Have you ever felt like you’re living the start of the zombie apocalypse? People start acting completely crazily, there appears to be some sort of infection mechanism for whatever this is being transmitted from person to person, and all of a sudden there’s potentially some tough decisions to make if your significant other, family member, best friend etc happens to get infected. And in a massive generalisation, non infected people act in two broad ways, the one that tries to make sense of what’s wrong and right under these rapidly changing circumstances, and those who realise immediately that they can act without impunity to anyone infected.
I feel the same way about relationship toxicity, which I’m going to define as a consistent pattern of toxic behaviours across a number of a person’s relationships. Unfortunately I’ve seen the zombies up close and personal, and I’ve been infected and zombie like myself. Unfortunately actual zombies are much easier to understand, from watching many entries in the genre. Relationship toxicity is much more complex. I’ve seen familial patterns in toxic relationship behaviours, and I’ve seen commonalities across victims that seem to make them more susceptible to attracting the zombies. I even think it’s possible for a relationship toxicity victim of one relationship to overcompensate into or learn toxicity for future relationships.
So in case it wasn’t blindly obvious already, of the two personalities I’m the one that tries to make sense of the morals of the situation. What I’d really like to do is find a cure, or work on a vaccine, or both. Everything I’m continually learning and sharing on this subject I’m checking against my past experiences to see if it makes sense. The other end of the extreme is to work out someone you are/were close to is toxic, and start calling them a narcissist, a sociopath, a psychopath etc. There’s a number of issues with this approach, not the least of which is attempting to self diagnose others. There’s a difference between in your own mind trying to explain their behaviour with the label that fits best, or using it to research online etc, and telling other people or worse the person themselves that they are a “x”. Secondly, what I’ve seen in either myself or others doesn’t neatly fit into just one of those labels, and I’m determined to get to the bottom of it eventually. Even if it means coming to a different understanding of how this all fits together than what’s currently out there.
And make no mistake, this is a growing issue, at least from my observation. If I was to, say, ask you all to identify a politician influential on a world level who most obviously exemplifies relationship toxicity, I’d be very confident there would be one name that would stand out, relatively universally. And if it is as “transmissible” as I think, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
So what else do I bring to the table here other than my lived experience (which I realise is extremely valuable, don’t get me wrong? Well, I’m a creative problem solver. What that means is that if I’m faced with a problem, I will quite happily go across what would normally be very disparate fields to use what I consider to be the best approach or combination of approaches to both understand and try to solve a problem. For example, let’s say I’m thinking about the not uncommon situation where a borderline personality disordered person has a romantic relationship with a narcissistic personality disordered one. There’s plenty of online articles describing the way that usually pans out, which is not well. One thing on my to do list, is to basically build a simplified mathematical model/simulation of such a relationship from beginning to end, to see if I can replicate that typical cycle. Or I might use my appreciation for the English language to analyse or perhaps overanalyse how sometimes a single well chosen word can be more insightful than an entire explanation.
Finally, although I’d already decided to work towards this huge goal prior, I was massively inspired by Grace Tame’s award acceptance speech https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-26/grace-tame-australian-of-the-year-speech-in-full/13091710 (she was awarded Australian of the Year recently for her groundbreaking efforts in changing gag laws for child sexual assault victims ). I’m certainly not saying I’ve experienced anything like what she has, it’s incomparable, and I can’t even fathom that level of trauma. But she’s right, changing the laws on sexual assault survivors speaking out was a means to some critically important ends. If survivors are empowered, their stories can be used to promote understanding, and it enables education as a means of prevention. It’s similar for relationship toxicity, being able to recognise the early warning signs, and enacting the structural and social change aimed at prevention as much and early as possible.
As much as dealing with relationship toxicity has been the bane of my existence prior to this point, it now has given me something I haven’t had for a long time, or possibly ever. I know now what I need to do to leave this earth better than I found it and what I want to be remembered for. I have a purpose, and right now, that’s the best feeling in the world!