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“Snake’s poison is life to the snake; it is in relation to man that it means death.” — Rumi

The warning came across my screen in the form of a sad story. A cat had been exposed to an essential oil that is healing for humans but is toxic to pets. Luckily, the vet was able to save the animal. 

As I researched, I saw how many infants, dogs and cats had been negatively affected by their exposure to essential oils. As usually happens, the subject matter quickly moved to other issues in life for me — poisonous people and situations. What’s right for you might be toxic for me. People who you tune out can leave their poison in my mind. Indeed, Rumi was right — life for one is death to another.

The new year is just around the corner, and while you are considering the addition of resolutions or goals, why not look at the people you’ve invited into your life, the groups you have chosen to be a part of, the situations you allow. 

Yes, notice these are all choices you are making. We all do it, but some are better at removing themselves or limiting their exposure to negativity better than others. Want to feel better? Right here and right now is a great place to start.

New Year’s resolutions almost always have something focusing on health. Why wouldn’t we want to take measures to be more sound in an area that doesn’t have anything to do with exercising or avoiding cheesecake? 

Relationships can be just as much an impact on our health as food and exercise. In a study at UCLA, people with negative social experiences had “higher levels of pro-inflammatory proteins which could lead to depression, hypertension, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.” You are choosing not to eat sugar because it causes inflammation, but you’re keeping people around you who make you miserable.

I know what you’re thinking — yes, but.

  • But I’ve known them most of my life, how can I ditch them?
  • But they’re in my family; I can’t just not see them.
  • But we’re in the same social group, why should I be the one to leave the group?

Boundaries. Distance. Awareness. You and I are here to learn how we can take better care of our mental and physical health. 

I once heard someone say that we can detach with love from people who aren’t good for us — creating a safe distance from a toxic person we still care about without cutting off an appendage or the relationship. In other words, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can (a) limit our time with and (b) our reaction to people. Of course, you have to know which people fall into that category.

Toxic People:

  • Lie to you
  • Listen to you when it’s convenient for them
  • Hold grudges
  • Are judgmental
  • Don’t like to apologize
  • Put down your hopes and dreams
  • Manipulate situations, so they get what they want
  • Ridicule you, putting down what matters to you and making you the joke

Who do you know who fits most of those items? We all have days when we whine or complain more than we’d like. We all have days when we are so caught up in our own issues that we overlook what matters to someone else. But if that is the way a person is the majority of the time, they are toxic, and they cost you your health if you spend much time around them.

Oh, I forgot one crucial part of this whole thing. What if YOU are the toxic person?

Are you the one who is critical of others, thinking that you are superior in any number of ways? Do you notice that people avoid involving you in conversations? Have you been justifying your lack of apology as what’s right, blaming anyone except yourself for the issue? You get a choice here, just as you do when choosing with whom you want to spend time. You can stop behaving as if no one else could be right and begin looking in each situation at how you might have been wrong.

When a pet is exposed to an essential oil that is dangerous to it, we see the signs and rush it to the vet to try to save it. When people are exposed too often or for too long to toxic people, society tends to respond that we should just get over it, toughen up, don’t be so sensitive; in fact, we should rush ourselves to a place of help and healing to save ourselves.

As 2020 begins, may you and I make the effort to safeguard ourselves from toxic people and change our own level of toxicity while we’re at it. May we carry with us our toolbox of responses to be prepared when others are unkind, and may we create boundaries and short stays with people who make us miserable. 

If none of that works, you should probably just move on and enjoy a happier life without so much poison.

Cheers to a great new year!

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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