5 Toxic Lessons to Unlearn

Published on 3/26/2021

As children, we were always learning, even when we didn’t realise we were, and especially when adults didn’t realise we were. Children are like sponges, soaking up everything they see and do. That’s how they learn about romantic relationships, friendships and many more lessons. Unfortunately, that’s also how they develop toxic traits. We see Mommy insist on doing everything herself, and so we believe that’s what you’re meant to do. We see Daddy never cry or show emotions, and so we learn that this is what is expected from people.

We learn so many lessons while growing up, and many of them serve us well, until they finally stop helping us and start holding us back. These toxic lessons can interfere with our daily functioning, with how we form fundamental relationships and hold onto them. So today, I’m going to ask you to forget what you’ve learned and deconstruct these toxic lessons that aren’t helping you anymore.

1. Always be selfless

Certain moments will call for you to be selfless, and specific roles will as well. There are times when we must give, and sometimes we then have to give a little more. But an issue comes into play when we’re always giving, as the reserve to give from will quickly dry up. We cannot be selfless all the time; there is simply not enough energy and time for this because it reaches a point where you’re selfless to everyone but yourself.

We paint individuals who are always selfless as something to strive towards. They’re the example to follow. But we don’t see what comes with selflessness, the toll it can take on the individual themselves.

I won’t pretend that I was, or am, always selfless. But I do struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, which comes with a fierce fear of abandonment that leads me to desperately work to earn my relationships. I feel like I’m starting a few rungs lower than everyone else, so I have to work harder than them and give more. They’re already amazing, but I have to earn my place as their friend. So I go out of my way, I spend money on thoughtful little gifts, I dedicate my time. I compromise on what I want, time after time until I no longer recognise it. And it feels good at the start; it feels like I can call myself ‘loyal’ and a ‘good friend’. But I’m not those things; as resentment builds towards the people I always act selfless for. As I give more and more, I feel weak, tired and empty in return. I reached a point where I hated them for letting me give, as unfair as that is.

You don’t always have to be selfless. You can say no to plans without reason, simply to stay home alone. You can disagree with someone; you can refuse something that is asked of you. Simply put: you can put yourself first, and you should. The only person in this world that is genuinely looking out for you is yourself, so make sure you do that, alongside helping and being with others.

2. Vulnerability is a weakness

Men get the brunt of this lesson, as society attempts to attach masculinity to strength and never display their emotions. There are a lot of dangers to bottling up your emotions, both mentally and physically. It’s exhausting to hide yourself over and over, to paint a smile whilst you’re aching inside.

Having emotions doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. Displaying emotions doesn’t make you weak; it makes you strong. It takes a lot of courage to show how you’re feeling, to show what bothers you or the things that scare you. Little in this world is more beautiful than vulnerability; than opening yourself up to another person.

You may think that people won’t accept your vulnerability, but if you don’t give them a chance, they can never prove to you that they can. Give them the opportunity to respect and respond to your vulnerabilities. Allow yourself to forge a more profound connection by revealing these parts of yourself.

Tell someone what scares you. Tell someone what bothers you, the thoughts that keep you up at night, the thing that drives you every single day. Open yourself up and watch your relationships bloom from it. Stop believing that vulnerability is a weakness, so that others around you can do the same. Because once you open to them, you give them a chance to do the same back.

3. Forced independence

When I was younger, I was often praised for being so independent. I was never reminded to do my homework, and I was the one who chased up my parents with a form or issue. Everyone told me how independent I was, and it led me to cling to this ideal. I felt like I had to do everything for myself, that relying on others was a sign of weakness.

Because people could leave you, and then what would you be left with? So I worked myself tirelessly and refused to ask for help. Others could ask me for help, and I’d gladly do so, as mentioned previously with my intense fear of abandonment. But the same could never apply to me.

It’s a lonely existence to strive for independence. And whilst there are benefits to it, and individuals should be independent to some degree, we should never believe that we always must be. We need to remove the stigma around needing someone, around asking for help. It makes us struggle on our own for far too long. It makes us avoid asking for a helping hand or admitting that something isn’t right.

Part of having vulnerabilities is sharing them and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Part of connecting to others is allowing yourself to be dependent on them. Don’t carry the entire world on your shoulders; instead, stop, look around, and realise how many people want to help share that load with you.

4. Your identity comes from a job

When we’re little, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. We’ll name various professions, from a hairdresser to a princess, a fireman to a doctor. We spend our youth working out what profession we’ll enter, and then we become an adult and lay all of our worth in that profession, as that’s what we’ve been taught to do.

Why does no one ask who we want to be when we grow up? Why does no one consider the fact that we might have several professions, we might go a completely different direction, we might end up staying home with a family?

My point is that a job is far less permanent than you are, and in the grander scheme of things, it means less. When I’m meeting someone, I care less about how they make money and more about their values and traits. Are they funny or kind? Are they considerate or artistic? These are the things that draw me to a person far more than how they spend their time.

We need to stop attaching our worth to our job, as so many things can happen and change, and it takes up such a small part of our lives. We need to stop believing that work can eat into the rest of our life. We need to work out who we are without it.

Your profession does not define your identity; it comes from who you are, what you want, what you value. Determine your identity outside of the workplace, and then enter it as that person.

5. The best time of your life is your twenties

I’m not sure exactly where we get this message. I think it’s drilled in through so many forms: TV shows, films, books and magazines. Everywhere we look, they tell you that your twenties are the best years of your life, and make it seem like it’s only downhill from there. It creates such a fear that you’re not living up to this potential, that you’re wasting your time. Combine that with a pandemic that has you sequestered indoors for a year of your twenties, and full-blown panic is not far off.

Maybe this sentiment was true in the Middle Ages when individuals didn’t live past their twenties, but it’s undoubtedly inaccurate now. We’re living longer than ever, meaning we have so much time to forge our identity and then find it all over again. We have time to live several different lives, to travel and explore the world, or to create a family and watch it grow. We can try different professions, countless hobbies and meet so many people. There is so much joy to be found in your thirties, forties and later even.

This inaccurate lesson only makes us rush and panic rather than savour the moment that we’re in. Your twenties should be great, but if they’re not, you’ll have plenty of other great times ahead. I’ve spent half of my twenties and five years prior battling my mental illness, and it is so easy to feel like I’ve lost this time to it. But I’m in no rush to settle down, so my thirties will see me still working things out and discovering who I am.

You don’t have to love your twenties. If you do, that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the next decade as well. Any time in your life can be great as long as you make it so. You’re in the driver’s seat, so you choose where you’re going next.

It’s never too late to learn something new. Or, in this case, it’s never too late to unlearn something that you thought you knew. We can spend our energy being mad that we were taught these things in the first place, or we can direct that energy into unlearning these toxic lessons, and ensuring we don’t pass them further along. My main takeaway is to remember that it’s okay to be human. You’re allowed to be vulnerable, you’re allowed to ask for help, and you’re allowed to say ‘no’. This is your life, and that life doesn’t just consist of your twenties! So cherish it, and be true to yourself in it.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?

For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:


I'd love to hear from you!

Ⓒ 2024 - Symptoms of Living