2 min read

Jason Brien.

For some people, ending relationships with toxic people can be rather difficult. I personally find it difficult sometimes to seperate myself from someone who displays toxic behaviours. This is mainly because I have a very strong sense of loyalty and I typically look at people and situations more holistically and so it is easier for me to acknowledge that humans are imperfect creatures and so I must grant humanity some level of understanding and tolerance lest I throw everybody into the ‘irredeemable’ basket and so spend my entire existence in isolation.

So if you do eventually end a relationship with someone who displays toxic behaviours, is there ever any going back? Should we give toxic people a 2nd chance? The key thing that we must always remember is that people exist in two forms; As an external object and as an internal object. External objects are the external manifestations of people, places, pets or objects within the physical world. Internal objects are our mental representations of those external objects. Your internal object of your partner for example includes everything that you know, think, feel, sense, assume and wonder about your partner.

When we are constantly interacting with external objects, it is extremely important that we regularly ‘update’ our internal objects lest those internal objects become ‘outdated’ and so no longer match the true reality of the external object. Let me give you an example. Imagine that you have had zero contact with a certain friend for 10 years. Everything that you know about this friend, the entirety of your internal object of them, is based only on what you USED to know about them.

If you refuse to acknowledge the 10-year time period when you had no contact whatsoever (and they obviously had time to grow and change), and you then choose to favour and interact only with your ‘outdated’ internal object of your friend, are you being fair to your friend? When we have not interacted with someone in a long time, we can no longer accurately or confidently rely upon the internal object of that person because our internal representation of the person would no longer accurately match the external object (since the external object has progressed through space and time and so has changed).

This is why I sometimes object to the advice of going absolutely ‘no contact’ with people who display toxic behaviours. Change can only ever be proven if it is given a chance to be demonstrated. I also firmly believe that past behaviour can no longer accurately predict future behaviour when current behaviour is substantially removed from past behaviour. If we don’t give people a chance to demonstrate current behaviour, and so grant them the ability to demonstrate that their current behaviour has substantially changed from their past behaviour, we cannot conclusively or reliably say “They haven’t changed. They were evil/toxic then and they are evil/toxic now”.

We can of course allow a person to demonstrate their current behaviours, find out that their current behaviours have NOT substantially changed from their past behaviours and so update our internal object to ‘Has not changed’ and so continue to limit or reduce contact with them. For most people it may be a case of “I have given this person plenty of opportunities to demonstrate change but they have been unable or unwilling to do so and now, for the preservation of my own mental health, I need to limit contact with them”.

Obviously there needs to be some kind of cut off point lest the abusive/toxic cycle continues unabated and so deteriorates mental health. I want to make it clear though… I am NOT suggesting that people resume contact with certain people just to see if the previously toxic person has changed. The point that I am making is that we all must be aware that our internal objects may not always match the external objects and so we must be mindful of this discrepancy especially when time and space is involved.