Updated: Jan 29, 2021
In her book Toxic People, Dr Lillian Glass defines a toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.”
When I found out my cognitive ability was impaired, I started to pay more attention to myself. I started to listen to the things I would say in my head and out loud about myself. What I found was terrifying. I was shaming myself but also blaming everyone else when something went wrong.
I would fill in narratives of what people were saying behind my back with absurd criticism. My paranoia of what others were feeling and saying about me was rooted in my decayed self-esteem. I thought myself as worthless and I imagined everyone did too
If you realise that you are part of a toxic relationship, what would you do? Probably leave, right? Unfortunately, till death do us part is non-negotiable when it comes to ourselves. So, we tend and fix what needs to be.
I like to separate myself into parts to digest the state of mind of each one. Think of yourself as body and soul. Would your body have nice things to say about how you treat it? What would your soul say about how you make it feel?
I came across a few signs that pointed me to how toxic my relationship with self had grown to be. See if you can recognise a some in your own life;
Controlling behaviour. You manipulate yourself into feeling better. When you feel unwell or sad, do you allow yourself time to grief and nurture back? Do you use outside stimuli like alcohol, drugs, people or even food to get those endorphins right back up? You do so without understanding where the feelings are arising from. Or even making plans to tackle them. You just shut them up.
Persistent unhappiness. Do you make yourself unhappy? I used to be so depressed when I had to spend time with myself. I can be really mean. I would curate all my most shameful moments into a montage and pick on myself furiously. I was the taunting bully we all tried to escape. Every day was full of suicidal ideation in hopes to just separate from myself.
Lack of support. When you have dreams and set goals, do you believe in your ability to achieve them or are you in a spiral of negativity for even yourself? Are you cheering yourself on or do you self sabotage yourself?
Patterns of disrespect. Do you respect the decisions you make? The boundaries you set, do you keep them. When you set your morning alarm, how many snooze sessions do you sneak in? I learnt to wake up with my alarm or before because the version of me who set that wake-up time had goals she intended to get done. It is unfair to her to just cancel that out cause I would hate if someone held me back.
Gas-lighting. To start with, I would recommend watching the 1944 film Gaslight. Gaslighting is a form of abuse that involves a person deliberately causing another to doubt their sanity. This also leads to diminished self-worth and a distorted sense of reality. I have been called delusional and disillusioned most of my life. Even though my memory was sparkling in recollection. I quickly started to believe that maybe I was. We do become our abusers if we are not careful. I did. I question my memories, even with firsthand proof. I believe myself a master of deceit that made up evidence and covered my tracks. How toxic can one be that they question themselves to the extent of deeming oneself as a villain?
Tendencies and threats of harm. Every time I feel like I failed myself, I get scared because I know what comes next. The death threats and punishment. I am not very forgiving of myself. I actually blame myself for the failure of others. For the longest time, I have called myself a curse that plagues the lives of anyone who associates with me. I also said I was toxic energy that needed to be expunged from life. Do you think you are a waste of space? Do you think yourself undeserving of life in your veins? Do you punish yourself for having a treat or failing to follow a diet?
By the way, I still do all these things. However, the extent is much reduced and I am part of a healthier symbiosis. That is how the journey to a much more functioning being works, steps taken forward. No magical cure.
These are a few starting points to have a kinder relationship with self;
Watch your speech.
What do you say to yourself? What tone do you use? What are the narratives you craft for what others say behind your back?
I am a hoarder and I like to collect things like a magpie. I picked up a bad habit when I was a child- to collect voices and mean things they said and repeat them. So, every bully, every time my parents were not paying attention to their words- I remember and repeat those words over and over. What is even more absurd is that I would repeat them until I believed them. Like some warped up hypnosis.
To counter that, I have self pep talks. I spend a lot of time with myself and most of that time is to nurture and tend to bits of me that I have let wither from lack of knowing better. I talk myself out of beliefs that are surely destructive to my sense of worth.
Be your biggest cheerleader
When my mom died, I lost so much. I lost the one person who believed in me. I did not have someone speaking life to me and I started to shrivel.
Do not get to that place.
If ever you are to have only one cheerleader- let it be yourself. The first thing I taught myself when I realised how alone I was in this world was to cheer myself on. I am the captain of my cheer squad. Although I am still my biggest critic, I am also my loudest cheerleader. You should see me at my pep talks now. You have to have a part of you that is ready to counter any negative claim you speak into yourself.
Respect the boundaries you set
If you say no sugar snacks before bed, respect that. How did I become 135kg in 2018? I was having 2litres of Fanta before bed and as my midnight hydration. I was also eating fried chicken burgers as my 3 am snack with a tub of ice cream as my something sweet.
I had one rule when this all started- No snacks in the bedroom. I moved that threshold line over and over till I could only eat in the bedroom. My body does not tolerate that level of disrespect anymore.
Stop gaslighting yourself.
Do not allow yourself to become your abusers. Do not take on that baton of cruelty. You deserve much more.
Threats and abuse need to stop.
Would you believe me if I told you I used to threaten myself with self-harm and suicide? I sometimes catch myself still doing it. It was the ultimate punishment. It was also a big compulsion that now I can tame.
I would also threaten myself with starvation when I gained weight. Even when it is probably just my body looking bloated from my menstrual cycle. Once, I got a marker and started drawing out bits of me I needed to cut out and tuck in.
I would look at the mirror with the most disappointing expression at my body. In return, she would sigh and hide back into herself.
Learn to forgive yourself and accept the fact that things happen. Life is not an uphill trail all through. How would we learn resilience if we were just going steadily up all through the span of days and years? You will not always succeed and that is okay. When you fail- nurture, heal, do an audit and see where you need to brush upon. Then make those changes.
Healing is a journey. It takes time but if you pace yourself just right, you will find sustainable growth. You will also afford yourself strength to show grace to bits of you that are a little slower in pulling their own weight