I’m really aware of this recent phenomena in Psychotherapy circles of calling people or relationships ‘toxic’. I see it all the time now on mental health blogs and I personally don’t think it’s helpful.

If you go around labelling everyone who offends you as ‘toxic’ you are in danger of actually making a very bold statement about yourself, in particular your intolerance for anyone that doesn’t share your views. I think it reinforces the notion that certain people are the cause of your problems and if you avoid them, your problem will go away. The truth is that virtually anyone can present a very challenging set of circumstances to you if you are experiencing a mental health crisis or simply going through a difficult period in your life.

The solution maybe is not to avoid everyone that you consider represents a threat to you but maybe to examine why you feel that way about that person, and why maybe others don’t. You might not like their behaviour or agree with what they’re doing, and you also don’t need to put up with it, but at least you can see it more objectively as someone’s own response to anxious behaviour, trauma, neglect or any other unresolved issue, rather than some notion that their behaviour is aimed at harming you.

I presented this idea on my Facebook page recently and had some interesting replies, some agreeing with me and a number of people who were really defending the use of the word.

It could of course be semantics over the words used but I just think the labelling doesn’t resolve the issue. For me when faced with this kind of situation, I need to confront the reasons why the behaviour was unacceptable, why the boundaries were crossed, and where to set them in the future, in order to be sure my actions were appropriate. Without that I’m just reinforcing the belief that everyone I meet is toxic if I don’t like the way they behave. I can’t see how that’s healthy.

A few people were concerned I was advocating a policy of ‘turning the other cheek’. That’s absolutely not the case and in many cases I was thinking absolutely the opposite. If someone wants to do harm to you, then show them clearly where those boundaries are in no uncertain terms. But the real battle comes afterwards when you have to deal with the fallout, post trauma… The therapy for that is a bit more complicated than simply labelling that person, or behaviour ‘toxic’, sweeping it under the carpet and moving on. There lies the danger of it being used as a fix all sticking plaster.

Experiencing trauma should not be a life sentence for living the rest of your life, and a good therapist should be able to help to reframe those events without the labels.

The view we take of these events is crucial to our mental health going forward.