This is not a commentary on the legendary song by Britney Spears. This is a commentary/confessional/reflection on toxic behaviours and traits that I showed to others around me for the longest time.
A few recent developments in my life made me realise that as much as i thought i was empathetic as an individual, i actually could only apply that empathy when it came to sadness, trauma, heartbreak etc. I could never apply that empathy or understanding to when people royally fuck up, because i never admitted to myself, let alone others, that I royally fucked up many times. And i’m pretty sure I will royally fuck up in the future as well. Why? Because i’m only human, like you.
I was not a nice person when I was in school. If i saw a girl’s naked pictures being circulated, I blamed her for being an idiot to send them in the first place. I used to be mean and a bully to those who weren’t considered ‘cool’ in school, while forgetting that for the longest time, I was the invisible uncool individual during junior and middle school.
I was toxic to my boyfriend and his family. And when the time came to answer questions about the break up, I blamed him and his family for being absolute cunts to me. I never realised that any dislike towards me stemmed from the fact that I didn’t treat them or that relationship properly, during and after.
I loved gossiping. I mean, everyone does still at any age. But my gossiping wouldn’t see if I’m giving out personal or sensitive information about someone which might do them harm.
When I saw the same behaviour around me from others, I judged them. I wanted them to fuck off from my life. I couldn’t understand when a friend forgave her ex who bullied her and tormented her. How could they be friends after all that? But then I saw growth in those who were given second chances. How one person’s graciousness and kindness acted like a mirror for them, to see their toxicity and change. In school we were told to stay away from ‘bad students’, those who were always into fights and disruptiveness. Today, those same bad elements, who earned faith from no one- not teachers, not their peers, our amazing humans.
Now that i reflect back on my past, I can’t be more grateful that people around me didn’t give up one me and stuck around during my lowest points. Some did give up, but the ones who didn’t literally helped me become whatever I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I am still and always will be a work in progress, but I am better than what I was yesterday. I’m trying to learn that difficult mantra of ‘respond, don’t react’.
We all want our peace of mind, a peaceful, blissful life. We want to cut out anyone who seems toxic or unstable. But, if life were that simple and if that were the only method we chose, we would all just be living alone for the rest of our lives, because everyone fucks up at some point somehow.
I’m not asking you to keep people who refuse to change, who refuse to acknowledge their toxic behaviour forever and become their therapist and punching bag. This is not to justify abusive relationships and partners, abusive parents etc. But when you see someone acting the way they normally wouldn’t, someone being something you know they’re not- don’t just give up on them. Because in that moment, they can and will easily give up on themselves. A lot of people are capable of change. A lot of people fall into a dark hole with no way out. Sometimes, instead running away, offering a helping hand can begin their journey to change.
It’s difficult being around someone and being empathetic to someone who is the worst possible version of themselves. Its difficult to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel, when you are only there because of that person.
I gave second chances to many people in my life over the past few years. I’ve randomly gone up to people I was horrible to and apologised. 2-3 months ago I was hurt by someone, and while i was filled with anger and sadness, I couldn’t help but be empathetic to their situation. I couldn’t declare that I cut them off and hate them forever. I knew that if they ever reached out to me, I would be there. And I can see that change in that person now and I feel that somewhere my patience and kindness towards them contributed (hopefully).
But i’m still a work in progress. I’m still learning. I haven’t even reached a quarter of my life (if i ever live on to be 100 years old). Its difficult to understand where to draw the line with someone who’s toxic. And yes sometimes in the process it will make your life difficult or hurt you. Just give someone the patience, chance and kindness you would want someone to give you. Reflect back on your life and see if you’ve ever been toxic. One’s own acceptance of flaws and mistakes is the key that helps us understand the importance of kindness and second chances. And always be kind to yourself before you are kind to others.
People have to come through hardships and adversities to become a better version of themselves. I don’t believe that there is ever a ‘best version’ because change, learning and growth (and death) is the only constant in life.
PS: If it helps, I love listening to podcasts and books by vexking. His account helps you understand and relate to the process of self growth and acceptance.