Understanding (n.): sympathetic awareness or tolerance.
Toxicity (n.): the quality of being very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.
It's a pair of words that are thrown around so often. Yet, do we actually comprehend them?
One thing I've struggled with as a young adult is knowing the true meaning of understanding. I thought it meant giving in or giving up yourself. My morals were even compromised under the guise that I was being understanding. I was doing a good thing, right?
I thought that I was going a good thing by giving up my nights and sleep to make sure my "friend" was ok. I thought that's what good people do. I don't need sleep if that means my friend stops threatening to commit suicide, I don't need time to myself if that means my friend isn't sobbing and trying to blow up my phone. I don't need personal savings if that means they can have the pizza they need because I told them about how I was gifted a pizza by another friend.
Along the way, I lost sight that understanding is a 2-way street. This distinction is what separates it from toxicity.
Like many people, I get lost in trying to do what's good for another person versus what is right. And there is a distinct difference there. It took me a long time to grasp that understanding is to be aware, forgiving, and tolerant- but that doesn't mean giving up yourself in the process.
It was amazing when I found a niche of people that began treating my understanding as a collaborative effort. It's hard to explain the way I felt when I realized I felt better about my new understanding.
Guilty, perhaps, is the best word that comes to mind.
Even after I severed the relationship that was eating me alive I spent sleepless nights crying and wrestling with the guilt that if this person did decide to follow through on their whims that I was possibly the cause of another person taking their life. It was eating me alive.
I had become such an integral cog in the wheel of this person's machine that once that no longer became my primary function I felt exposed. It was as if my purpose in life was suddenly removed- I felt that I had no function anymore as a human.
Up until this point in my life, I struggled with understanding abuse and violence. I could never understand how someone could continually let another person take advantage of them. It took me being in that type of situation to fully grasp the reality of that idea.
It's not groundbreaking, but people believe me when I say, no one enters into any relationship thinking they're going to be abused.
As toxicity states, it's often insidious. It starts out with guilt-tripping, love-bombing, promises, it feeds into the idea that you are so helpful and caring, that they just need you. To an outsider, it looks like you're just spending a lot of intimate moments together. Sharing love, passion, and living in a honeymoon phase. What's sad, is that this is often praised as being a good significant other. They're showering you in love and affection that others can only dream of.
It's that insidious, dark, roiling underbelly of abuse that slowly creeps forward. Those guilt trips become threats, either directly at yourself, towards them, or another. The love-bombing becomes almost comically common, anytime you try to get up the courage to leave they suddenly tell you how much they love and want you, proving that they'll change. Promises are few and far between, often twisted into gaslighting.
It's so easy to these signs now, but honestly, all I was trying to do was to be an understanding partner.
You can't see the words written on the wall when you are standing right in front of it. It took my family, friends, and therapist to drag me back by the collar that I could even begin to believe that what was happening to me wasn't normal.
God forbid I didn't have them as lifelines either. What if they had believed what he was saying about me? What if they hadn't confronted me when he fed them lies of my actions? I would have been effectively cut off from the only people who had cared for me.
It's time to stop judging others for being victims and survivors of abuse. No one chooses to be abused, they're trying to choose understanding.
Instead of blaming someone for being caring, choose to reach out to them. I, and they, quite possibly don't understand that their care should be reciprocated. I still struggle day to day that how I feel, act, and think matters. My health and happiness matter.
Show them what that feels like.
Show them the kindness they try desperately to sow around them.
Take time to show them the true meaning of understanding.