Beyond Horizons

Toxicity – A Barrier to Courage (Part-2)

Toxicity - A Barrier to Courage (Part-2)

My friend Reena* was in a disturbing childhood friendship that gradually concluded with a quiet demise after several years. Interestingly, instead of having a healthy and positive effect on her life, the relationship had over the years brought in stealthy toxicity that threatened her confidence, self-belief, and courage to face life. Unless we are careful, some of our relationships, even treasure, can undesirably impact our lives at conscious and unconscious levels.

Relationships – Their impact on our courage

To have the boldness and strength to face life with guts and grit, toxicity can play havoc with our resilience to grow and be tenacious. In Reena’s case, her friend enjoyed bossing over her, negating her input in discussions, enjoyed giving Reena the belief that Reena was not happy for her friend’s success, and the list went on. Being the simple soul that she was, Reena got used to believing her friend’s words. The religious beliefs of her friend also created a challenge in their relationship. She would keep warning Reena that the world would soon meet a catastrophic end. Reena though initially panicked, soon stopped believing her friend’s warning about the incoming destruction of the earth after the third time! Over the years, Reena realised that other than making her feel insecure and uncomfortable, the friendship was toxic and not worth nurturing for the future. Besides, the guilt that her friend infused in Reena’s feelings wasn’t making Reena any stronger or bolder about herself and the life ahead. There are many Reenas we may all know who silently suffer the friendships in silence for a long time or forever. Reena, fortunately, took timely decisive action to recognise and stop the turbulence her friendship was causing in her life.

Toxicity can impact our courage in several ways. One way is through negative relationships or interactions with people who pretend to be well-wishers but in reality are not, like in Reena’s case.

Guilt – Stress through religious beliefs

Another type of toxicity is when our religious beliefs threaten our ability to see correct and moral values. As a college student, during a train journey almost 28 years ago, I had come across a young man, Tony*, who was travelling for work. As we conversed with each other, the subject of religion surfaced, and suddenly he mentioned that he was ostracised from his religious community. Discussing at length, he soon narrated the details of what led to the action that was taken against him. During a discussion with his religious community leaders, he had boldly informed them that some of the current practices (propagated and practised in the name of religion) could harm an individual’s wellbeing. It was straightforward to observe the lucid and profound compassion and sensitivity the young man had for the members of society. While his understanding of the role of religion was one of kindness, tolerance and graciousness, his concern was swept aside by the community who did not wish to question the practice he was debating on.

How many of us have the insight and honesty to look and judge matters for what they are rather than for what they are meant to be? Today, though I am not sure whether that young man was welcomed back by his religious community, for me, he remains an empowering memory of my college years for the spirit and boldness he showed to rise against what he considered unfair. His concern about the persecution and discrimination that religion can cause undoubtedly remains valid even today. Though many of us may be scared to question or feign ignorance in matters like Tony had noted and criticised, it goes without saying that many amongst us silently suffer, experiencing guilt, stress and anxiety in the name of religion and religious beliefs. For parents, Tony is a call to action, a reminder that we need to teach children about the goodness and tolerance of religions rather than intimidate children with the rituals and practices that can create guilt, stress and a false sense of self-importance in our children.

Affectation of courage through parental expectations –

Expectations that parents/family enforce on children can lead them to have a toxic attitude about life and reduce the tenacity to face life. My colleague, Charlie*, grew up in a family environment that was wealthy and loving. Unfortunately, the family’s expectations were so strong that Charlie had to live up to them constantly. His interactions with people – his conversations and behaviour, were under scrutiny and determined by his family expectations. Middle-aged Charlie today is a wealthy and professionally successful man, yet his personal life is unquestionably empty. His blind and steadfast desire to follow the practices of his family and their expectations without considering the fairness or logic of these practices in all situations took its toll on his own family life over the years. It has also turned him into someone who trusts few and fear that he would be cheated and betrayed. His very enjoyment of life and his relationships all got affected through the stressful critical ways of life his family had demanded from him. With all due respect to their beliefs, Charlie’s issue lay in his inability to be selective in what he wanted to adopt and follow concerning his family’s expectations.

One of the topics that come up in my personal development webinars and training programs is the importance of learning we have acquired as children and teenagers. While there will be plenty that we can appreciate and learn from the wisdom of our parents and family, there may also be areas that we need to consider regarding their knowledge and practice judiciousness. The more we are rigid about what we were taught and told to practice, the less we would be inclined to consider the logic and worthiness of what has been said to us.

There is a good possibility that had Charlie been more analytical and objective about the expectations of his family; he would have enjoyed his family relationships with his children with more value and respect. He would not only have enjoyed facing life with greater boldness and openness; he may have even have been able to appreciate and cherish his spouse, children, closest friends and life better. One of the easiest (and probably least courageous) ways to enable us not to get hurt or make wrong decisions is by building a barrier between us and the world we are a part of. While this barrier may enable us not to get hurt and keep us safe, we deny the joy of experiencing the world and knowing people in the genuinity we are capable of. Tragically, we will also, in the process, not be able to learn and support people to the extent we can.

Like ships that never test their worth on the sea, if we choose to protect ourselves with over-caution and concern, it will only prevent us from realising who we indeed are.

Like someone once famously said,

“A boat is always safe at shore, but that is not what it’s built for.”

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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