by Bob Bernatz, Ph.D. - Founder & CEO – VOXopolis.com
All of us to some extent have toxic people in our lives. Unfortunately, many are some of our closest friends and family members. To determine who is toxic and who is healthy is normally quite obvious but the following is a quick quiz to help you crystalize your perceptions.
1) After talking with them, do you feel drained versus energized?
2) Do they criticize first and ask clarifying questions later?
3) Do they complain more than they exhibit gratitude?
4) Do they expect special treatment that they may not deserve or require?
5) Do they dominate the conversation by centering mostly on their own thoughts and ideas?
6) Do they fail to ask you questions that show that they understand you and your thought process
7) When you tell them a new idea, do they immediately focus on what can go wrong as opposed to what could go right?
8) Do they state that something is impossible only because no one has yet to do it?
9) Do they love to say “I told you so!” when you fail and take credit when you succeed?
10) Finally, is life for them more like treading water as opposed to learning to live life competently?
Dealing With Toxic People
It is a tall order to give quick tips on dealing with toxic people since these folks are deeply entrenched in their behaviors but here’s a start:
1) Fine Whine - Toxic people are some of the most difficult people to deal with because they tend to whine ALOT but when you give them advice they either are insulted or denigrate your pearls of wisdom. Either avoid giving advice or lower your expectations regarding their openness to accepting it.
2) Cope-a-dope – It is difficult, if not downright hazardous, to call a spade a spade with many of these people. Sometimes you simply have to learn coping techniques. What is at the heart of their behaviors? Usually a very deep fear such as losing control, being unwanted or alone, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling useless, hopeless, or helpless. By understanding this you can empathize with them instead of being frustrated by them.
3) Refocus Them – Try to short-circuit their negative mindset. Do this by focusing on their strengths, their hobbies, loves and things about which you can genuinely compliment them and keep these as the focal point of the discussion.
4) “Half-Full” Thinking – Let them know up front that you want to focus on what will work, not on what won’t work in their life and relationships.
5) Plan Ahead – Before you get together with a toxic person, consider setting an agenda addressing your own needs and questions. If you can get some of your own needs met first, you will build up patience for them thus making them less able to drain your energy to zero.
6) Dig Deeper - Ask them probing questions that reach to their feelings about things versus their thoughts about things. Delve into their motivations, desires, and dreams to understand them at a deeper level.
7) Behavior Mod – Catch them doing something right and compliment them. Put them in situations where they will shine and keep them away from situations where they will cause problems. Show them compassion and respect but be assertive.
8) Guard Yourself – Respectfully limit your exposure to the chronically toxic. Use phone calls, emails and letters. Trust me, they will seek out some other person to drain. Understand that they won’t fall apart if you withdraw a bit.
9) Make It a Game - By making it a game of how well you can anticipate the slights, you can chuckle to yourself at how accurate or inaccurate your guesses were. This will lighten your attitude towards them and lessen the sting of their comments.
10) You Are Not Alone – Most other people are seeing the same thing that you are. Toxic people are missing something at a deep level. Don’t try to change them. That may really backfire on you. Instead, invite them to your church, synagogue, a class or seminar, so that you can enlist the help of a “real professional” to reach them.
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