Oxford Dictionaries has released its word of the year for 2018, and it’s (drumroll, please) toxic. The adjective that’s defined as “poisonous” or “very bad, unpleasant, or harmful” is sadly an appropriate choice, given the state of current affairs and extreme polarity of our social discourse.
Oxford describes the reason for its choice as follows: “In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics. It is the sheer scope of its application, as found by our research, that made toxic the stand-out choice for the Word of the Year title.” According to Oxford’s data, the word was looked up 45 percent more times over the last year in both literal (things like toxic chemicals, toxic waste, and toxic ingredients were searched) and metaphorical contexts.
“If the word of the year is supposed to describe the ethos or energy of the year, unfortunately or fortunately, toxic fits perfectly,” says Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, a therapeutic relationship coach and co-founder of the Wright Wellness Center.
The word’s popularity also shows a greater awareness of concepts like “toxic masculinity,” which has enraged and engaged women across the spectrum, spurring activism like nothing we’ve seen in our generation. The Women’s March, #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and recent #BelieveSurvivors walkout, were among the most prominent responses to such historic misogyny.
Wright adds that the word’s literal meaning is a great lens to view negative things we may experience on a daily basis. For example, she says, “A relationship that is poisonous — it’s deadly. Whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional toxicity, it can kill you, your mind, or your soul.” Beyond having a toxic relationship with a significant other, toxicity can exist between you and your relatives, friends (who can perhaps be more accurately described as frenemies), colleagues or bosses. Toxic environments exist, too. According to Oxford, this term is more frequently used in reference to harmful workplace environments.
Push back against toxicity in your own life with these tips.
Unplug and decompress
Take frequent breaks from refreshing your social media feeds that are filled with depressing news cycles and stories of people doing and saying terrible things. Totally ignoring these issues isn’t helpful, but be sure to balance your time with people and things that bring you joy.
Talk about it
When you are experiencing a toxic situation, don’t keep it to yourself. “Talking about things is the only way things will ever change,” says Wright. Reach out to friends, family, or even a coach or therapist for advice on how to break free of these burdens.
Are you still on the fence about whether a relationship or specific worldview counts as “toxic?” Do your research, even a Google search will do. “The easiest way to fall into a toxic relationship is to not know what a toxic relationship actually looks like,” says Wright.