Some words sizzle on our eardrums, pop in our brains, make everything shut down and the body hardens into a shield. Whether you call it “PC Culture”, a season of “Snowflakes”, or that everyone is just too sensitive these days, it is undeniable that certain words vibrate with more electricity than ever before.
We say words like manipulative, and the implication is villainy. People exercise manipulation because something in their life feels out of control so they try to control another area. There’s some flawed psychological equation where losing territory in one aspect of life than it evens out by gaining it in another. And you know what the biggest plot twist is? Control is largely a myth in life. An obsession with it is a devotion to unhappiness because no matter how sturdy the grip, life will pull harder than we can grasp.
Trauma is a word made out of lead. We say it and oxygen flees from the room. But I don’t feel this way. Trauma is a human experience. No one who has the blessing of survival remains unscathed from trauma. I don’t think trauma bonding or isolation is healthy. We can’t cling to people just because their wounds resemble ours, but we also cannot allow our pain to lie us into loneliness. Healing connections are important. When we stare trauma and pain and god awful coping skills in the face with compassion and fortitude, the light finds us. And in the light ,we become softer creatures. I carry no interest for the badassery of believing I am better than anyone else for what I’ve withstood, and I also refused to be defined as damaged because of those same thing. No human is made of gold. We are bloody, bruised, squishy, ego-rattled things just trying to do our best.
Sometimes, our best sucks. Sometimes, it manifests as abuse. It is a bitter process to contemplate how we may be problematic. I’ve done it. Twice, I sent baiting and dramatic texts to an ex. I felt needy, and didn’t know a healthy way to express that. Healthy expression are wandering through the unmarked woods, whereas, toxic behaviors are dozing through the same wildness with a 4 wheeler and a chainsaw– you’re just trying to get through it as fast as possible, paying little attention to the damage sustained.
So what if I am the toxic one? And not good Toxic like the Britney song but detrimental to the well being of others. I have been toxic. I cannot change the past. That self exists, and I know pain mutated someone energetic and hopeful and fragile into a bully, a slob, someone I didn’t recognize or like. I apologized to the people I’ve hurt. I’ve done this in person and through text and facebook messenger. I take ownership of my behavior. I went to therapy. I take care of myself, because a lot of toxic people are people who never let some battered parts of them heal. And finally, I accept that not everyone has to accept my apologies, not everyone wants me back in their lives. Short of a parent providing for their child, no one owes me anything in this life. I am not entitled to people or their grace.
I also do not owe anyone my forgiveness. I give it freely because who am I to deny people? Who am I to judge other people? Because, really, the further I mount my high horse, the more I ensure a mighty fall. But in the Me Too era, assault is ultra sensitive. As a victim who survived, I get it. I also frame it the way to assailants: you wronged me in the most invasive and deepest of ways. I don’t think you could pick me out of a line up, and yet, the thought of your face still spins my body into chills. Your name is a dim fog that never quite lifts– like something I almost never think of until I do. But I don’t wish punishment on you. Not because you don’t deserve it, but because the only way I can heal is by trying to be my best self because the world isn’t better if I’m my worst self.
Some assailants don’t know that they are assailants, and figures like Louis CK and Aziz Ansari rile men up in arms because those nights sound all too familiar. This essay is not asking whether or not that was assault or accusing you, reader, of malice. What I am saying is that as long as we are alive, we have a chance to make it right and do better. And sure, we could squander that away and resign ourselves to toxic behaviors like Roman Polanski. Or we can take the charge out of the words because few of the ways I defined myself ten years ago fit now. That’s true for the good and the bad.
I’m not saying that we all have to be friends and hold hands and see the beauty in the world. No. I’m saying that these words remain charged as long as we are sensitive to them, and a motion toward neutrally analyzing our behaviors alongside them doesn’t make the descriptors less bad, it just removes delusion and self protection. I’m saying that if we can meet each other where our demons lurk and damaged beliefs roam, if begins as profoundly uncomfortable, but could grow into incredibly transformative. There are psychopaths and sociopaths, but largely, problematic behavior and the labels accompanying them come from where people feel their weakest.
As much as I want to believe I’m a good person. There’s no such thing as good or bad people. We are our actions, and if I want to be a good person, a person I’m proud of, then these words cannot remain as charged as they are. I have to listen with open ears and fragile ego and wait for the shocks to dull.