For most of us, having to deal with at least one toxic person during our lifetime is a given. They could include family members, members of our church, classmates, coworkers, and our neighbours. The snarky check out clerk we seem to run into every time we’re at our favourite store, whose negative attitude greatly diminishes our shopping experience may also be viewed as toxic. Let’s look at some of the adjectives I’ve heard used to describe these folks:
|Abusive||Vitriolic||Black and White Thinkers|
|Glass Half Empty Mentality||Play the Victim||Complainers|
|Irresponsible||Possessive and Obsessive||High-Maintenance|
|Self-Important||What’s in it for ME! ME! ME!||Negative attitude|
And the list goes on.
And face it, we all may exhibit some of these types of behaviours during our lifetime. But unlike toxic people, our friends probably don’t use those adjectives when they describe us. I for one, have experienced days when I’m not willing to take responsibility for my actions and have chosen to blame someone else instead, or have felt and acted like the glass is half empty instead of being half full. And some of my friends may have wondered what is going on with me when I seem to be unpredictable, and not my usual and normal self. It doesn’t take long for me to get out of that negative place I’m in and back to normal. I may have to make amends and do some explaining but at least then I’ve set myself right and I can live with some form of dignity, self respect and integrity. And not lose my friends!
I recently posted a question on my Facebook page about toxic people and I received a larger response than I initially expected. Some of my friends even in-boxed me with their personal stories about encountering toxic people and I shared some of mine.
So, since we were in consensus (at least my friends and I) that there seems to be no shortage of toxic people, the question then arose: What do we do about it?
And I’ve come to realize, that if someone is exhibiting baffling behaviour then it’s probably more about them than it is about me. They may be reacting to something they experienced a long time ago, that caused a lot of trauma. It could be that they have family of origin issues that they haven’t addressed and examined, and therefore haven’t made the decision to do things differently. They could be in the throes of an addiction and are acting out or in the midst of a black-out. Or they could be in complete denial mode, in which case, the situation may be hopeless.
Some of these behaviours may include, angry outbursts, yelling and screaming, crying in order to get their own way, or pitching a temper tantrum that could rival that of a two-year-old. Or they may keep changing their story instead of taking responsibility for their part in a disagreement, while pointing fingers at the other person. This is also called, “Crazy-making” and toxic people seem to have this down to an art form.
There is some question as to whether what causes them to become known as toxic, is a mental health issue or behavioural one but I leave that for the experts to figure out. For now, let’s just focus on what we can do in order to feel safe when dealing with them.
Remember: You’re not losing your mind, and you don’t have to subject yourself to this kind of behaviour. Period.
I once took a course about Conflict and how to deal with it in an effective manner. One of the lessons that left an impression on me was that you don’t always have to “catch the ball.” This means that you can choose to pick your battles, walk away from someone who is exhibiting toxic and baffling behaviour and go on with your day. It doesn’t mean that you’re a wimp, or afraid of conflict or shirking your responsibilities. You just refuse to deal with someone who appears to have “lost it.” And, because it’s a losing battle that could go on and on, it is your right as a human being to be able to respect and protect yourself.
Another thing I’ve learned is that these people probably haven’t learned how to fight fair, and are easily offended by even the smallest things. That’s NOT your problem. It is theirs and they’re the ones who need to step up to the plate and deal with it. Unfortunately, many of them don’t and because others have caved and given into them, or they’ve watched other toxic family members such as parents act out in similar ways in order to get what they’ve demanded, they feel that’s what they can get away with too. Regrettably, it can cause them a lot of grief and upset when they enter the real world and discover that not everyone agrees with, or follows that same approach. After all, not everyone has been raised in a very dysfunctional and toxic family with unhealthy or virtually no boundaries in place.
I’ve also learned that I have to deal with my encounters with these toxic people, on an internal level as well in order to take care of and protect myself. In the past I had the tendency to be an “emotional sponge” and take on whatever emotional crap and abuse people threw at me. My way of dealing with all of these negative and hurtful emotions was to go to the nearest liquor store and drown my sorrows in many bottles of wine. Not any more.
First, I utilize the 12 Steps and do a Step Four around the person. That helps me to release any resentments I have towards them and deal with how it has affected, for example, my feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. My goal with all of this is to get back to an even keel. And I definitely do not want the toxic person who I’ve had the “encounter” with to have any sort of power or control over me. I need to be strong for myself, and those people in my life who are my lifeline and dependent upon me as well.
I also journal about it, and I use a wonderful tool called the Sedona Method which helps me to release negative emotions and increase positive emotions such as courageousness, acceptance and peace. I may call a trusted friend and tell them about my experience. Sometimes, hearing their similar stories will help me to move forward when I know I’m not the only one who has also had a “toxic encounter.”
Then I physically “shake off” any residue that I may feel. It helps to shake my arms and hands, and imagine all the gunk and crap that I felt I was blasted with while dealing with a particular toxic individual, slide off me into an imaginary gutter where it belongs.
I’ve also learned that I don’t have to have a relationship with these people. Even if they’re family members, I can choose not to socialize with them or have any contact with them. I can block their phone numbers, block them on Social Media and choose not to contact them period. If I happen to be in the same vicinity as they are, I won’t go out of my way to engage them in any kind of conversation even if it’s during a family gathering or networking function. I don’t want to give them the opportunity to worm their way back into my life after I’ve let them go.
Remember that like bullies, toxic people are cowards who would rather act out and point fingers at others instead of looking into the proverbial mirror to see what they need to change about themselves. They don’t understand the phrase: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.” They feel that they can get away with these behaviours until they wake up one day and wonder why they’re all alone. Trust me. I’ve seen it happen. People will soon figure them out and decide that they want nothing to do with them anymore.
I also strive to take the higher road. This means I don’t resort to blaming and shaming them back during a confrontation (if I choose to catch the ball instead of letting it fall). Instead, I choose to craft my responses with “I” statements as in, “I feel…” and state my point, or, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Then I remove myself from the situation.
Remember: There’s no winning or losing when confronted with another person’s baffling behaviour. Hoping the next time (remembering the definition of insanity) will produce a different outcome, could be futile. It’s not your job to try to figure them out and constantly appease their demands that benefit only themselves, and no one else.
Also, I don’t advise engaging in malicious gossip about the toxic person in your life as it may get back to them, and you don’t want them confronting you about it. It will only create more chaos and negativity in your life, and is that really what you want or need? If you need to share what has happened to you with another person such as a trusted friend, pastor or therapist, give them the facts about the encounter or situation as you experienced it, and how you are feeling about it. Then work out the rest in positive way that benefits yourself and helps you to recover from it.
Finally, I repeat the serenity prayer:
God Grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change
The Courage to change the things I can
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
You can’t force these people to change but you can have the courage to change how you respond to them, as well as to know the difference between the two.
I’ve included a couple of links I found useful when delving into the world of “Toxic People” and what makes them tick.
To learn more about the Twelve Steps:
And the Sedona Method:
Kimberley Langford resides in High River, Alberta, Canada. She is a published author whose works include, “The Evolving Woman Series…Daily Reflections,” © 2004 which is sold on Amazon.ca as a Kindle Book. Her next book in the Evolving Woman series titled, “The Evolving Woman Series Daily Reflections… ‘What Lies Beneath The Mask’” ©2018 will be published in the new year. She is currently writing a book called, “Lessons Learned From Being Run Over By A Bus!” She can be contacted on her Facebook Page, “Fans of Kimberley Langford, Author.”