Wake up and smell the toxicity

Updated: May 13, 2019, 16:17 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi | Mumbai

Since 'toxic' is the Word of The Year, we got experts to break down the indicators of a noxious relationship, friendship and workplace to find out what to do next

Toxic Love
Toxic Love

Toxic is the Word of the Year according to Oxford Dictionaries and the decision was based on the fact that the number of times it has been looked up has gone up by 45 per cent in 2018, with it often being used conjointly with terms like “masculinity”, “waste” and “environment”. The word has been reiterated multiple times across the world, both literally and metaphorically, whether in reference to the spurious nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in March or in the context of work environments and relationships in the post-MeToo world. Psychiatrists, councillors and therapists unanimously agree it is important to realise when a relationship or atmosphere becomes toxic and understand the need to walk out of it. But because it’s easier said than done, we got experts to break it down.

Moving on
A physically abusive relationship is toxic without the shadow of a doubt. But former president of the Bombay Psychiatric Society and a Consultant at Hinduja (Khar and Mahim) and Hurkisondas Hospitals, Dr Kersi Chavda says, more often than not, people are in the grip of psychologically and emotionally toxic relationships. So, if all your persistent requests to share household chores fall on your partner's deaf ears, that is not a caustic affair, and rather a case of the relationship not working out, Chavda clarifies, adding, "By and large if you are with someone who makes you feel worse rather than better, then that could be a toxic propinquity."

Kersi Chavda
Kersi Chavda

The parameters to define such an arrangement could lie between calling someone a fool or making them feel inadequate on a regular basis to projecting delusions of infidelity on them. "Suppose you're feeling unhappy more than 60 to 70 per cent of the time, then you need to walk out of it," he simplifies. What is the next step, you may wonder, and especially if you are not keen on leaving your partner.

"You have to be brutally aware of the fact that things are not going to change just because you want it to since toxic relationships are rooted in personality traits. Unless one has insight into why he or she is behaving in a certain way they will continue exhibiting virulent behavioural patterns and that awareness comes through only when you are seeking help from a mental health professional," he suggests.

Toxic Friendship
Toxic Friendship

Getting better
If you are more giving than a friend, or are at his/her constant beck and call without being able to make a decision on your own, whether it's about where to chill or what to order, then you're in a toxic friendship," says social psychiatrist at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Dr Harish Shetty, adding, "The abused seeks the abuser." This means, often, someone who has faced emotional or any other form of abuse internalises it to the extent that they begin thinking they deserve such behaviour and then begin soliciting it.

Low self-esteem, financial dependence and a history of abuse are factors that can keep you hinged to a harmful friendship where you're bullied or humiliated. Dr Parul Tank, consultant psychiatrist at Fortis Hospital, Mulund, says, "The most tactical thing a person can do for the time being is to avoid a friend exhibiting toxicity. If you are assertive or good at communicating, it is worthwhile to address the issue, but the conversation should be simple and not layered or judgmental."

Toxic Office
Toxic Office

Finding the sunbeam
What is a toxic workplace environment? A manipulative colleague, an atmosphere that enables the sexual or emotional abuse of an employee by a senior, or a boss hooked to sending out scathing mails for the tiniest of mistakes, are all part of the formula. But psychologist and social worker Binaifer Sahukar, who often conducts corporate training programmes, such as when a company is downsizing or to lead sessions on work-life balance, says, the trick lies in inverting the question. "Toxicity has a lot to do with your perception and your mind.

Binaifer Sahukar
Binaifer Sahukar

If internally you're not happy, even Disneyland could be toxic. Conversely, you could be in palliative care or a burns unit with people dying around you, but if you're strong, that would still be a good work environment," she explains, speaking about the importance of solution-driven approaches as opposed to deconstructing the problems. "Instead of asking, 'What is your problem?' we say, 'What are you looking to achieve with this session?'" she explains. A happy media diet filled with funny or light-hearted movies and music, workout, sleep and breaking out of our insular lives featuring Netflix and Instagram can go a long way in navigating the worst work environments and are in general, great ways to tackle professional stress. "Always look for the sunbeam in the darkness, because the one thing that is truly in your control is your own mind," Sahukar recommends.

Speaking out
I met my former partner in April 2018. He was a gentleman at first. But soon my independent lifestyle became a problem for him which spiralled into toxic behaviour till it exploded on May 25, when he physically and sexually abused me for three hours for refusing to have sex. I had taken legal action. But even today, I continue to grapple with mental trauma. It's getting better, though I haven't sought therapy and I am relieved I got out of that venomous relationship.
Puja Ray, 29, promo producer

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