Dealing With Toxic People – Plan A and B
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Remove toxic people from your life?
It’s easy, right? If you spot a toxic person, you avoid them. That is Plan A. If only it were that easy …
How can we tell a negative person from a destructive one? And what if they are our employees, family members, bosses or even our spouses?
Why emotional intelligence helps dealing with toxic people
Do toxic people exist?
First, I would like to answer an ethical/philosophical question. Is it allowed to define other people as toxic? Or is it too simplified?
Is it compatible with a mindful way of life? Is not every one of us a product of his upbringing and his circumstances?
And doesn’t a toxic person deserve respect even though he makes life difficult for others?
My answer: We have to call a duck a duck.
And if someone acts immoral, destructive or antisocial, I may call it by its name. I will go even further: I feel I may say someone who acts chronically destructive is poison.
Luckily toxic people are rare. We must not mistake just any negative person for a poisonous one.
What is a toxic person?
When you were in contact with a toxic person you are left with a bad feeling in your stomach. You might not be able pinpoint what causes your uneasiness.
But you know instinctively that the contact did not do you good.
Toxic. As if you were exposed to poison.
Some typical behavior patterns of toxic people:
- They start a fight where a constructive conversation would suffice.
- Often they have a learning resistance. They do not want to understand your point of view and don’t consider changing theirs.
- They do not have a strong sense of “wrong” and “right”. They are right and everyone else is wrong.
- Overstepping boundaries is another characteristic. They do things they are not entitled to and don’t respect limits.
- They have concrete expectations but do not put them in words. If you fail to deliver, you will get punished. Example: Your boss tells you: “Build a nice house” (he expects it has a cellar and is painted in green.)
- Toxic people are great at emotional blackmailing and guilt tripping you.
- To get what they want, they lie. They might leave information out, start rumors or straight lie.
- Manipulation is another feature often seen in toxic people. They’ll tell you what you want to hear to get you on their team or achieve their goals.
- Often they are jealous, envious and full of other negative feelings (always self-reflective)
- They show no empathy or consideration for your needs and well-being.
As I said earlier toxic people are very rare. Occasionally we might exhibit negative behavior ourselves. We are not perfect and we have weak moments. We make mistakes. That doesn’t make us toxic.
A toxic person acts like listed above most of the time. The behavioral pattern is the norm, not an exception. That is how you can tell a toxic person.
Sometimes “normal” people temporarily turn into toxic people, when they are under severe emotional pressure. For instance, when their partner leaves them, they get fired or someone they love dies.
How to deal with toxic people
First, we have to understand that a person we are dealing with is destructive. That implies that we have a healthy amount of self-esteem and awareness.
Toxic people are great at making you feel as if you are the problem – and not them. Most times, it takes people long to even realize they are being manipulated.
Often, people suffer for years at a workplace with a toxic boss or in a marriage with a destructive person until they understand. Some severe forms of toxic people, i.e. psychopath, are masters at hiding their true colors.
Earlier this week I worked with a CEO who had a toxic employee. Destructive people are not limited to certain roles.
Don’t take it personally
That is the most demanding and most important tip. How on earth do you not take it personally when someone spreads poison over you?
That is hard. Very hard. But it is the way to go.
The more personal you take it the more emotional you will react. A toxic person often feeds on your emotional reactions.
Energy thieves that suck you dry and leave you empty.
Don’t let that happen to you.
There is a second reason why you should not take this toxic attack personally: if we feel attacked we want revenge. Attack – counterattack – more aggressive attack – more aggressive …. you get the picture.
Keep telling yourself: “This is not about me, my personality, my person or my words.The other person wants to take it to a personal level but I will not allow this because it only weakens me.”
Protect yourself mentally
Toxic people often use the big guns. Their ammunition is pure emotion.
- They insult you on a personal level
- They stalk you
- They do hurtful and harmful things
- They accuse you
- They invade your privacy and ignore boundaries
Emotional intelligence helps to process these attacks systematically. Mindfulness
is another powerful defense supporting you in gaining back control over your mind.
Talking to others can be a source of support. It is not as helpful as getting professional help and there is a risk that the topic will soon go on the other one’s nerves.
Things you can ask yourself to process emotional attacks:
- What has been said/done with the sole intention of hurting me?
- How much importance do I want to give a person who obviously just wants to harm me?
- Which parts of what has been said are true?
- Which conclusions/accusations do I deem valid?
Emotionally intelligent people would know the most important factor: “What is someone’s motivation and agenda?“
Questions like these help you to differentiate between poison and reality. They also help you to decide if you are dealing with a toxic person. Keep in mind: Not every negative person is a toxic person.
Toxic people cross borders, invade your privacy and act encroaching.
They do things they shouldn’t do. They don’t do things they should do.
What you can do is verbalize a factual and clear statement. Your statement should outline the consequences of ignoring it.
Stipulations should be clear and precise. Try to focus on the facts only. No emotions. No conclusions.
Focus only on your own goals
A toxic person can entrap you in his web of blackmail, lies, allegations, self-pity, etc in no time.
That can make it hard to keep a level head. Often we resort to putting ourselves on the same level as the toxic person. We fight back in the same emotional way. At least we try.
On the playfield of the toxic person, we are hopelessly inferior.
The poison dwarf (I hope that translates from German) just has more routine.
A simple question can help to redirect your thoughts in the right direction:
“What do I want to achieve in this relationship realistically?”
Emphasis on realistically.
Your realistic goal could be to seek the help of a coach. Or to find a new job in the next six months.
Sometimes, for instance, if the toxic person is your sick Grandfather who has only two months left to live, the only realistic goal is to protect yourself mentally and physically.
You should always set a goal for yourself when you’re dealing with toxic people.
Important is that you set a realistic goal.
Keep your compassion in check
It speaks for you if you are a compassionate, empathetic person. Your good character can become a trap when you’re dealing with a toxic person because they will try to take advantage of it.
They will make it sound as if their negative behavior is your fault and you’re the one to blame.
They will offer explanations and excuses for why they are who they are. You might feel bad for them.
And they deserve our pity. It must be horrible to be trapped in your own destructiveness and negativity.
You will be a helpless victim in the hands of a toxic person if you develop a guilty conscience for looking after yourself or setting boundaries.
Feel bad for the toxic person if you like. But stick to your goal.
Whatever causes the person to become destructive might be sad but your well-being comes first.
Being exposed to someone toxic is exhausting, energy-sapping and upsetting. It can damage your self-esteem and well-being.
Consider hiring someone who can help you through it.
People who deal with toxic people on their own often start to doubt themselves at some point. Friends might listen and comfort you but could provide unhelpful advice due to a lack of experience with this kind of situation.
Don’t assume the toxic person wants peace
Positive peaceful people assume that others feel just like them. That everyone wants to get along. But that isn’t true. Toxic people are looking for conflict, emotion, intrigue.
A high EQ helps you to understand the agenda and motivation of someone. Misjudging someone’s motivation can lead to clumsy and unhelpful actions.
Toxic people are not looking for peace. They are not looking for harmony. They want war. Whatever they might tell you.
For them, it is not exhausting, troubling and hurtful like it is for you. For them, it is a distraction from having to be alone with themselves.
Don’t try to convince poison
“Oh, if only he would understand that he’s making life difficult for others. If I could just make him understand my perspective.”
Well, you can’t. Accept it.
Toxic people are not interested in learning about your perspective. Some might pretend to be to keep the energy theft and parasitic relationship going.
Don’t try to convince them. They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want that there is truth in what you are saying. Because then they would have to question themselves. And that is not what they want to do.
Again: set limits, set a goal, protect your soul. Get support.
Don’t try to understand the toxic person
When someone acts toxic and destructive, our first reaction is perplexity. We ask ourselves: “Why are they doing that?”
Difficult childhood? Mental disorder? Never got chances?
It doesn’t matter. The only time when this matters is if you are their psychotherapist. The human mind is a complex matter and you will not understand why they act the way they do.
You are just wasting energy that you should invest in the three important points:
- What is my realistic goal in this situation?
- How can I protect myself mentally?
- What are my limits and how can I protect them?
Act, don’t just react
You often end up in an exchange of blows when dealing with destructive people.
He does that. I retaliate. He attacks again. Now I will show him what wood I am made of!
That can soon spiral out of control. Just look at the silly number off sensible people who end up in court after fighting their neighbors for years.
People will often act upon the actions of their “enemy”. They start to react which makes them calculable.
And that is the playfield of manipulative people. Toxic people are way better at the game of action and reaction than you.
They are not afraid of conflict stress and pressure. On the contrary, this is why they are playing this game.
Once more: emotional intelligence is the key. Stay in control of your emotions and actions. Focused on your goal.
Some questions you can ask yourself to not become the play ball of the destructive person:
- Which reaction do they expect from me?
- What will happen if I don’t react?
- How can I break free from the spiral?
- What was my goal again and which reaction supports it best?
Act. Don’t react.
Take a deep breath. Turn on your intelligence. Look at the situation from a distance.
To sum things up
- Don’t take it personally
- Protect yourself mentally
- Set clear borders
- Set goals and stay focused
- Let no one guilt trip you
- Get support
- Don’t assume the other one is looking for peace and harmony
- Don’t try to convince toxic people
- Don’t try to understand toxic people
- Act, don’t react
Is that easier written than done? It certainly is.
The higher your EQ the easier to deal with situations like this – and any other situation.
Mindfulness training will help with stress-management and make sure you don’t focus on the negative situation more than necessary.
1. Emotional Intelligence Training