After a long day, I went to LinkedIn to look at my notifications. I read a few comments and replied to them. After a few minutes, I noticed that I felt exhausted and drained. From what? Responding to a few comments? I removed myself from the conversation. Then I realized that I have not shared tips how to deal with toxic people with you in at least two years.
Back in 1964, a court had to decide if the love-scene in a movie is pornography. The judge came to the following conclusion:
"I know pornography when I see it."
It's the same with toxic people. They are difficult to describe; they appear in too many shades and forms. But you recognize soon if you're dealing with an abusive person.
Below you find practical tips that help you deal with situations that are stressful and exhausting. But first let me ask:
Is there such a thing as a toxic person?
Is it judgemental, overly simplifying and morally acceptable to describe someone as toxic?
And isn't everyone the product of his circumstances, upbringing, culture and social environment? Should we hold people responsible for the way they make us feel and their actions? Doesn't every person deserve our respect and love?
Here is my take on this: Yes and no. Yes, we should respect and love everyone and try to help as many people as we can. And: No. Self-preservation is our responsibility. It's ok to call a bread a bread. If someone acts immoral, destructive, anti-social or harmful, we should be able to describe how that makes us feel.
Luckily, there are few people who are toxic. How can you tell if you met one?
What is a toxic person like?
I'm not able to describe that. I'd have to go with the judge: "You know one if you meet one." It's easier to describe how a toxic person makes you feel.
You might feel stained, drained, abused, exhausted as if someone sucked the energy out of you. Betrayed or taken advantage of. Yes, as if you have been exposed to toxins.
We all show behavior listed in the video. The difference is if we display the behavior occasionally or if it's our "normal."
Nice people can turn toxic too when they experience a traumatic situation. For instance, if they get dumped, fired or if a loved one dies.
Why is it so hard to avoid toxic people?
We already spoke about one problem. They are not always easy to detect. You can make someone feel horrible with kind (manipulative) words. "I'm sure you forgot to do this or that for me even though you know how much pain that causes me."
Sure, as soon as you realize that you are dealing with a toxic person, you can avoid them and remove them from your life.
Now let's talk about the real reason many people cannot distance themselves from toxic people.
It takes a healthy amount of self-confidence
If you have a low feeling of self-worth or are not self-confident, it will be hard for to get away from the toxicity.
Abusive people masterfully manipulate you into believing YOU are the problem and play your insecurities.
Toxic people you cannot avoid
Sometimes, removing toxic people is difficult or even impossible. It might be your boss, your mother-in-law or someone it's hard to get away from in the short term.
In that case: Don't take it personal.
I know, that's easier said than done. Try to keep your cool. Toxic people feed on your emotions and emotional reactions. They are like energy vampires that suck you dry if you allow it.
When someone attacks us, we often feel the need for revenge. But that will just escalate the situation to a real problem. It's one reason so many people end up in court.
Toxic people often fire with the big guns. The ammunition is emotion.
They might insult you, hurt you, wrongly accuse you... they are often masters of emotional blackmail.
It's not always someone you have a relationship with. Especially in the online world, they chose their hosts seemingly randomly - don't blame yourself. It's difficult, but try to relax and let it go unless it harms your relationships or business and you need to act. If you analyze what's being said, it's easier to distance yourself from the things that have only been said to hurt you.
It might feel unfair - but the sooner you starve them, the sooner will they switch their "host."
It's important to speak clearly and factually with toxic people. Leave your interpretations and emotions out. Tell the toxic person where you draw the line and what the consequences are if they cross it again.
Whatever emotions you feel, stick to just the facts and consequences.
Don't assume the toxic person want's a resolution
Don't think just because you like peace and harmony, the toxic person feel the same way.
Toxic people are often looking for fights and conflicts. If you assume that they are interesting in solving the problem, you are most often wrong and your misjudgement will make you act wrong.
Don't try to change the toxic person
It's a waste of your energy. The natural reaction is to think if only they understood how much they hurt you, they would change their behavior.
But they won't. They are not open to listen and don't care about your point of view or how they make you feel.
Don't even try to understand toxic people
Did they have a difficult childhood? Perhaps something bad happened to them? Before you know you'll make excuses for them. They are hurting you. They are attacking you. They ABUSE you.
I had a difficult childhood and an abusive father. So did many of my friends, acquaintances and clients. But they don't go around and hurt other people.
If you are a kind person, the mindset of a toxic person is too different from yours for you to understand. "Why is he doing this?" - questions like this only increase your suffering. And even if you found an explanation (I am not saying you will).... what difference does it make?
Perhaps they are just bored and want to distract themselves from their own misery.
Preserve your energy for protecting yourself.
Act, don't react
The nasty and frustrating part of it is that stalkers and toxic people can indeed force us to waste brain energy on them.
Often we just react. He does this; I call the police. He calls his lawyer; I call my lawyer.
We become very predictable when we're in the state of reacting. But that's the playground of manipulative people and a game we cannot win. They are better at that. It's who they are.
Try to become pro-active. And keep focusing your energy on removing yourself from the toxic person.
I know it's frustrating that you're forced to think about questions like
- what will he do next?
- how does he expect me to react?
- which reaction is most helpful for my goal of removing the toxic person from my life
Keep your cool. You'll find mindfulness and meditation exercises on this site.
Whatever you do: Don't get emotional. Don't feed it.
Dealing with toxic people is horrible. It's exhausting, frustrating, feels highly unfair and often there seems no end in sight.
You might get furious if you lose health, money, friends, sleep and whatever other negative consequences abuse has.
As I mentioned before, toxic people are superb at gas-lighting. You might wonder if YOU are the problem. If it's you who's at fault and not your attacker.
Seek the advice of "good" people. They can help to get you back in the zone of rationality and give you honest feedback on whether you are or are not "the problem."
If it's a fight that involves people (like children) or possessions, seek professional help as soon as possible. If you wait for too long, you might not be able to afford it anymore or be a mental wrack.
Also make sure you keep track and diary of anything that can serve as evidence if need be.
When dealing with toxic people, seek as much support as you can get and surround yourself with as many positive people as you can find.
Keep your guilt in check
You might feel sorry for the abusive person. Rightfully so as they are living a miserable live. And perhaps something bad happened to them.
It speaks for you if you are a kind, compassionate person. But you cannot afford this right now.
It's terrible to be a prisoner of your own negativity and the need to destruct. Toxic people are great at making excuses and explaining the unexplainable.
If you feel guilty for executing your right to self-preservation, you'll be wax in the hands of the abusive person. A toxic person will recognize that as weakness and take advantage.
Solve the problem first and remove the toxic person. You can feel sorry for them later.
To sum things up
- Find as much support as you can. Involve authorities at the earliest possible point in time
- Try to become pro-active
- Don't try to understand the abuser. Understand that even if you would, it would not change the negative impact of his actions or justify hurting you
- Don't explain yourself to the toxic person. He doesn't care. Accept it
- Don't feel sorry for the abuser (yet.) They will use every trick in the book to make you feel sorry for them, afraid of them, lie to you, make up rumors - whatever seems to work
- Don't try to change them. You cannot change people who do not listen with an open mind
- Try not to take it personal. It's important to reflect on negative feedback and see if you can learn and grow, but that does not apply to abusers because
- They will try to manipulate you into believing you are the problem. Don't believe that. Ask people who care about you if you are looking for truthful feedback
- Keep your calm and stay rational
- Set clear boundaries and lay out the consequences if the abuser oversteps them again