This is a topic that dominates our lives, whether we use the word “toxic” or not. Our lives are inter alia an attempt to become aware of our own toxicity and that of others, and then to take steps to end the dysfunctionality.
I am writing a longer essay on this topic but for today, I will simply define what I mean by toxicity.
Toxicity is the destructive tendency in us to harm others, due to our own sadism, envy, resentment, jealousy, power-hunger or self-loathing. It usually involves indirect methods of aggression : passive-aggression, manipulation, character-assassination, white-anting, verbal degradation and group humiliation.
It occurs often in groups because it is there you see most clearly how the human tendency to build hierarchies of prestige and power correlates with the human tendency to use the passive-aggressive “dark arts” to throw people down the escalator. Subterfuge seems to work better in a group, and the threat to the insecure ego is heightened in the presence of an audience.
The most common groups are the family, the school environment, and the ultimate coliseum of the Toxic, the workplace.
The classic examples of Toxicity include school bullying, scapegoating within a family, undermining by colleagues and superiors at work.
Psychiatry would bring in diagnoses of borderline personality disorder, narcissistic pd, antisocial pd and histrionic pd. But this concept of Toxicity is larger than psychiatry as it stands at the start of the 21st century. Many toxic people do not meet the criteria for personality disorder because they do not suffer from major life or work dysfunction. In fact, many toxic people are highly successful in their work as they target their victims effectively to silence and disempower them.
The core of toxicity is treating another in a group in a humilating, unfair and sadistic way. This is done because of a darkness that person carries within them, and is allowed to be acted out with great viciousness because social norms are apparently being respected. For example, a superior is merely giving an employee feedback. A parent is merely disciplining a child. A colleague is simply a bit competitive. The key is therefore the presence of a very real emotional trauma that can be and often will be justified according to prevalent social norms. The Toxic Person will usually be exceedingly gifted in justifying their behaviour, and will often ironically claim victim status in any discussion of the alleged toxic behaviour.