By Monique Kowitz
We’ve all encountered them, be it the boss who bullies and demeans you, the colleague who revels in making you look bad, the difficult neighbour, the family member who brings drama every time you see or speak them, or the best friend who constantly flakes on you. What all these people have in common is toxicity. They exude negativity – either consciously or unconsciously – and do nothing to enhance your life. In fact, they do the opposite – they create unnecessary complexity, conflict and, worst of all, stress.
Nevertheless, toxic people are often subtle in their ways and not easy to pick, often leading you to question your tendency to “overreact”, “misinterpret” or “be overly sensitive”. It is in our culture to give people the benefit of the doubt and foster friendships with everyone, but it is not mandatory to do so. In truth, you are doing yourself a disservice by subjecting yourself someone else’s toxicity. If you find yourself continually being hurt or constantly adjusting your behaviour to avoid being hurt, then, chances are, you’ve met a toxic person, and it’s time to take a stand.
But how do you deal with a toxic person?
Firstly, you need to rise above them. It is tempting to respond to toxic people emotionally through arguing and fighting, but it is important to remember that just because someone is being rude or deceitful, it does not give you the right to be. In order to avoid this, it is important to be aware and in control of your emotions, and to sometimes just let things go when someone is clearly trying to get you riled up.
Secondly, establish boundaries. This can be difficult for multiple reasons. If the toxic person is a best friend or partner, removing them from your life can be an emotionally arduous task. You can choose to make a clean break, like any old breakup, or consider creating distance instead by spending your time with other friends and doing activities you enjoy. If the toxic person is someone you work or live with, then removing them isn’t exactly an option. This is where establishing boundaries comes in. Decide when and where you will engage with the toxic person, and you can control most of the chaos. For example, you may be working closely with someone in a team, but you can decide not to have the same level of one-on-one interaction with them as you do with your other team members.
Thirdly, avoid indulging in people who complain or are self-pitying. We are often pressured to listen to complainers because we don’t want to be seen as rude or callous, but negativity is contagious. Spending hours listening to a toxic person moan about their problems will only make you feel depressed, and nothing you say will manage to cheer them up. A strategy to avoid this situation is to ask them how they intend to fix the problem which will either quash their complaining or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.
Fourthly, avoid negative self-talk. There is nothing wrong with feeling down about how someone is treating you, but negative self-talk can intensify the situation and cause you to absorb the toxic person’s negativity, sending you into a downward spiral of shame, self-doubt and – shockingly – toxicity. Thus, it is important to avoid negative self-talk as much as possible.
Finally, use your support system. It can be tempting to try to handle a toxic person on your own, but you need to recognise the weaknesses in your approach. Having someone else provide their insight and perspective may lead to a better solution as they are not emotionally invested in the situation. Furthermore, it is important to have a strong support network of loyal and trustworthy (and non-toxic) people to reassure you and counteract the negativity and anguish brought on by toxic people.