because it creates an unstable base. The insecure partner(s) tends to worry unnecessarily about perceived threats and seek ongoing validation and reassurance in order to feel safe and secure in a relationship. This behavior drains a relationship of its freedom to evolve naturally. If you experience insecurity in your relationships, focus on your core self-esteem. Although an insecure attachment style develops as a result of early child/parent relations, it does not mean you must remain a prisoner to your fears and insecurities. (Read: How Fear and Insecurity Affect a Relationship)
- Jealousy is a form of insecurity that is fear-based. People can be jealous whether any real reasons exist for concern. Jealousy is a highly toxic set of fears and behaviors that erode trust. Jealousy is not the same as envy. We may wish we had a variety of things or traits or life experiences that another possesses (envy). Jealousy is a different animal. Jealousy leads to a variety of behaviors that do not belong in a healthy relationship (e.g. snooping, accusations, demands, validation seeking, victim mentality, and controlling behaviors). Jealousy is always destructive. The key here is to feel confident in who you are and what you have to offer. After all, you want someone who wants exactly what you have to offer. You are unique and worthy and you can only be yourself. So when someone violates your values (lies, cheats, etc.), you always have the choice to address such problems together or move on to a better relationship.
- Judgmental Behavior is insidious because we tend to think it is entirely acceptable. Our evolution and upbringing reinforces the positive aspects of our ability to evaluate data and make decisions based upon our evaluations. However, judgmental behavior picks up where reasonable and necessary analysis leaves off. When we jump to judgement, we react from our fear-base in an effort to justify our will and actions or defend our position. Judgmental behavior springs from insecurity and low self-esteem. When we are confident in ourselves and self-aware of our own strengths and weaknesses, we understand that others are just as vulnerable to life’s challenges as we are and deserve our understanding and reserved judgment. We never know the entire thoughts and experience of another. When we love and accept ourselves as imperfect, we lack any need to be regularly critical or judgmental of others. Judgmental behaviors tend to create limiting beliefs at best and at worse, reinforce pathological behavior. When you find yourself rushing to judgement, stop yourself. There is no need to label anyone good, bad, right, wrong, etc. We are all complex individuals and deserve understanding and acceptance for all that we are, rather than small-minded labels based upon inner fears and a lack of greater understanding.
- Passive-Aggressive Behavior usually emerges when someone is uncomfortable with direct communication and conflict resolution. Passive-aggressive behavior breaks bonds of trust and inflicts pain in those who are on the receiving end of this toxic habit. In order to have a healthy, happy relationship, learn to communicate effectively and understand that conflict is a normal and even healthy human experience. It is not the conflict or misunderstanding that creates our pain, but rather how we interpret the experience and how we resolve it. Choose to reserve judgement. Gather facts. Try to overcome your immediate frustration and gather your thoughts. Never revert to passive-aggressive control. Address your concerns directly with care and give you partner a chance to express their experience and concerns. Work towards a mutually beneficial conclusion without subtle insults or acts of unspoken revenge.
- Controlling Behavior can range from a minor form of insecurity to a major form of obsessive abuse. While our fears may get the best of us at times, it’s crucial to realize we cannot control anyone but ourselves. Control destroys trust and fosters fear. Whether passive-aggressive in nature or overt, control shatters trust, fosters fear and erodes self-esteem. Love, kindness, understanding and trust are qualities that invite voluntary attachment. Control ignores the rights of both partners and assumes that one partner’s fears take precedence over the other. We all desire to have choices, but we cannot and should not exert our control over others unless it is to save a life. Many factors contribute to controlling behavior. It is important to get help from a professional if your tendency for control disrupts your life and relationships.
- Dismissive or Avoidant Behavior, while the opposite of needy and clinging behavior, can be just as damaging if not more so. As humans, we have a basic need for love, connection and validation. When we are dismissed or avoided by a stranger, we might feel slighted, but we brush it off. But in our relationships, when we are dismissed or avoided consistently over time, we feel disrespected, misunderstood and unloved. Dismissive and avoidant behavior creates a breakdown in communication and trust and often leads to the demise of a relationship. Even if your attachment style is avoidant, in order to have a fulfilling relationship, you will need to step out of your comfort zone to give more of your attention and consideration. This can be a difficult change for some and may require the help of a professional to discover comfortable ways to push beyond your comfort zone.
- Egotism/Selfishness, when predominate, poisons relationships. We all have a degree of egotism and selfish needs that help us get our needs met. However, when these traits take over and eclipse our ability to understand the needs of others and have empathy for their experience as well as our own, our relationship suffers. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own needs and wants, we may not even realize that we are acting selfishly or allowing our ego to rule our actions. When you consistently place your needs, desires and opinions over the other person in a relationship, without consideration of their values and needs, you are communicating a lack of caring and consideration. Over time this behavior becomes a toxic habit that can push people away or create resentment.
- Martyr/Victim Mentality is the most stealthy of toxic habits. Unfortunately, this is the very reason why this toxic habit is so very damaging. When a person suffers a low-level of self-love and self-esteem, they may overcompensate in an attempt to win approval and validation. The message of martyrdom is: “I sacrifice my needs for the needs of others. Because of this, I am owed acceptance and validation and expect to be valued and have my demands met.” The truth is very few of us are saints. Most martyrs have self-serving agendas covered with a guise that their desired outcome is for the benefit of another. This is a form of manipulation. A secondary quality that often goes hand-in-hand with martyrdom is having a victim mentality. Although a person can have a victim mentality without being a martyr. The problem with a victim mentality is that there is no personal accountability. When something goes wrong or is disappointing, it is always the fault of another person or event. People with a victim mentality point the finger of blame at any other person rather than take responsibility for their own actions. This toxic habit not only hurts the recipient of the blame, but also hurts the person hurling the accusations. Without personal responsibility, we cannot achieve satisfaction nor build our own healthy self-esteem. We are the common denominator to all of our experiences. Therefore, we always have a hand in our life experiences and we always have choices. CAVEAT: There are of course victims of acts of violence, crime, negligence and even oversight, but these incidents need not create an ongoing victim mentality. Never let current or past tragic incidents rob you of taking charge of your future destiny.
- Blame/Shame tend to be used for two purposes: (1) to escape our own part in something we do not wish to face through blame, and (2) to manipulate and control the actions of another through destructive shame. Both of these toxic habits leave painful emotional scars for those who are blamed and shamed and the resulting damage to a relationship is often devastating. To avoid the temptation of either blame or shame, take a step back and consider how you would want to be treated when you fall short of your expectations or those of others when a mistake is made. Use empathy and understanding. Consider the issues at hand intellectually and temper your emotions. Always take personal responsibility for your part in any event. To do anything less will endanger your self-esteem and self-respect, not to mention the respect of others. If you are suffering from the abuse of shame, please seek professional help to overcome these damaging and painful thoughts.
- Lack of Forgiveness can be a toxic habit easily overlooked. When we hold on to anger and resentment from someone else’s wrongdoing, we only cause ourselves more pain and suffering. The key to forgiveness is not to condone a wrongdoing, it is to understand the origin of the wrongdoing and let go of its hold on your emotions. Forgiveness sets you free. Bear in mind that forgiveness is the release of the pain you suffered due to the acts of another; it does not mean you have to interact with that person again. It simply means you see the larger picture and realize that people are imperfect, unaware, at times out of control, and at worst pathological. Any wrong doing truly reflects on the wrongdoer, not the recipient of the hurtful act. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. If you cannot, please seek professional help to set yourself free from the past.
Life is challenging and we all fall short at times of being our best self. The point of becoming aware of our toxic habits and understanding how they are harmful, is to take the first step toward a healthier, happier future. When you take charge of your actions and beliefs, you are far more equipped to create and enjoy wonderful, supportive relationships. We wish you success. Please share your experiences with these and other toxic habits.