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Toxic or Uncomfortable??

Everything ain’t toxic and you know it!!

18 years ago, when I came into the game, mental health language and jargon was not a thing. You knew someone worked in mental health because they would drop a word, here and there, share a theory from one of the mental health “founders”, or simply say they worked in mental health. However, now….oh now, everyone uses mental health words….all the time. And by everyone, I mean, everyone.

Not just mental health practitioners or students. Not just executive coaches or peer-certified

professionals. By everyone, I mean EVERYONE.

And, I do not think this is bad. In fact, I think it can be quite amazing. It is nice to know that people are out here, thinking about their mental health and that of those around them.

But….there is a flip side to this phenomenon. Which is: Having lived experience with YOUR mental health does not make you and expert in mental health. I know, this should be common knowledge, but it is not.

So, what we are seeing is a large group of people who have lived with and/or through mental health challenges, appreciated their journey, and currently enjoying their outcomes….and then making TikTok videos, IG posts, and self-published books around mental health and they have not actually been trained. And, mental health is one of the only fields that is affected by these behaviors. One does not claim to be a legal expert because they have sued someone and won the case. One does not claim to be a dentist because they had a root canal. And one does not claim to be a surgeon because they had their appendix removed. And yet, when one has successfully overcome a mental health challenge, they claim to be an expert. And, while it should be flattering to mental health providers, it is quite maddening because it is counterproductive to our work. People begin to believe and invest in folks with lived

experience and do not turn to experts in a time of need.

Here is an example: Toxic behaviors.

Many people have been using the term “toxic”. When mental health clinicians use the term, we are using it with the fidelity of the definition as transferred to therapy. Inasmuch, it refers to any behaviors, thoughts, or feelings that are detrimentally negative and has the power to destroy. Toxicity, in medical and environmental science terms, refers to poisons that kill, make ill, or can maim. In mental health, we consider how some thoughts, behaviors, or feelings can destroy us. These are things that can lead to mental illness or be a causation of suicidal behavior. See the extreme there? Yes, because toxic is a deadly and hazardous experience.

It is not discomfort.

Again, it is NOT discomfort.

Discomfort is…. uncomfortable. Ha! It takes us out of our “comfort” zone. It may push us to reassess ourselves, our friendships, or our habits. It may create change in our routines, in our habits, and in the ways, we perceive the world. I embrace discomfort, in my life and for my clients because it is often a catalyst of change, ideally to allow for transformation and evolution. Discomfort, is innately positive but the introduction to discomfort is…. generally unwelcomed. In other words, most people hate discomfort and the change process but enjoy the outcome of emerging as a new version of themselves.

Toxicity does not allow for a positive emergence of one’s self. Toxic thoughts, behaviors, and feelings can destroy. There is NOTHING to emerge from that which has been destroyed.

Are you sick of me yet? Hopefully not because I have one more thing. STOP using the word “toxic” for everything. Being uncomfortable is not toxic. Being annoyed is not toxic. Not getting what you want when you want it is not toxic. Not getting what you want, ever, is not toxic. Hearing someone’s opinion of you is not toxic. All of this is uncomfortable but it is not toxic and it does not destroy you.

And, when you use the word “toxic” for something that is uncomfortable, it really waters down the word “toxic” so when people do experience a toxic experience, they do not have an actual or accurate word to describe what they are thinking, doing, feeling or experiencing.

So, while I think it is great that everyone is caring about their own mental health, the mental health of others, and are valuing the mental health field, I do want people to stop using mental health words inappropriately because it is not helpful to the people who really need an adjective to describe the things in their lives that are truly destructive.

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