Thought Catalog
March 6, 2014

Toxic People Don’t Make Exceptions

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What is the issue?

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We are all selfish beings at some level. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival, sometimes it’s a matter of ego. Regardless, we always think our stories stand apart from other people’s, that we are somehow inherently above or below them based on our own subjective assumptions.

Love is no different. Falling in love is believing you’re the exception to someone’s rule. What we don’t realize is that our feeling of exemption doesn’t actually shield us from becoming collateral damage.

We start believing that how someone treats other people is not indicative of how they will treat us. Friends forewarn us. Red flags wave. We ignore it all in lieu of the hope, the expectation, that it will just be different with us. The danger never registers, we never allow it to. We start believing that we will be the one who saves them, who reasons with them, who changes them.

You can never change people, only love them. And you can only love them if you can accept what you can’t change. You’ll eventually realize there’s a difference between the lovesick version of someone who is your reality, and who they are actually, wholly. The former will fade. The latter will be the aftermath. Everything will wind down eventually. What you will be left with is who they were all along.

Character is the culmination of daily action, not case-by-case scenario. It’s how someone treats strangers and family members and the acquaintances they dislike. It’s what they do regularly, not occasionally. It’s realizing someone’s disposition doesn’t change that radically from person to person.

At some level, we understand that people don’t necessarily set out to be toxic, but rather their toxicity is a by-product of whatever internal beliefs they’re wielding against themselves. What they do to the people around them, even the people who love them, is a side-effect of needing to compensate for a lack of love, assuredness, self-worth, whatever the case may be. The problem is that this need lashes outward, when the real work that needs to be done exists deep at the core.

We may see this. We may not. We usually think we can change them regardless. We think their actions are excusable because we understand those excuses. But “not meaning to” doesn’t take away from the effect of having done so. Intentions mean little at the end of the day. Intentions don’t waive pain.

It’s a very certain kind of desperation that leads someone to take advantage of someone who loves them, but who they ultimately know they won’t be with. It’s a very deep void they’re trying to fill and it’s a very harsh wound they leave. The people who are most deeply hurt by it are the ones who are so far gone that they can’t recognize someone who doesn’t want them. The combination of all those elements leaves you in the perfect storm.

Toxic people function in cycles, in patterns. This is what differentiates the people who are flawed, human, but ultimately okay from the people who we have to separate ourselves from before it’s not a matter of choice, but necessity that we do so. Flaws — everyday run of the mill, people making mistakes and being genuinely remorseful about these mistakes — do not exist in patterns. They happen once, maybe twice, and then they smooth over. Maybe they leave a scar or a ripple, but there’s no pattern. Toxic people don’t just leave scars, but etchings, markings, a signature. Whether or not they realize it. Whether or not they mean to.

You have to realize that toxic people don’t make exceptions. That if they don’t have the capacity to treat the other people in their lives with dignity and respect, the same will eventually fall on you. It’s not a matter of being critical of these people, or of being hopeful and optimistic and helping them see the error of their ways. There is no error. There is just habit. No exception. TC mark