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Fb. In. Tw. Be.

The pandemic has increased the likelihood that a harmful or toxic person will reach out expecting that your boundaries have shifted under vulnerability.

These are unprecedented times we’re living in. And…these are also annoying-ass times.

On top of living in a country where the nincompoop-in-chief thinks he can “re-open” it while a killer virus is on the loose and spreading like wildfire, many of us have been forced—for the greater good—to quarantine ourselves in our homes. Grocery shopping has become a dangerous and extreme sport. Existence is pain…even more so than usual. And? On top of that? Many of us have most likely been quarantined away from those we love and cherish.

Which is probably a reason toxic people are particularly gleeful right now.

Indeed, my lovely readers. I had a toxic…acquaintance (for lack of a better term that would properly illustrate my waning, but still present hatred for this person) reach out to me in the last week and I’m sure that some of you have likely had the same happen to you.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why?”— it was my estranged sister, by the way. And I too asked myself why, as I blocked her and erased her message from my inbox without so much as a curious glance. And then I stopped myself because the answer became super obvious: Toxic people—be they family, friends, partners, or lovers—thrive in chaos and are especially “chatty” when the world around them is falling to chaos.

For some context, both my brother and I are similarly estranged with many of the same family members (my sister included) and he had initially given me a heads up that the toxicity was going around. Another family member had reached out to him about “The Rona” and “mending fences” and prior to that, my sister had also reached out to him about “not holding grudges”, especially after a tornado had devastated huge chunks of middle Tennessee—where they both live. So, what is it about these trying moments that re-energize toxic dumpster fires and make them wanna crash back into your life like the Kool-Aid man? Part of this has to do with the messaging that goes around during times like these. There’s always an increased emphasis on focusing on what is important to one’s self—which is usually associated with loved ones and explicitly? Family.

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And the family part in itself is mad fascinating because it all goes back to the fuck-ass concept known as the nuclear family. You know, the one with the dad, the mom, and the 2.5 kids? The one that encourages you to turn up your nose at extended family because they’re not “immediate” family and thus somehow less important? The one that’s pushed enthusiastically by Abrahamic religions? The one that literally has the stamp of approval from both colonialism, white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy and was principally formed to strengthen the foothold of capitalism? Yeah, that one. And it’s so interesting because not only is this configuration of the nuclear family a recent advent, but it usually heavily swings in the “father’s” favor and pushes anyone else who isn’t with the program or just fundamentally has less power than “the head of the household” to the fringes.

By design.

So if you have a family member lingering in the waiting room of hell for their moment to strike, this is where and when and how they will usually strike. Mainly because if you’re a person who is marginalized and on the fringes of a “traditional family” (particularly if you’re queer, radical, devoid of traditional religion, or just straight up estranged from a harmful family for your own valid reasons), this is the perfect time for them to strike because “mending fences” in this case would mean an opportunity to regain control of you, the family member on the fringes, and isolation, instability, or desolation as a result of a fucking pandemic make it so that one would be slightly more vulnerable to breaking the boundaries they put in place to escape, to begin with.

The other part? Well, that has more to do the kind of feelings that chaos like, I don’t know, a natural disaster (re: a tornado) or a global pandemic (like COVID-19) can elicit and the fact that they’re counting on such feelings to lower your guard long enough to possibly forget why you were rightfully beefing with them, to begin with. Such feelings can include fear, anxiousness, disassociation, anger, sadness, and possibly even guilt and regret. The last two are fairly tricky as well because they are usually accompanied by some “well, if I don’t make-up with this absolute shithead now, I may not get an opportunity to do it again.” But this misplaced guilt (which is what it is, particularly because you should never feel guilty for enforcing a boundary with an iron will) likely goes hand-in-hand with societal messaging about forgiveness (a la Christianity if we’re being honest). It’s overestimation and the fact that people still assume that forgiveness is freely given and not earned on account of tangible change and self-improvement.

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In other words, natural disasters and global pandemics are ripe for self-gaslighting and really, really, really bad decisions about letting people back in that you banished to the shadow realm 123029819823 years ago. But, please, I beg you, dear reader. If you’re even thinking about contacting this toxic person in question or answering the line of communication they “unexpectedly” re-opened to reach you, don’t. Because contrary to popular belief, time is actually too short to reconnect and mend fences with toxic waste. Because contrary to popular belief, we can—in our adult lives and when we have the means—chose our families. Because contrary to popular belief, your boundaries are law, not optional, and not up for negotiation. 

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