Dealing with toxic people is never easy, especially when it can be a close relationship, family member or colleague. I seem to have been blessed with many in my time; I say blessed as without the challenges I have faced with these difficult relationships I would not have reached the self-awareness I now have of my own short comings and the realisation that I used to be a toxic person myself!
Lets start with what is a toxic person. We know that being around toxic people has a negative impact on us, and often in subtle ways that we don’t even realise, but what defines a toxic person? I actually don’t think that the person is toxic but more their behaviour is toxic to you and/or their relationship with you. And they may not be toxic to everyone depending on where others are in their spiritual journey. More often than not the person is either deeply wounded and/or struggles with a lack of self-worth. It is important to realise that their behaviour is not about you but about their own internal demons that they have yet to form an awareness of and may never. And I would hazard a guess that most people don’t even realise that their behaviour is toxic due to this lack of self-awareness.
Typical behaviour can include:
- Creating drama in their lives or be surrounded by it (this was me!)
- Trying to manipulate or control others (making you feel guilty)
- Being needy (constantly needing contact with you)
- Talking about themselves endlessly (its all about them all of the time)
- Use others to meet their needs (only contacting you when it suits them or they want something)
- Overly and openly critical and judgemental of you and others (talks about others behind their backs constantly)
- Bemoaning their bad luck (which they consistently attract)
- Moody (one minute nice & cheerful the next minute sullen & rude) (me again!)
They are also usually in poor health and/or get sick often as a negative approach to life does not align with premium health and negativity generally manifests physically.
It is important to realise that you play a role in toxic interactions. Your reaction can either fuel or diffuse the toxicity; if you are self-aware and prepared to take on the challenge you may just be able to either change the behaviour and/or provide support to guide them to a better place in life. Note I said change the behaviour, actually changing someone is near impossible all you can do is change your reaction to their behaviour. You only have control of you!
It is important to recognise the signs, if you cant define the affect it is having on you it is difficult to do anything about it. Here are is a list of signals you may have a toxic relationship in your life:
- You find yourself emotionally affected and/or getting involved with their drama
- You dread or even fear being around them
- You are exhausted or feel angry while with them or after the interaction
- You feel bad or ashamed about yourself ie. it is affecting your own self worth
- You are stuck in a cycle of trying to rescue, fix or care for them
- When you are with them you feel like you are walking on eggshells
- You lash out because you feel misunderstood or not listened to and arguments go round in circles
- You withdraw and find yourself hiding your true self to either please and/or keep the peace. (I have spent my whole life doing this one!)
So what can you do about it? I have to confess there is no easy way and I seem to take a different approach depending on the behaviour and relationship. Here are my top 12 strategies for dealing with toxic relationships;
- Set Boundaries. You can’t please everyone in this life and toxic people will have you believing that you can’t please anyone so you end up trying harder, compromising more, working harder to keep the peace; it’s exhausting! Take the time to clarify exactly what you will and won’t tolerate and why. Listen to that voice inside of you that tells you when something is not right, it is rarely wrong. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of what is right and wrong; trust yourself and own it! Now you are prepared in advance of what you will and won’t tolerate.
- You don’t need to explain. No is a complete sentence and can be a very powerful response on its own. You don’t need to justify yourself, make excuses or try and explain yourself to someone who is committed to misunderstanding you. As soon as you go into explanations you are opening yourself up to an argument. Say no and be done with the conversation.
- Self-Control. This comes with self-awareness. You really don’t have to participate in every argument you are invited to. You don’t have to react to every feeling or emotion you have. I call this emotional maturity! Creating conflict is often the only way toxic people know how to connect; it makes them feel noticed and important. Learn self-control, practice tip one and two and save your energy for the people that matter.
- Practice self-compassion. Often after or during an interaction we feel bad; irritated or angry, depressed or drained, ashamed or unhappy which in turn raises cortisol which is not good for our health. As an introvert, I need time alone to regain my strength, to detox from the situation and acknowledge my feelings but digging deep to not react to these feelings! Try creating a feeling of love and happiness towards yourself, pat your pet, read an inspirational book or passage, go for a walk, meditate, practice deep breathing, exercise.
- Practice empathy. Be understanding, respectful and compassionate. Realise that their behavior is caused by internal suffering and have empathy for their difficulty. You can reject their behavior and requests in a respectful manner without the smart ass comments! Try and find something positive about the person (there is always something!) and focus on that. Make a list of their positive attributes. Focusing on, dwelling on and talking with others about their negative attributes is not going to help the situation and does not show compassion. (and actually makes you become a little toxic by constantly complaining about them!) Now that I can see how I projected my inner struggles on to others I see nothing but compassion for those who behave this way.
- Don’t RSVP to the Pity Party. Toxic people are masters at creating drama and then they wonder why they are always in a crisis. When you get the call for the latest drama don’t ask questions, remain unemotional, indifferent and don’t offer help. I know this can feel bad but remember you are not dealing with a real crisis, in fact you are not dealing with a normal person…
- Have an honest chat. If you can reach a place of compassion for the other person (which may take a while!), talk to them. I can appreciate this can be difficult when they are not being compassionate or peaceful towards you but be the better person. Rise above the situation. Try connecting with them, share hard times that you have been through and how you dealt with it. Ask them if they are ok? You might just get them to open up about their struggles. Or try asking them what it is they are passionate about in life, what is their favourite hobby; find something positive in their life and change the subject to that. Or maybe you could try explaining how their behaviour makes you feel in a non-accusing way; avoiding an argument at all costs!
- Model the behavior you want to see. Behaving badly just because someone else is behaving badly towards you is hypocritical! Don’t lower yourself to their negative level; again, be the better person, rise above the situation. Reacting negatively only adds fuel to the fire and feeds the toxicity encouraging more. Be an example of how to deal with frustration; calmly and peacefully! Remain positive in all interactions; present a positive solution to all complaints in a calm manner. Misery loves company and if you drown them with positivity it will send them for a loop! Negative people don’t take well to the conversation being abruptly changed to something positive. Put a positive spin on every remark and the next time they are looking for someone to dump their negative energy on they will bypass you!
- Limit one on one time. If you must see this person ensure it is in a group setting. This way you are not the only one on the receiving end of the negativity and there are others to help you absorb the negative comments. Also means you may have to avoid actually speaking to them at all!
- Surround yourself with positive people. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Whether we like it or not we are heavily influenced by those we allow into our space. We seem to be very selective about our partner in life and don’t use the same strict criteria for friends, family or work colleagues. Once you are friends with someone doesn’t mean you have to be for life. If you think you need to find new friends find a new hobby, be open to new friendships, try the website “Meet Up”. In a work situation my new philosophy is don’t pick the company or even the job, pick the boss and your team! If it is a family member why does blood mean you have to stay connected? It is very, very sad to realise that your family may be having a negative impact on you but it is not uncommon!
- Forgive. Yes; forgive them! Forgiveness is not about the other person, it is about your own inner peace. Forgiveness does not mean accepting or approving of the behavior, it simple means you let go of trying to control their behavior and its control over you. Forgiveness is about self-love and inner strength.
- Get out the scissors! Cutting people out of your life is harsh but sometimes you need to put your own well-being first. And it doesn’t have to be a ceremonious execution (although sometimes this is warranted!) Just stop initiating contact and be so busy with all your own life and goal achieving activities that they just naturally fall away. Life is constantly moving and changing, not everyone is meant to be in your life until the end. I have pretended to be someone I am not all my life largely due to the people around me; I have fought a long and lonely road to gain my self-respect and I now I have no problems protecting it at all costs. Selfish? Damn right! You get one shot at life why waste your time on people and situations that are dragging you down!
You deserve to be happy! You deserve to be surrounded by people who lift you up and allow you to be the best version of you possible. Who support and encourage you, who propel you towards your goals in life who accept you just the way you are and who you can be yourself around. Never settle for less!
“You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely.”