Many of us have experienced working at toxic workplaces or having to deal with toxic people. Many times, this includes our closest family members. While it’s easier to disconnect and minimize contact with a relative or stranger, it’s much more difficult when the toxic person is your boss or your partner. However, don’t despair. There are some strategies that work to minimize emotional upset caused by having to deal with toxic people on a daily basis.
In one of my previous articles (5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People), I discussed strategies for dealing with certain types of difficult people, such as dictators and “the know it all’s.” In this article, I am focusing on people who can be also known as verbally abusive or “energy vampires.”
Throughout my career and personal life, I have had to deal with toxic people. This started with my own family, and especially my mom, who was verbally, physically, and emotionally abusive. When you are a child and this occurs, you feel powerless as your life depends on your parents, and therefore, many times you are not able to express your true feelings, such as anger. Instead, one develops defense mechanisms just to survive. My way of surviving a toxic upbringing was to spend many hours in my room journaling, listening to music, spending time with my friends, and dating a lot because I never felt loved or secure for that matter.
This also made me fearful of those in authority and I became a people pleaser out of fear of being rejected. I put up with abusive bosses out of fear of losing a job, and as a result, developed chronic anxiety and gastrointestinal issues. The final wake-up call was in the Fall of 2012 after a scary episode of being diagnosed with acute gastritis after working at yet another toxic workplace. I decided it was time for a change and began to work for myself full time. It felt like jumping from a plane without a parachute as I had no savings or a plan, but I just knew I would get seriously ill if I didn’t take care of myself. Luckily my fiancé was there for me to make this important decision and he continues to support me.
The journey towards self-love and assertiveness was long and often times painful, but it was well worth it. Today, I am able to share this with my clients and help them create healthier boundaries with others.
Recently, I came across a powerful article on this topic in Psychology Today titled, “Poison People,” by Katherine Schreiber.
She suggests 4 major strategies to handling toxic people:
Control Your Exposure
If nothing else, try to minimize your contact. Limit the time you spend together if it’s a family member and maybe even schedule an event so that you don’t have to overstay. If the person is your boss, only spend time as needed, and if you can, ask to be transferred to a different department.
Manage Your Reactivity
We cannot change others, however, we can change how we react. Learn meditation and stress relief techniques. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to do some deep breathing. You may need to tell the person you will be happy to talk to them when they are calmer.
There is no use in trying to explain yourself as the other person is the one who is refusing to listen. Simply say that you are busy at the moment, without explanation.
Get to know people first before making any major decisions. Also pay attention to non-verbal cues and body language.
The goal at work is to get away from toxic people, but in our personal lives, we are more prone to invite them in. This is because many times they have appealing traits such as confidence and charm. We need to be mindful when we start blaming ourselves and making excuses for them. It’s key to set healthy boundaries from the beginning because we deserve to be treated with respect. Sometimes that means leaving a toxic job or a relationship.