Toxic Waste

I am happy with who I am today. That’s not to say that I don’t have areas I need to improve on, goals I still strive to reach, and epiphanies I have yet to experience. It just means that, in this moment, I’m proud of who I am.

I accept my faults and, while I try to correct them, I don’t convince myself that I’m perfect. My wife, my daughter, and others close to me will often give an outside point of view on different aspects of my life when asked or, sometimes, not asked. But it comes from a place of love. The things they observe about me are real and genuinely said to help me become a better person.

wasteWhether it’s a pair of jeans that didn’t seem as skinny at the store as they do on my legs at home or a blank stare to a joke I made up on the spot about bread, I have people there to steer me away from public humiliation. Sometimes their advice can be pointed, but when someone is trying to help you for your own betterment, you can feel it. Those are the people you keep around forever.

Then, there are the people in your life – whether friends or family – who don’t always have your best interests at heart. They have other things at heart. There is a constant stream of opinions being spoken to your face and, even worse, behind your back. You hear hurtful gossip third-hand and, before long, you find yourself second guessing every move you make based on what you imagine someone might be saying about you.

Those are the people you don’t keep around forever.

Many of you reading this would be surprised by some of the people who have been removed from my life through the years. I don’t write about them and, more often than naught, I don’t think about them. It’s a strong contrast to the days when it seems like that’s all I did.

Make no mistake, toxic forces in our lives are not simply opinionated people. I have opinionated people around me today. The thing about opinionated people, though, is that they have both positive and negative opinions. They will strongly tell you why you’re right or wrong and, at least in my experience, they don’t really care if you subscribe to the same thinking. There’s no attempt to force me to change my mind about a choice in my life based on that opinion. They simply state what they think, sometimes strongly, and you hear it out. That’s it – opinionated people.

It’s toxic people who scrutinize everything. Every breath you take is under a microscope and every move you make is wrong in some way. Even the happy moments are used to yank you back down to Earth.

Congratulations on your new job. Hopefully you don’t lose it like you did last time.

Even your achievements are used against you. Suddenly, moments that you know for a fact are good are fed back as if they aren’t. Backhanded compliments and reminders of times when you couldn’t succeed take priority over handshakes and well wishes. You know when someone is toxic in your life when even their words of praise sting.

Nice! I’m so happy for you. Looks like your life might finally get on the right track.

Friends don’t sting unless they have to. Friends don’t hurt with glee or without care. Friends don’t bring up bad days gone by during happy moments. Friends don’t cut you off at the knees in order to be slightly taller than you. Friends don’t do any of those things. Those aren’t loved ones.

Growing up, it’s easy to allow those people into your head. After all, life is new. You’re not sure of who you are or what you’re doing. To you, those harsh and often mean interactions are all just people guiding you through the awkward years. They are here to help and, boy, does it seem like you need it. By listening to them, you’re finding out that you can’t seem to do anything right. Of course they get frustrated with you and have to say awful things. It seems like you just won’t listen and all the blame that gets thrown your way piles up. Before you know it, you’re a grown-up who’s convinced that you are incapable of being anything.

The toxicity becomes clearer to see as you mature. You’re able to understand who they are. They’re the people for whom we use phrases like “they love me in their own way” or “deep down, he means well”. The basis of your bonds with them requires an explanation or deeper understanding. It’s not necessary to cut all of these people out of your life in every single case, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about who they are. Deep down or up top, you know the toxic people in your world.

Today, I’m a man with kids of my own. My job is to give them the best life I possible can and to have faith in myself that the decisions I make are correct. Will they all be? No. I accept that and know that those in my life will question me when it seems like I might be on the wrong path.

They won’t, however, question me when I’m on the right one or try to “knock me down a few pegs”. The help they offer comes from a place of love rather than somewhere else. They don’t subscribe to some misguided notion that I’m helpless on my own. The reason they’re there for me is because they want to be.

And I want them to be there too.