Becoming a Non-Toxic Person

February 20, 2023

by Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant, M.P.H.

If you read the warning label on the back of any toxic substance, it probably looks something like this: “WARNING: Hazardous to humans. Avoid contact with skin or eyes. Do not take internally. Combustible. Do not use or store near heat, sparks, flames or other source of ignition. Avoid inhalation. Keep out of reach of children and animals.”

Just as chemicals can be toxic, so can people. And although toxic people don’t come with warning labels, if they did, the labels might say: “CAUTION: May poison personal and professional relationships. Physical and mental illness may occur with great frequency. Keep out of reach of children, animals, and anyone wanting to experience joy in life.”

None of us wants to think of ourselves as toxic, and chances are, for the most part you are not. But there are certain times of our lives that all of us start to exhibit more noxious tendencies. If you’ve noticed any of the following signs, you may need to detoxify your life:

Signs of Being a Toxic Person

* You look for and expect the worst in people (and often find it);
* You get into arguments all the time;
* You pick fights over things that don’t really matter to you;
* When you get stressed, you tend to blow up at whoever is closest at hand;
* You never give anyone the benefit of the doubt;
* Your coworkers, family members, and friends (if you have any left) are afraid to speak up around you; and
* If you were to put a bumpersticker on your car, it would probably be one of the following: - Sit down, shut up, and hold on! - Yes, I do own the road! -

People like you are the reason people like me need medication! - Your kid may be an honor student, but you’re still an idiot!

If you recognize yourself in the list of symptoms above - even if only in one or two of them - there are some things you can do to become a less toxic person:

1. Do not take internally. Toxic people tend to internalize everything and take it personally. Many believe that everyone and everything has been put on earth to make their lives more difficult. The truth is, most people are so busy focusing on their own lives, the chances they’re thinking about you are slim. Just as you always have good excuses for your bad behavior, so does everyone else - for example, the woman who accidentally swerved into your lane on the freeway almost certainly didn’t do it to annoy you. It’s just as likely she just got back from the eye doctor and her pupils were still dilated or a bee flew up her blouse. Remember, the only one out to get you is you.

2. In case of a spill, leave the area and do not return for an hour. This is great advice for toxic chemicals and toxic people. If you feel the need to let aggression spill over onto whomever’s closest, leave and don’t come back for at least an hour. Better yet, make it two. Often, even the most toxic people can blow off some steam simply by removing themselves from a situation. If you can’t actually get away, consider putting up some yellow “Caution” tape around your room to warn everyone else to stay away until you feel less volatile.

3. Induce vomiting. Purging your own internal poisons can help you reduce your toxicity to yourself and others. Too often toxic people let stressors build up and when they blow, they really blow. Anything you can do to help yourself feel less resentful and antagonistic that isn’t in itself harmful (such as drinking or screaming at someone) can be an effective stress management approach. The list is endless: biofeedback, deep-breathing, dancing, exercise, gardening, hobbies, laughter, lunch with friends, music, painting, pet therapy, play, visualization, yoga, etc. It is important that you regularly purge your poisons so they don’t build up, so make sure to practice some form of stress management that works for you every day.

4. Apply sparingly. Like with any dangerous chemical, a little bit of hostility and anger goes a long way. And the truth is, the more you spread around, the angrier and more hostile you’ll become. Here’s a good test to see if you’ve been too toxic recently: Does it seem as if everyone around you is infuriated and exasperated? If so, look in the mirror because the common denominator in your work and private life is you. I once saw a billboard that read: “My anger says nothing about you and everything about me.”

A good way to know when to use your anger and when to find another approach is to create a scale, rating the types of things that that you believe are truly worth getting upset about and staying upset about and those that are not. After all, you wouldn’t spray your whole yard with pesticide to get rid of one dandelion, right? Make the same choices in your life.

5. Keep away from heat. Just as you shouldn’t use toxic chemicals where they could catch fire, neither should you put yourself in situations that inflame your toxic tendencies. Whether it is an individual who pushes all the wrong buttons or circumstances that really get your dander up, try to avoid the heat, at least when you’re feeling most likely to erupt.

6. In case of contamination flush with water. It may sound simplistic, but water is a great way to reduce your toxicity. Take a bubble bath or a nice hot shower. Sit in a hot tub. Go for a swim. Stand under a waterfall. Let the water wash over you and remove any impurities before you step back into your problems.

7. Find alternatives that are less hazardous to your health. If you discovered a chemical you’d been using around your garden was poisonous, you’d probably try to find a different way to approach the problem. Most toxic people never contemplate their choices before blowing up at others. Here are some ideas: Read books and articles on how to nurture positive emotions, keep a diary to express your emotions and release a little steam every day, give yourself a ten minute rule before jumping into an argument, and ask people what they’re thinking instead of assuming they’re thinking something negative.

8. Learn to live with the weeds. Another strategy in the yard is just to let some weeds grow. After all, what’s a weed but a flower you didn’t plant? You can do the same in life - learn to accept that no one is perfect (including you) and that if you waste all your time trying to root out every weed, you’ll soon find yourself exhausted and cross with the world. A good example of a “weed” you could try to learn to accept: Let’s say you have a friend who you know in your heart is supportive and loving, yet he has recently done something that irked you. Is it worth your energy to make a big deal out of one slip-up in an otherwise good relationship, or is it better to save your energy to fight the bigger battles that really require your attention?

9. Keep out of reach of children and animals. The worst part about being a toxic person is that you not only poison your life and health, but you poison everyone around you, which can be especially harmful to your children and animals (who pick up on negativity without understanding what you’re saying.) If you feel extremely toxic, take a time out away from those who are most easily hurt.

10. Call a physician if irritation persists. If you recognize signs of toxicity in yourself and nothing you do on your own seems to help, it may be time for professional assistance. A therapist, an anger management class, or support group may be just what you need to get you started on the road to reducing the poisons that are destroying your life.

Taking a few steps toward becoming a less toxic person will improve your health and make everyone around you less miserable. And, because we all create the life we live, you will find yours will have less anger and rage and more peace and joy. Even if there are a few dandelions growing here and there!

Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant, M.P.H. (master of public health/mistress of public humor) is a humor and stress management expert who had been helping people lighten up for fifteen years.

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2 Responses to “Becoming a Non-Toxic Person”

  1. Patrick Allmond on February 23rd, 2007 1:56 pm

    In a sentence - I love it. In many places I have worked and socialized I have encountered way too many toxic people. They are just plain poison to everything around them.

    Any thoughts on how to convert them to contributing members of society?

  2. Women Walking In Wisdom’s Footsteps™ » Blog Archive » Five Favorites For Friday - Week Ending Feb. 23, 2007 on February 23rd, 2007 4:16 pm

    [...] Favorite #3 - Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant, M.P.H., writing at Cultivate Greatness states, “None of us wants to think of ourselves as toxic, and chances are, for the most part you are not. But there are certain times of our lives that all of us start to exhibit more noxious tendencies. If you’ve noticed any of the following signs, you may need to detoxify your life…”  Discover the signs and how you would go about flushing out the toxins poisoning your life in “Becoming A Non-Toxic Person.”  Don’t let that poison seep into the lives of those around you… [...]

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