I had a dysfunctional childhood—I faced body-shaming for being overweight, sexual assault by family members, and had no relationship at all with my father. This all contributed to my becoming what I call a “toxic person” as a young adult.
Through yoga and self-reflection, I realized my own toxicity during college. I finally acknowledged how selfish I was and how hard I was making the lives of others. The next step was finding the cause—a journey through which yoga and self-reflection were also crucial tools—and eventually realized I had been suffering internally and ignoring it all this time. As soon as I recognized my own issues, I vowed to change, and I’ve been on the journey to become a whole, healthy, loving person ever since.
What does being a “toxic person” look like?
My toxicity exhibited itself through backhanded compliments and attention-seeking behavior. I flirted with boys who had girlfriends, lashed out when a friend didn’t want to hang out with me, and partied way too much. I was an extreme friend—I’d hate you one minute and love you the next. I only saw black and white, never gray. Although people said I was a “fun drunk,” I knew I drank excessively because it helped me feel more confident. I knew I had to make amends.
Here are the five strategies that helped me overcome my toxicity.
1. I went to therapy.
I knew I was angrier than most teenagers, but my mother comes from a very conservative family (translation: one that does not believe in spilling secrets to strangers). She refused to let me go to therapy as a child, even though I asked repeatedly.
After finally recognizing my issues in college, I sought therapy on campus and uncovered the link between my toxic behavior and unresolved childhood issues. I’ve kept up therapy since then, and it’s been integral to my healing.
Don’t let anyone discourage you from seeking your happiness however it makes sense to you. If that’s through therapy, find a practice that takes your insurance or allows you to pay on a sliding scale. If nothing else, you can join a free support group. Whatever you are going through, you are not alone. Chances are, speaking with a professional will help you see your life’s challenges in a different light and bring you closer to clarity.
2. I started exercising regularly.
My first therapist after college prescribed me Adderall and Prozac, both of which helped my problems but only for a short while. I realized medicating myself was not the answer and focused all my energy on working out. I did HIIT circuits and Pilates DVDs in addition to practicing yoga. I loved sweating, and immediately felt the rush of endorphins after each workout. When I smiled contentedly after a workout, I felt beautiful, despite being drenched in sweat.
It’s easy to get sidetracked when you’re starting a new routine. Make it a priority. Try however many practices or routines it takes for you to find the right one for you—the one that keeps you satisfied and makes you excited to return to class each day/week/whatever. Maybe hot yoga isn’t for you but trampoline classes are. Be open to new things.
3. I gave up my drinking habit.
Instead of drinking each weekend and going to parties with free booze and drugs, I focused on exercise on weekends, tried brunch sans hangover (amazing), and took art classes. I even used weekends to study in college, and my grades improved.
Partying can take a toll on both your body and your mind. Because alcohol alters your brain chemistry, excessive drinking can make you aggressive, unmotivated, and depressed. Try to find new ways to spend your Saturday evenings.
4. I stopped looking for the wrong kind of attention.
Looking back now, I’m disgusted with myself for flirting with my friends’ boyfriends. I thrived on ruining relationships. Therapy helped me realize how selfish I was being and why it felt worth it to me despite how many friends I lost over the years.
When I was a toxic person, I attracted toxic people. My romantic relationships were all short-lived and fueled with daily bickering that escalated into dramatic fights. What’s more important to you—a temporary ego boost or a long-term friendship?
5. I apologized to the people I’d hurt.
Owning up to my mistakes was a fundamental part of my recovery. When I reflected upon my behavior toward my friends, I knew I hadn't been treating them fairly. Apologizing months or even years after our friendships ended was difficult but so rewarding. You’d be surprised at how forgiving and kind people can be. Even though our friendships were over, they appreciated me apologizing for the pain I had caused, and my conscience was clear.
It’s never too late to own up to your mistakes and make a fresh start.