Mental Health – Tossing Toxic Tails on the Tarmac

(Pensacola, Florida; June 16, 2022) – I threw Alvin out of my house and life only 48 hours into a five-day visit.

‘Alvin’ is not his real name, but we’ll use it here.  I met him in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area back in 2014 when my ex-wife and I first separated.  I was predictably devastated by the impact event of that emotional asteroid.  Alvin was one of those who provided much-needed friendship and support during that hard time (no shade on my ex-wife; we’re great friends to this day, we were just completely wrong for each other as marital partners).

Eight years later Alvin’s narcissistic behavior led me to cut short his visit, tell him to get an earlier flight back to Virginia, and then dump his @ss at a hotel of his choice at 11:30 at night.

The obvious question here is, of course, what in the name of John Q. Arbuckle did he do?!  Unfortunately, I can’t go into details because some confidences are involved, but a new buddy I’ll call Jared was coming over for dinner to meet my old friend, Alvin.  Jared was my first prospect for a solid friendship in this city now that I’m finally settled in, but Alvin upended that through egregiously, spectacularly selfish behavior (never a good thing, especially when you’ve told the new friend how great a guy old friend has been for nearly a decade…).

So, what does this have to do with mental health? 

Conflict and confrontation are not easy for many people.  True, there are those individuals who thrive on them, and you can often find them in political offices, TV news shows, and wrestling alligators here in Florida.  However, for many of us, conflict causes unwanted/unneeded stress, and confrontation requires a rise in anger levels we prefer to avoid.  Such anger is uncomfortable, and we’ve all been taught that most things aren’t worth fighting over.

I agree with that sentiment…to a point, and that’s where the mental health aspect of this comes in.  Allowing yourself to be treated disrespectfully, allowing your personal ‘red line’ boundaries to be crossed with impunity will erode your self-esteem and potentially plunge you into a cycle of abuse faster than you can say “Rumpelstiltskin ruminates ruefully over really radical royalties”!

Repeatedly accommodating a self-centered individual empowers them to continue the mistreatment, leading eventually to a possible escalation into outright violence if the narcissist is so inclined.  As someone I used to work for once said, sociopaths are usually made, not born (ironic as she herself was quite the sociopath who damaged the careers of quite a few sailors I knew).  Even when the person involved isn’t likely to become violent, continued toxic behavior injures one’s mental well-being.

Conflict is scary.  Conflict inherently opens the very real possibility we’re about to actively enact a serious upheaval in our lives, an upheaval that might have permanent consequences for us.  Even if those consequences are healthy in the long term, the short-term pain will be real, and those changes will heap a whole lot of unknowns onto our futures.  That’s frightening, especially in times when the geopolitical and/or economic situation of our world is already unstable.

However, maintaining healthy personal boundaries is critical to mental health.  People who value themselves at a healthy level are people who will not stand for certain red lines being crossed.  Actively enforcing those boundaries can actually reduce overall conflict because you’ll be more inclined to develop relationships with people who share similar values to your own.  More than that, if you accept the occasional necessity of conflict, you’re more likely to recognize toxic behavior and take action to avoid it before the situation escalates.  Of course, you can’t always predict if or when someone will turn into a toxic troll trying to trample you, but you’ll also be ready to fight back if it happens.

Now, yes, our mothers were right in that many, many things are not worth fighting over.  My internal tea kettle will boil with anger when some dork cuts me off in traffic, or some entitled jackalope makes a snide remark to me in a store.  However, those are fleeting moments of interaction with a dipwad I’ll likely never see again.  I agree with Mom—those @ssh0les are simply notworth my time.

However, there are red lines I will not allow to be crossed without serious reprisals.  This dedication to standing up for my own dignity—especially in my house—is a concrete means of maintaining my own mental and emotional health.  Standing up for myself—even if it means taking as drastic action as kicking a ‘friend’ out in the middle of the night—prevents their emotional venom from poisoning my heart.  Every time I refuse to be subjected to abuse, I actively reinforce my belief that I’m worth way more than that, which in turn fuels my determination to refuse such abuse.  We all hear about ‘viscous cycles’ and ‘feedback loops’ of self-destructive behavior.  Well, that principle works in reverse, too.  Engaging in healthy self-protective behavior feeds a positive cycle supporting mental health because you’re refusing to submit to abuse.

Personally, I do prefer trying to defuse a conflict peacefully because we all have really bad days.  We’re all capable of becoming someone other than ourselves once in a while, and if we kicked everyone out of our lives who ever hurt us, we’d never talk to anyone ever again.  However, there’s a quantum difference between thoughtlessness outright toxic behavior.

Conflict is not only necessary in such cases, it’s actually the right thing to do.  People do change, and now and then someone we’ve known for years changes for the worse.  Sometimes you can see this coming and perhaps quietly let the relationship slide gently into the past with no fuss; you just move on and remember the good times.  Sometimes, however, that person does what Alvin did—shows you in a blinding flash of stunning selfishness just how much of a self-absorbed twit they’ve turned into.  We all have to make a choice in those moments: do we roll over and empower further abuse by trying to play nice, or do we stand up for ourselves and engage in a conflict to remove that person from our lives.

I do miss Alvin, but I value me way more than I value the company of a man who’s evolved into a selfish fool.  I’ll remember him for what he was to me back in the day, but I’ll not subject myself to further abuse.  I’m worth way more than that.

So are you.

Conflict and confrontation are difficult because they herald unexpected and drastic change.  This is especially frightening when a relationship you valued is blown up in an instant.  However, tacitly approving such poisonous actions only invites further insult and abuse.  This will create a cycle that can devastate your mental, and perhaps even physical, health.  Tossing someone’s toxic tail onto the tarmac is never easy or fun, but it might just be the best thing you can do for your own mental health.


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