Transforming Toxic Cultures: Insights from Dr. Gabor Maté

8 minutes read -
Irina Yugay
Written by
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Table of Contents
Summary: Toxic culture is detrimental to your productivity, health, and relationships. Learn how to spot it and take a stand against it.
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From the workplace to relationships and health, toxic culture has slowly become the new norm. It perpetuates standards and values that are detrimental to individual well-being and society at large, such as hustle, competition, lack of empathy, control, dieting, and many others.

While it feels like an individual battle, toxic culture is our collective challenge that needs to be addressed across multiple areas. And equipping yourself with the fundamentals is a great way to sport and take a stand against toxic environments:

Once you see it clearly, you can take steps to shift your focus on your personal values and priorities, instead of mindlessly following toxic culture.

What Is Toxic Culture?

When individualism is prioritized over community and relationships, that’s when toxic culture comes in. It refers to the negative or harmful beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and practices within a company, a group, or society as a whole.

It can be found in various settings — workplaces, schools, and communities, manifesting in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Bullying, harassment, and discrimination,
  • A lack of accountability for harmful behavior,
  • Fear and mistrust among members,
  • Unhealthy competition and rivalry,
  • Detrimental standards and values,
  • A lack of transparency and communication, and
  • A lack of support and resources.

The bottom line is that in toxic environments, people feel unsupported, unvalued, and disconnected from their true nature. 

toxic culture workplace

Toxic Culture in the Workplace

Toxic work culture is detrimental to individuals and organizations as it leads to a lack of trust, increased fear and stress, and decreased creativity and innovation. 

For example, hustle culture is harmful as it promotes the idea that you must constantly work hard to be successful. This can lead to a tremendous amount of stress, causing severe physical and mental health issues and damaging your relationships and other important aspects of life. 

Furthermore, it can also create a culture of overworking, resulting in decreased productivity. As per Tim Field, author and speaker on this very topic in workplaces, a toxic work culture can be fostered by destructive personalities who create a hostile work environment, damaging employee morale.

He describes the following characteristics of toxic personalities:

  • Abusive behavior. They use verbal or physical abuse to control and intimidate others.
  • Manipulative behavior. They manipulate others to gain power and control.
  • A lack of empathy. They aren’t able to understand the feelings and experiences of others.
  • Narcissism. They have an inflated sense of self-importance.
  • Entitlement. They expect others to treat them in a special way.
  • Blaming. They blame others for their challenges and never take responsibility for their actions.
  • Insecurity. They are insecure inside; that’s why they feel threatened by the success of others.
  • Inability to handle criticism. They can’t receive constructive criticism and attack those who provide it.
  • Inconsistency. Their actions and decisions aren’t predictable.

People with these personality traits can manifest in different ways, and they don’t necessarily display all of these characteristics. 

Also, toxic culture can become a result of a poor leadership style, according to Brené Brown, researcher and best-selling author on topics related to vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She explains that when leaders don’t take responsibility for creating and maintaining a culture of belonging, based on vulnerability, empathy, and clear communication, it can result in a toxic work culture.

handful of medication

Toxic Culture in Health

Does toxic culture impact your mental and physical health? Yes, it does, according to Dr. Gabor Maté, physician and author of The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture

In an episode of The Mindvalley Podcast with Vishen, he argues that many of the chronic health problems faced by individuals and society as a whole, such as addiction, obesity, and stress-related illnesses, can be traced back to a lack of connection and toxic culture. 

“When you get sick, it manifests the entire world in your body,” he says. The illness manifests the issue of the entire community as there’s a social context of human diseases and illnesses. So your healing is our healing.”

In other words, if there is no genetic predisposition to the health issue, then it’s the environmental factor. For example, asthma is the manifestation of racism in culture.

Your disease isn’t an isolated issue. It’s a process. And it can be your wake-up call to start a serious self-examination.

— Dr. Gabor Maté, author of The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture

Moreover, what society considers normal is often just a statistical norm. Health Policy Institute reported that in 2021 about 66% of U.S. adults take prescription drugs and this number has been increasing over the years. 

Dr. Maté explains that it seems statistically normal for the average person to take at least one medication. But this is not healthy — it displays toxic culture in healthcare. 

The same is true with diet culture. According to statistics, an estimated 45 million Americans diet every year, and in 2022, 40% of New Year’s resolutions were based on weight loss. So diet culture is utterly toxic as it’s based on an unhealthy set of social expectations, promoting anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. 

The bottom line is, the human organism is meant to thrive in healthy cultures. And Dr. Maté is confident that by addressing the root causes of mental and physical health problems, we not only help individuals but can also create a healthier and more compassionate culture, based on connection, empathy, and understanding of healing and wellness.

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

Toxic Culture in Relationships

Toxic culture in relationships is a pattern of behavior or dynamics within a relationship that is harmful or destructive to the individuals involved. 

Examples of toxic culture in relationships include:

  • Verbal or physical abuse, 
  • Possessiveness, 
  • Manipulation, 
  • Gaslighting,
  • Lack of trust,
  • Poor communication or lack of it,
  • Lack of boundaries,
  • Controlling or jealous behaviors,
  • Disrespect or disregard for the other person’s feelings or needs, and
  • Power imbalance.

Dr. Shefali, clinical psychologist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest, explains that toxic culture in relationships is often perpetuated by societal expectations and cultural conditioning. Toxic patterns are passed on from one generation to the next, creating a cycle of toxic parenting.

One of the most common toxic behaviors is a controlling pattern. In the Conscious Parenting Quest, she elaborates that when you don’t have control over your own voice and sense of self, you rub off that control from your children. It comes out of the sense of helplessness when we were dominated by our parents, and then it gets transformed into a great desire to be in charge.

“Instead of uncovering those patterns and seeing clearly their controlling issues, parents disguise their control in the name of caring,” she adds. 

The tyrants aren’t born over a day. They are constructed over decades of feeling deep inner helplessness.

 — Dr. Shefali, trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Quest

As soon as you realize how useless and toxic it is to defend your own manic desire to control, you can begin to see other alternatives and heal your toxic patterns.

Mindvalley team in Kuala Lumpur HQ, celebrating Love Week

Break the Cycle of Toxic Culture: 3 Insights From the Experts

The first step to healing toxic culture is recognizing it. When we as a whole clearly see the detrimental patterns present in our healthcare system, education, and management across all industries, we can start moving towards creating a healthier and more positive environment for everyone.

Here is how you can break the cycle of toxic culture in different settings:

Workplace

A combination of effective leadership, clear communication, and a strong emphasis on positive values and behaviors can help your workplace shift away from toxicity. This includes: 

  • Setting clear expectations for all team members regarding their accountability,
  • Fostering a culture of trust and respect,
  • Promoting diversity and inclusivity,
  • Creating a safe space for constructive feedback on all levels,
  • Providing equal opportunities for professional development,
  • Encouraging unity and collaboration, and
  • Implementing measures to address and prevent harassment and discrimination.

Having better relationships at work can lead to increase economic gain, less stress for employees, and make the workplace culture more meaningful, as per an article on Dr. Maté’s website.

With that being said, it’s needless to emphasize that leaders cannot manage a happy team without all members actively participating in creating a positive culture and bringing more love into the workplace.

Healthcare

One way to break the cycle of toxicity in healthcare is compassionate inquiry, a method developed by Dr. Maté. It aims to help healthcare professionals understand and address the underlying emotional, psychological, and social factors that contribute to illness and suffering.

This method involves asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions that allow patients to express their feelings and experiences, and then actively listening to and acknowledging their responses.

When people are heard and feel supported, they can see the truth about their programming, suppressing patterns and detrimental behaviors,” he says. They can see why they behave the way they do and make another choice.”

He believes that compassionate inquiry is an essential component of truly patient-centered care, based on a holistic approach to health.

And when it comes to healthcare for women, supporting pregnancy to ensure they are taken care of and feel secure is also a way to heal healthcare from toxic culture, according to Dr. Maté. He elaborates that labor itself is a process of preparing a mother and her child biochemically for bonding and interfering in this process will cause problems later on.

On top of that, 25% of women in the US have to go back to work within two weeks after giving birth. It means that 25% of children are abandoned and traumatized

We bring children into the world who are alien to themselves because of the initial disconnection from their mothers.

— Dr. Gabor Maté, author of The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture

Relationships

In relationships, conscious parenting and mindfulness can help break the cycle of toxicity, according to Dr. Shefali.

Conscious parenting has to do with parenting your inner child. In other words, when you heal yourself, you can raise children with a strong sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

When we can practice healthy communication and boundaries in our own relationships, we can break the cycle of toxicity and create more positive and fulfilling connections with others. 

Dr. Shefali emphasizes the importance of being present and mindful in our relationships, rather than getting caught up in negative patterns of behavior or communication.

Mindvalley team in Kuala Lumpur HQ, celebrating Love Week

Transform Yourself, Transform the World

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We but mirror the world. If we could change ourselves, the world would also change.” Indeed, we can’t control other people and our environment, and we don’t need to. Once you see the outer reality as the reflection of your inner one, you will see what transformation needs to happen within you. 

And by transforming yourself, you will show up in the world differently, contributing to a culture based on growth, unity, and compassion.

The good news is, this transformation is within your reach — by joining Mindvalley, you can:

  • Grow your self-awareness and learn how to parent yourself with Dr. Shefali and her Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest 
  • Rewire your social conditioning and subconscious programs with Marisa Peer and her Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapy for Abundance Quest,
  • Holistically transform your health with Eric Edmedeas with his WILDFIT Quest, 
  • Elevate your leadership and communication skills with Keith Ferrazzi with his Ultimate Leadership Quest, and
  • So much more.

You can sample classes of the quests with Mindvalley’s trainers by unlocking your free access.

And most importantly, you’ll be amongst like-minded people from around the world, who also aspire to make a bigger change in the world.

Welcome in.

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Irina Yugay

Irina Yugay

As a former self-development and self-transcendence writer at Mindvalley, Irina uses words to transpire empowering ideas, transcendental feelings, and omniversal values. She's also an ascension coach who helps her clients grow their spiritual awareness and actualize their true nature. With a deep empirical understanding of the spiritual journey, Irina shares her insights and experiences with the readers to inspire them to transcend their limiting beliefs and achieve higher states of consciousness.
Written by

Irina Yugay

As a former self-development and self-transcendence writer at Mindvalley, Irina uses words to transpire empowering ideas, transcendental feelings, and omniversal values. She's also an ascension coach who helps her clients grow their spiritual awareness and actualize their true nature. With a deep empirical understanding of the spiritual journey, Irina shares her insights and experiences with the readers to inspire them to transcend their limiting beliefs and achieve higher states of consciousness.

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