On Toxicity and Empowerment

(Writing this challenged me, and I'm a little nervous about publishing it.
 Also: No art. Deal.)

I'm currently dealing with some political crap. Yes, it's been consuming and very distracting, and I apologize if I've been out of touch lately. But this experience has made me realize some things that I thought I'd scribble down.

A Tough Spot
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or anxious, you need to change the situation. Don't just endure it thinking that things will change without your input; if nobody else knows there's a problem, nobody will change what they choose to do and the situation will remain or get worse. Talk with an uninvolved friend to get some perspective. Explaining your situation to someone else will help clarify the problem and let you know you aren't projecting personal dislike into a larger issue.

Enduring unpleasantness will drain your energy and make you feel miserable, perhaps even sick. No wonder situations and people get labelled "Toxic". If you want to improve your situation, you need to speak up. Hoping that something else will fix the problem only teaches you how to be helpless and how to resent others for not reading your mind.

If you want things to change, you have a responsibility to initiate that change.

You Always Have Options
No matter how riled or jangled I may get, nothing calms me down faster than realizing I have choices. It doesn't matter what those choices are; just remembering that choices exist renews my feeling of control over a situation. It may be as simple as "do this one thing later", but at least it's a focus for action.

Take some time to figure out your options. Write them down somewhere private so you can analyze them somewhere outside of your head. Writing out a list of pros and cons for each option helps me. When I identify a worst case outcome and accept it ("I may get fired... Y'know, I'm OK with that."), I feel much less anxious and more free to choose any option when dealing with the issue.

Dealing With People
Talking with the others at the game table is a good first step, but frame the conversation carefully. Accusatory statements that start with second-person absolutes such as "You always..." tend to shut down communication before it starts. Even the most reasonable person can't help circling the wagons when accused. Stick with personal statements like "I feel uncomfortable when I hear..." and invite communication to the table. One-on-one conversations work well, but they can be scary. I failed my players as a GM once when I was too afraid to deal directly with a problem player who made the game much less fun for everyone else at the table. Lesson learned.

If one person's behavior makes you uncomfortable, or if they fly off the handle no matter how gently you broach the topic of your discomfort, get others involved. Something brought you to this group. Remember why you agreed to join and start there. If a friend invited you, then you probably already have an ally at the table. If a store or game club led you to this group, start asking around and see if others have a similar issue with this person.

Eject! Eject!
You always have one option: pull the ripcord. If your role in the gaming group dynamic boils down to "Emotional Punching Bag", GET OUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. You may lose friends out of it, but your friends shouldn't hurt you, especially if you've already talked to them about the situation. Don't worry about "it's the only game in town" - that particular fear just means you haven't met the right group of local gamers yet.

You're playing a game. Games should be enjoyable and add positive experiences to your life. If your game keeps you up at night worrying about how others at the table will make you feel, you need to remove yourself from that situation immediately.

If your game keeps you up at night worrying about what mayhem your character will experience in the next game session, it sounds like you're part of an excellent game. I don't think you need help dealing with a toxic group in this case. Also: I'm jealous.

About You
I don't know you, and I don't know your situation. I can't speak directly to what you're going through, so I'm not going to try. You need to set your own tolerance threshold for whatever social mess you're experiencing. Once that line gets crossed, you need to act.

Some people are so selfish that they can't comprehend the pain they cause. These people are not worth your time nor your friendship. You are not responsible for their actions; you are responsible only for your own actions. Protect yourself first, then communicate about the problem from a place of safety, and if nothing changes walk away.

This should go without saying, but if you feel physically threatened or have been hurt, get out as quickly as possible and call the authorities, up to and including the police. Help is out there, but you can't count on help finding you on its own.

Final Thoughts
Gaming should empower everyone. You play the hero. You can enact change on the game world. Changing the world is your job as a player.

Take that attitude back to the real world. You have power. No matter how things play out, never forget that you have the power to change your circumstances.

I hope all your gaming experiences are positive.

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