The Toxic Person – and the Capacity for Change
I recently talked to someone about toxic relationships, and what he shared with me got me thinking. First, he told me what his psychologist said that changed his life. Next, he said all toxic people have the same toxic traits – regardless of what diagnosis or criteria they meet in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Then he said, “when I get up in the morning before my feet hit the floor, I’m thinking about what I need to do, who I need to call, what my obligations and commitments are.”
On the contrary, “when toxic people get up,” he said, “before their feet hit the floor, they are thinking about three things”:
“How will I get admiration?”
“How will I get more control?”
“Where will I get my power?”
I am always intrigued by what people tell me has been the game changer that freed them from allowing toxic people to enter their lives, especially since it’s also my work with my clients.
I was struck by the succinctness of what this person told me; that was the sum of all toxic people’s traits, regardless of any professional name you put on it. This distillation of the toxic mind, I thought, could help one spot the signs much earlier. So I took what this person said about toxic people and began applying it to every life-sucking person I have encountered in my own life. What he had shared with me was, in fact, true. I could see the admiration-seeking, control-obsessing, and power-hungry poison running through the veins of every energy vampire I had mingled with throughout my life or even in my own family.
But, after reflecting on my conversation with this man, I could discern where I saw things a bit differently. He had told me that working with his therapist taught him that toxic people don’t ever change. I found this statement interesting and worth pondering. However, after applying this assumption to my professional work, I did not agree with this perspective entirely, as my experience with the “capacity for change” had taught me otherwise. If I were to differentiate between those capable of change and those less likely to change, I would say it’s all a matter of self-awareness and willingness. Those who are self-aware and willing have the capacity for change. Those who lack self-awareness, and a willingness, I would agree, are less likely to ever really change.
One of the best examples and role models of having a capacity for change who influenced my therapy work early on was Dr. Marsha Linehan, an author, and psychologist. Dr. Linehan was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and writes extensively about her past self-harming behaviors and, hence, harm to others before radically breaking open and diving deep into her colossal pain with an unrelenting drive to “save herself.” She would go on to develop Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which is used worldwide and designed specifically for treating borderline personality (BPT), which is now implemented into therapy protocols for mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
The capacity for change is the impetus behind my work with clients. I am particularly interested in seeing what potentially limits the ability for change. Assigning a diagnosis and trying to fit the complexity of a human being into a criterion always felt minimizing to me. That is, to lump you into a diagnosis and believe you are 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 is reductionistic. My intuition knew better. When you think someone is anything – even about yourself – you have attached to identity and closed the door to infinite and miraculous possibilities where healing can happen instantly. It can be helpful to see a diagnosis as just a “tool” that helps you to have more information about a person. Still, when we make evidence-based treatment and research the be-all and end-all for who we are and the human experience, I believe our ability to help another is compromised significantly. Also, when the client attaches firmly to a diagnosis, it causes a self-fulfilling perpetuating dilemma. The client may start to see change as finite and tethered to the daily management of a condition or illness. There is no space for what is beyond science, research, and expert knowledge. The “beyond” is where the capacity for change shimmers!
Now when I reflect on my conversation with this man, I love that he gave me another powerful tool in which to consider how the toxic mind works and left me contemplating the “red-flag-morning-agenda” that perhaps should jump out at you when looking at who in your own life is draining your life force.
It’s also essential, I believe, to take stock of where you might need to heal from toxic patterns in your own life and to make space for the 𝐂𝐚𝐩𝐚𝐜𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐁𝐞𝐲𝐨𝐧𝐝!