Managing Toxic People in Our Lives
As I was writing about focus and opportunities, I started thinking about things or people that could get in the way. This brought me to toxic people. I think some people are happy to be unhappy or happy to make us unhappy.
This is the kind of person we call “toxic”. For their own reasons or reasons unknown they might have jealousy or resentment towards us or themselves. Maybe these people see our work towards self-improvement and growth and feel inadequate or angry in exposing what they choose not to do. In their way, they create environments that feed off these feelings and perpetuate them.
I’ve had the unlucky opportunity to work with people like this. Being around people like this can be exhausting and demoralizing. Toxic behaviors fall on a spectrum. On the lighter end, these people can be the constant complainers or see the negative in everything.
They may not be unpleasant all the time but being around them can feel like a drag, someone you might try to avoid if your day isn’t going well. On the heavier end, we find people who try to manipulate situations or environments for the negative.
Our ability to handle toxic people is relative to our relation to them. We might be more flexible with a family member versus a coworker–or maybe not– depending on our experience with them.
What I want to talk about is the kind of toxicity we have to deal with at work, the ones that are hard to get away from and have to endure day after day. Here are some examples of toxic people.
Toxic people seeking control through manipulation. These are the people that feel like they have no control of their lives so they bring these insecurities to work. These insecurities manifest though trying to always get their way regardless if they are wrong.
They have their own goals and work towards them especially when these goals are not aligned with the team. In the end, it’s all about them.
Toxic people will hold you to a different standard than themselves. They will constantly judge your actions and abilities, especially if they were the same as theirs when you find success and they don’t.
They will find excuses to why they didn’t succeed and attribute your success to something other than ability. These people will always play the “victim” of circumstance.
Another aspect from the previous point, they don’t take responsibility for their own feelings or emotions. Their actions are a reflection of their feelings and seek an outlet, you. This lets them act without taking responsibility for their actions because it’ll always be someone else’s fault.
When have you heard a toxic person say they are sorry? Rarely I would bet. Why would they? They didn’t do anything wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. Their actions will be based on a self-serving need to make themselves more important in their own minds.
I think consistency is important inside and outside of work. People know what to expect when dealing with us and we know what to expect from ourselves. Toxic people are inconsistent in their attitudes and behavior.
This makes them unpredictable and a hazard to your goals because their goals can change at any given moment for any reason causing them to act in ways we can’t predict.
Because of their inconsistency and need to be right regardless of the circumstance, this causes us to be on the defensive. From their inconsistency, they change positions on different issues making any consensus or agreement difficult to achieve or maintain.
Since they manipulate situations you may believe you have an agreement until you find them acting contrary to the agreed goals. In the end, it won’t be their fault and we’ll be left defending why we took particular actions.
If any of these things sound like people you work with, then you might have found the toxic person.
Do any of these sound familiar? They might help diagnose toxicity in the people around you, even if the toxic pattern isn’t always or immediately obvious.
In fact, toxicity can easily go unnoticed for years until you stop to consider your own experience of a difficult person. Though our thresholds for toxicity are relative, that’s often because we fail to recognize the symptoms.
So what do we do about toxic people?
Managing the toxic person
Can a person undermine our attempt of self-improvement? I don’t think they can but they can make things harder than they should be. So how do we decrease the influences of toxic people?
We don’t let them put us in a position where we doubt ourselves. Doubt can creep into our thoughts and be reflected in our actions. We might have our own doubts but we should look at our doubts in the context of actions and results instead of being influenced by others.
Doubt can create toxic tendencies such has shifting blame or being overly critical of others.
It may start small and become a negative habit we don’t realize we’re doing until we see people distancing themselves from us, work becomes a miserable place to be, and personal or professional goals are no longer met.
Plus, if it got to you then you can influence others to be this way and the cycle continues as a toxic environment grows.
Toxicity grows in toxicity and can be a self-generating obstacle in our development. This is why it’s important to identify and minimize the influence of toxic people in our lives.
How to minimize toxic people in our lives
It’s not easy, especially at work when our jobs and outcomes depend on navigating around this type of person. Distancing can work if the toxic person isn’t your direct boss.
I had a coworker who was mild on the toxic scale, meaning this person was nice in general but always complained and was negative about almost all aspects of work.
I had to distance myself from this person. Starting gradually I only contacted this person if I needed information, yet I kept a civil relationship with them. If I saw them in a common area I would acknowledge them but wouldn’t stop to talk.
I avoided talking to them in their office because it could be difficult to break the conversation and get away. This worked and kept things from progressing into a bigger problem.
Another way to minimize toxic people is to keep to the facts. I had a supervisor who was higher on the toxic scale and made my time miserable. Avoiding this person wasn’t an option. So I had to keep things brief and just stick to the facts and keep records of all decisions and results.
My goal was to avoid giving longer explanations than necessary so they couldn’t find ways to misrepresent the information I provided. I would provide opinions and information that provided the foundation for my opinions to keep debates at a minimum.
I learned to not fall into arguments or start arguments by setting boundaries in what I would and wouldn’t talk about. If it was something specific to my job then I would keep it simple, if it wasn’t then I would defer them to someone more knowledgeable in that topic.
If I wanted to end a conversation I would answer questions completely but briefly then not say anything else. They would get bored because I wouldn’t provide fuel to their toxicity and I was able to leave the discussion.
How to deal with toxic relatives
If the toxic person in your life isn’t a coworker but a relative or someone in your community then consider distancing as mentioned above. If you can’t create a physical distance then a contact distance. Keeping contact to a minimum can help decrease their toxic influences.
These are the people we can’t or don’t want to completely cut out of our lives but putting some distance between us and them can make life easier for us. We should keep in mind that we don’t owe them pieces of ourselves.
We don’t have to provide explanations or justifications for what we do or don’t do. When we feel their toxic pull we can resist it using this mentality.
If experiences with a toxic relative become a hindrance to our lives then it might be time to cut them out. Relatives can have a unique ability to be toxic in that they have an opportunity to know who we are for a longer amount of time compared to coworkers or friends.
They know what topics to push and how to push us into getting what they want regardless of how it affects us.
Sometimes we think we have obligations to our relatives (excluding young children) because of our relationships. But why? What makes a toxic relative different than a toxic coworker?
I don’t think they have a difference. This is something we should remember when dealing with toxic relatives.
We may have to interact with toxic relatives for any number of reasons. If we get caught in this situation then it would be best for us to separate ourselves on an emotional level. Like dealing with a toxic supervisor, we keep discussions simple and impersonal.
We stick to the facts and don’t provide fuel to their toxicity. We have to remain calm and in control, because our actions can have effects to other non-toxic relatives. They could be the ones targeted next or have to clean up messes from the fights between relatives.
Like the toxic coworkers, distancing ourselves from toxic relatives sends a message to the toxic relative and to ourselves. It’s a message that we won’t have our goals and aspirations derailed by someone who finds joy in being miserable.
Most importantly, cutting toxic people out sends a key message to yourself. You’re saying: “I have value.” You’re prioritizing your happiness over someone else’s dysfunction. Once you recognize how toxic people can erode this basic sense of self-worth, it becomes harder and harder to allow them in your life.
Looking at ourselves
There are a few proactive things we can do to prevent ourselves from becoming toxicity targets.
Controlling our reactions
By controlling our reactions we can control the feedback toxic people receive. When people try to pass the blame on us or put us in a situation that’s beneficial to them and negative to us, it’s up to us to not overreact and feed their toxicity.
These are the people that enjoy being miserable and we don’t want to be miserable with them. Try not to be preoccupied with what they will do and keep a focus on what you have to do.
Trust your instincts
“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou
If something is telling you that something isn’t right, it might not be right. People will show you who they are; sometimes we choose not to believe what we see. If you have a feeling that someone is toxic, they probably are. This makes it easier and faster for us to identify toxic people.
Don’t make toxic behavior become normal
If we have toxic relatives or coworkers then we have the power to not make this a normal occurrence in our lives. We have control over most but not all of our environments. If a toxic person is in our environment and we have the power to remove them from it, then this is the right thing to do. Letting toxic people in our environments is like letting a pest get into our homes. Once a pest gets in, it’s hard to get them out.
Don’t be a target
Toxic people feed off people that fall for their manipulations. We should look at ourselves to see if we have traits that make us targets of manipulations.
These traits can be obvious unhappiness, a lack of confidence, insecurities displayed in our actions, or a lack of self-confidence. These traits feed off negativity and can be attractive to people who enjoy being negative.
Dealing with toxic people is a challenge but not impossible. When we interact with toxic people it’s good to know our role in the situation, to be an active participant and not passive.
We have tools that enable us to identify the manipulators, hypocrites, narcissist, and mercurial toxic people. We have the skill to control or manage situations including avoiding and distancing ourselves as necessary.
Now that we know how to spot and react to toxic people, let me know your experiences dealing with them and how you plan to change your role in the situation.