Be Careful When Labeling People ‘Toxic’

It’s become super trendy for people to talk about removing ‘toxic’ individuals from their lives.

Toxic: You know, people who are poisoning you with their ‘bad vibes, man.’

In principle, I completely agree with this practice. You don’t have time to waste on those who only seem to be interested in dragging you down or hurting you. Take care of yourself and avoid those who aren’t helping.

Makes sense.

But there is a very real danger here…

Contextual Toxicity

In labeling someone ‘toxic,’ we may arrive at the false conclusion that this person is harmful in every situation and context.

And that just isn’t true.

What is harmful to one organism may not be harmful to others.

If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably heard that grapes (and raisins) are bad for them. This is true, although the underlying mechanism is not currently understood.

Humans, on the other hand, can eat grapes without concern.

So, grapes are toxic to dogs, but not humans.

Grapes are toxic… sometimes.

In the same way, a person you consider ‘toxic’ may only be harmful to you. Believing another person to be universally toxic is unfair, and it ignores the fact that the person has family and friends who might disagree with your perception of them.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t toxic to you. It just means we need to keep everything in proper perspective and avoid painting others with a broad brush.

Limiting Your Exposure

Further, one of the primary principles of toxicology states that ‘the dose makes the poison.’

This is true of people as well. Isn’t it?

Some people are best taken in small doses. You might be tempted to label them ‘toxic’ as a result, but remember that nearly anything can kill you in excess—even water!

The dose makes the poison.

Look, we eat lots of things which could kill us at high doses.

Potatoes, for example, contain glycoalkaloids. Tuna fish contains mercury. Beans have phytohaemagglutinin (yes, that’s a real thing). None of these are good for us, but in low doses and with average health, they pose no serious threat to our wellbeing.

So, the next time Joe makes you want to put your head through a wall, walk away instead.

And, by all means, remove people from your life if they’re hurting you. Limit your contact with those who limit your wellbeing, but be careful when tempted to label them.

Some restrictions may apply.

Labeling people, in general, is a dangerous practice.

To sum up an entire human in a single word is always inadequate. We humans are an ever-changing mix of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

It may seem like fine print or hairsplitting, but the truth is that we often want to make the world a whole lot simpler than it really is.

It may cause us feel better to believe there is ‘just something wrong with them.’ It can make us believe we aren’t a part of the problem. ‘No, no. That’s their issue!’ Right?

But is it really?

The ‘Toxic’ Truth

People sometimes say or do things that hurt us, but that isn’t always their intent.

When we take things personally and become wounded, we are a vital part of the equation. After all, offense can only be taken, never given. Some people are never offended, no matter what happens. Others are perpetually offended… no matter what happens!

Labeling is all-too-often a convenient way for us to shift blame to someone else.

Taking ownership over, and responsibility for, our feelings is tough, but it is necessary in order to experience maximum freedom and peace of mind. When we refuse to allow others to control us, then we have complete control and perfect mastery over our emotions.


What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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