Just because it's been handed to you, doesn't mean you take it: neutralising toxicity
Updated: Jul 25
I used to be the equivalent of a "blame sponge". Because of my strong sense of responsibility and ownership, when something goes wrong which is my fault, I absorb it, but when something goes wrong and you tell me it's my fault - I also used to absorb it. This resulted in my carrying a huge sense of guilt alongside a dose of anxiety almost daily. (When it was me at fault I could - and would - fix it, but when fault is unfairly handed to me, how can I fix it!?)
I still get twinges of it now. When someone criticises me I capitulate (internally) first, and sometimes try to repress it or shake it off simply accepting "it must be me."...but, as I said above, what's worse when blame is imaginary, you cannot make it better.
A sense of hurt and upset at anything negative is not unusual. A criticism cuts much deeper than a compliment leaves a sense of warmth, plus we tend to replay negative events, thus making their harming effect on our mental health greater. It's why I personally - in terms of my own behaviour - try to offer positivity. Even if the "nice stuff" doesn't stick, the more you have washing over you, the better the chance you'll begin to balance out any feelings of negativity that you have held on to.
However, for myself, I now do something which has helped immensely with whether my sense of "blame" is real, or has been given to me to hold...and if I recognise it's the latter - I no longer accept it. It's also easier to do than you think (and doesn't draw in anyone else...relevant because whinging about someone, even if the person you are whinging to would agree with you actually makes us feel worse in the long run, and doesn't help move the situation forward).
SO...simply: check the facts.
Unfortunately if someone has been emotive, rude and hurtful in their expression of "what went wrong", especially if you add passive aggression into the mix, it is extremely easy to feel so blown back that you can't think clearly to pick yourself up.
i) Have they behaved like this before? The first thing to remember here is - perhaps that behaviour is not personal, it's just their way. (At this point, I will try and think back to previous experiences with that person, should I have any, and if a memory of "oh that was a bit off" stirs, I know I've made a negative perception of their behaviour in the past. This is an important realisation because knowing how I respond to "fault" - had I been at fault, I wouldn't hold a memory against someone else.)
ii) Fact check the situation. Once you can accept "that's just them", it becomes a little easier to look at the actual situation: what did they say; what evidence is there to support your perception and theirs - and simply judge it on facts.
iii) Decide what you want to do - and if you "let it go" - let the toxicity go too! At that point, you have three options 1. If you ARE at fault you can address it and right it; 2. If you are not, you might decide to take up the factual evidence with them (do not argue on opinion); or 3. again if you are not at fault, you might decide, because you won't often change someone whose behaviour is so ingrained, to leave it, but along with that, leave the toxicity they have tried to foist onto you. I am learning, when it's really not me it's you to do number 3...often because it's also not my job to teach you to be a nice person!
However, along with the above 3 points, you must also iv) actively continue to work to a standard of excellence. It is much easier to hold your nerve in fact checking and responding, when you are confident in yourself that you are only fighting an unfair opinion!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt