Toxic Tolerance

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 5-15-2021

“We get what we are willing to tolerate.” -EaE

“Just walk away from the fight Elisa, it’s not worth it. No matter what people do, walk away.” I was seven years old when my grandmother passed on these words of wisdom. It’s important to note that this advice came from a place of trauma. She had grieved the murder of several brothers growing up, as well as community violence in the areas around her. She didn’t meddle, she stayed to herself. She kept the peace at all cost, because she knew how bad things could get.

Then fast forward to my teen years, where I had a lot of issues in school with “not fitting in”. I was timid, socially awkward and misunderstood. I had my own traumas. Then Cosmogirl saved me! I read the actress Julia Robert’s quoting the famous “Sometimes it is better to have peace than to be right.”

From then on, I would ascribe to a life of keeping silent, keeping the peace and never engaging in confrontation. It just wasn’t worth it, in my eyes. How many times must I have the same argument in circles? I was already burnt out.

This is what we clinicians refer to as a “survival program” being built into our developing brain. It serves a purpose, it protects us from toxic households and environments. However, it could be completely dangerous as we get older and the programming becomes obsolete or toxic in our newfound environments.

I prided myself in my tolerance. I felt it was my greatest attribute at the time. No one wanted to fight me, most people liked my “kindness”. Little did I know, the consequences of this ‘practice’ would destroy my mental health.

Tolerance as a virtue:

No matter what, every attribute serves a purpose and has its rightful place. Tolerance can prevent horrific things from happening. It could potentially stop fights and stop war. It could help us build communities by seeing past our differences and doing what needs to be done.

Tolerance is that extra special thing you need when you cannot respect that asshole boss and/ or coworkers of yours, but you need that paycheck! Tolerance is what keeps people in those long term relationships, even when they hate each other sometimes. Tolerance is what every person in the military needs, so that they do not lose their minds and go AWOL!

When Tolerance gets toxic:

The sad reality is that there are people that are taught to manipulate, push boundaries and as Charlie Murphy in The Chapelle Show had once said, habitually step lines! Habitual line steppers!

Often this type of behavior comes from childhood abuse and/ or neglect diminishing a persons empathy while also pushing said person to “get theirs” at all cost, even if it means hurting others. After all, a person can only get hurt so much before they stop caring about what they do to others.

It just so happens, tolerant people are a magnet for those types. Too much tolerance leads us to high vulnerability. The more we tolerate, the likelier it is that some may push our boundaries and go a little too far.

Toxic Tolerance, Warning signs:

⁃ Consistent frustration in friendships/ family connections and / or intimate relationships due to the feeling of “being taken advantage of”, but carrying on with the theme and failing to create boundaries.

⁃ Burnout due to excessive amounts of over extending for others, with little to no reward for ourselves.

⁃ Potentially becoming a victim of emotional/ physical/ sexual and/ or financial abuse.

⁃ Being that employee that is the most over worked and also under appreciated. Not getting what you’re worth in compensation.

⁃ Chronic feelings of depression, anxiety and/ or anger due to feeling taken advantage of as well as a sense of helplessness when it comes to breaking the cycle.

What can help?

First and foremost, practice saying no, even if it feels like it’s killing you inside. Even when the compulsion to tolerate a habitual line stepper comes up. Even if guilt comes to the surface. When the guilt comes, don’t cave to it. Rather, explore it. Analyze it. Ask yourself the hard questions. The questions you fear the answers to… but deep down you know you need them.

Toxic tolerance, again, is a survival program we built inside ourselves. Most likely, for a multitude of reasons. Undoing a habit is just as hard, if not harder than what it took to build it up in the first place. This takes work, this is the type of “magic” that happens in the therapy room, and it’s also why so many people run from therapy in the first place.

Also remember, as you change your survival program and boundary levels, the people around you will change. Less tolerance may equate to less “feeling liked”, less “friends”, more uncomfortable situations in which you must practice your assertiveness skills. It’s okay, it means it’s working. It means you are in the practice of creating your new survival programs, healthier ones. If your tolerance meant sacrificing your mental peace, you were doing it wrong.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

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