"Other nations live in sickness. Over here, we die from jealousy.”
- Jonathan McReynolds
As I evolve, I become more sensitive to toxicity in my environment. Perhaps it is being more intentional about creating peace. Still, I am realizing more and more who I allow around me is a significant indicator of how much peace I will have at any given moment or in any given location.
"A three-stranded cord is not easily broken." This goes for relationships, friendships, and organizations. One of the telltale signs of a toxic environment is when behind closed doors, whispers, and conversations abound. When reputations are ruined without anyone bothering to know the truth -- when we feel comfortable saying things behind people’s back that we don’t dare say to their face.
At different points in my life, I found myself in truly toxic cultures. My experiences have helped me identify toxic environments and when someone is exhibiting toxic behavior (myself included).
Here are three telltale signs of a toxic environment and what you can do to shift the energy:
1. Gossip Abounds
"Did you hear this about Jane? I heard x; I heard y." Gossip is a slippery slope. Sometimes, we think we are venting when we are gossiping. For example, venting about how you don’t feel supported in an environment is acceptable. However, making judgments about the intentions and motives of others is not. Taking it a step further and deciding to tell others about your assumptions and views of others, particularly when you only have partial information can also be perceived as gossip.
A better way to address concerns would be to appropriately ask questions and focus only on what pertains to you. There is a time and place for everything. A good rule of thumb would be to confront in private and praise in public. It also means asking for clarification to better inform yourself, rather than jumping to conclusions.
You may also want to consider only sharing your business, and allowing others to tell their own stories and share their good news as they see fit. If you are someone who readily engages in gossip (sharing information that is not yours) ask yourself why you feel compelled to do so. Is it impulse? Word vomit? Do you like others feeling like you are knowledgeable or trustworthy?
To be sincere, a wise person isn’t likely to trust you because you’ve shared someone’s personal information. On the contrary, they know it’s just a matter of time before you start talking about them. Facts only. If you are engaging a person portraying this toxic characteristic, either intentionally redirect the conversation, or excuse yourself altogether.
Choosing to continue to “vent” or gossip about others may get you labeled as toxic and prevent others from truly wanting to get to know you. Consider who you want to be, and how you want to be remembered when opportunities to gossip arise. No one is one hundred percent perfect, but if you make it a habit of talking about others, it may be a reason why your interpersonal relationships are suffering.
2. Slander is the Order of the Day
Loud and wrong. Slanderers typically hold court where they make bold proclamations about others fully based on one interaction, a misreading of facts (or alternative facts), or pure feelings. You may have heard the expression “Get out your feelings.” Feelings are misleading, especially when the Bible tells us the heart of man is desperately wicked. “I had a feeling”, is rarely a good start to a sound thought.
So what’s the remedy? A better way might be not to slander the characters of others. Yup. If slandering is your internal battle, consider asking yourself why you feel the need to color others' perception and reception. It’s toxic behavior, poisoning, and ruining relationships before they have a chance to begin. Furthermore, if you have never demonstrated the courage to have that conversation face to face, sis, stop.
On the flip side, if someone is slandering others in your presence, challenge them. Challenge their motives, challenge their thought patterns, challenge their account of events. I wholeheartedly believe slanderous behavior can only be addressed head-on, or it will pull you into a web of toxic.
3. People Get Easily Offended
Finally, offense. This is one I struggled with personally. The spirit of offense can cause you to lash out on innocent bystanders only trying to help. I remember when my son first came home. I fired nurses left and right because my experiences with healthcare workers in the hospital made me extremely distrustful of anyone in the medical field. I learned to regularly practice surrendering my son to Jesus so I could finally understand, I was not the one keeping him, and indeed, there would never be a perfect nurse. If you spend time with people long enough, offenses will come at one point or another.
Can I be sincere here? It’s difficult to spend time with a person who is offended by everything. Someone makes a comment, it “MUST” be about them. Someone gives feedback on their work; it MUST be a personal attack. It is tiring to spend time with individuals who make every comment, issue, and interaction about them. It is also a sign of self-centeredness. People who struggle with offense move from one conflict to another, bringing strife everywhere they go. You will have to be a truly dedicated person to deal with a person who is constantly offended, as most people choose to bow out.
If you find yourself offended in every environment, there is a high likelihood you have some unresolved wounds that need to be addressed. Whether it’s mapping out your hurt and working your pain backward to get to the root of the issue, or seeing a counselor, it is important to live life from an emotionally healthy space.
When we go through traumatic or abusive experiences, we will sometimes find ourselves victims of either gossip, slander, or begin to feel offended at the slightest sign of disapproval.
Anytime I found myself in an environment embodying all three, troubles and strife were never lacking. If you are in a position to do so, it is your responsibility to quench gossip, slander, and offense before it creates a toxic culture, threatening the psychological safety of everyone involved.
Love you much,
Satta Star ✭