If you look at all of the personality profiles that can be considered as “toxic people”, in essence there are 2 general types of toxic people:
1) A person that is blissfully unaware of the negative impact they project on the people that surround them.
2) A person who purposefully extracts a twisted satisfaction from creating mayhem, pushing other people’s buttons and/or testing how far they can get away with extreme negative behaviors before they skillfully charm your pants off.
Both types are difficult to handle, because having them around leads to the accumulation of worthless complexities, discord and worst of all – stress. Stress has a dreadful effect on your success – personal life or career life. Exposure to even a few days of stress can impact the performance of neurons in the hippocampus – an essential brain area responsible for memory, learning skills and reasoning ability. Weeks of stress can result in a temporary loss of neuronal dendrites, the connectors that brain cells use to communicate with each other, and months of stress can permanently destroy neurons. The theory that brain cells do not regrow is a myth, but no person who purposely causes you stress is worthy of your piece of mind – literally.
One of the greatest learned skills of successful people is the ability to neutralize toxic behaviors in others. Here are some suggestions to becoming a master neutralizer:
1) Eliminate or Evaluate
Understand that people who prey off the energy of others are often very charismatic! It’s a skill they have learned so they can discreetly bleed their chaos into your life, and when they are caught, they know exactly what to do and say to recover. They thrive on this up and down mess they create, and it leaves you feeling confused. When you find yourself constantly making excuses for their actions or finding some sort of reasoning in their behavior, then it is likely possible they have too much over control you. This is when you need to ask yourself, can I eliminate this person from my life? If you suspect the person in question is a sociopath (roughly 4% of people are) or an extreme narcissist, then dismiss them! You might care about them, but believe that your presence in their life is to only suit their own needs. To them, you are easily replaceable. If this person must remain in your life, then evaluate the role they play. Can you limit exposure? Are there better times to see them versus not seeing them? Can you avoid giving them any emotional ammo to manipulate and use against you?
2) Do Not Ignore Bad Behavior
Its common to ignore the behavior of a difficult person to avoid the crossfire. People who are blissfully unaware of the problems they cause are often met with avoidance. It can be hard to use reasoning as a tool to help them understand…because they do not understand their impact. It is important to speak up for yourself and others who also choose to avoid this person, but also for the person who is unaware and needs a good shake. Offer them the opportunity to grow and raise some personal awareness. Be blunt, kind and effective with your words. “Do you know you are causing me to stress?” “Do you know your actions are causing pain to others?”
3) Seek Counsel or Vent to Friends
It’s enticing to undertake everything on your own, but it’s altogether ineffective. The trusted people of your support system have the ability to see the chinks in your armor and the weaknesses in your approach. They can help you see alternate perspectives in your situation because they aren’t as emotionally invested. Being said, seek insights from people you trust as being wise and who are looking out for your best interests. Some people love you so much and want to protect you, they might be angrier than you are! It’s possible their perspectives might not be as insightful or helpful as you need.
4) Set Limits and Establish Boundaries
This is important to do especially for people you live or work with. I commonly see people put up with constant negative behaviors because they feel they have no control over the chaos or that this person will never change. Maybe they cannot change, you cannot control the personal growth of another, but you can change the way they treat you. For constant complainers, ask them what they plan to do to fix the problem. For constant passive aggressors, ask them questions to delve out their true aggression then talk about it. One piece of advice I would like to add, please understand that venting is healthy. Do not mistake a trusted friend’s healthy attempt of consulting you with their feelings with a person looking for attention.
5) Value Self-Awareness
People who make intelligent choices when dealing with toxic people know their limits. They know when to take a time out. They understand their emotions and realize they need to calm down before responding. They know when to seek help. Even highly successful people, who deal with toxic people regularly and are master neutralizers, are un-rooted now and then.
6) Become Thick Skinned
This is a something that could easily be argued. There are benefits to having a thin skinned personality type since they tend to be more aware of the feelings of others. Being thin skinned is a sensitive person with an antenna picking up on everything around them, but they are also targets for toxic people to play with. Growing a thicker skin is learning to be calm in the face of adversity. Thick skinned people know what criticism should be considered and what criticism needs to be discarded. They learn to not take things personally, especially cruelty from toxic people. It’s important to realize there is such a thing as being too thick skinned to the point of not being aware of what is going on around you. A healthy balance is the goal! Being able to become thick or thin when needed is ideal.
7) Ask Questions, Listen and Wait
This suggestion is an art form and the hardest to accomplish, but it’s a skill that will help you achieve master neutralizer status! If ever there is a gentle way to reverse the situation, it is strategically asking questions, so they bury themselves with their own words. Being in the spotlight is a toxic person’s weakness. Here you put truth and reason on the pedestal where you can call them out on their indiscretions. Remember, that feelings are often subjective and are easier to manipulate. Reason and truth are solid and not easy to bend to their advantage. Here is an example: You look bored, are you not interested in what is being said? Earlier you said you cared about the future of the company, are you saying it is not important to you? Actually, I said we need to cooperate on this subject matter, but I am open to your ideas. From what I understand, you selectively heard “I am open to your ideas”. Do you not value other people’s opinion or the benefits of cooperation? Do you find making decisions without consulting your team an honorable or wise action? ………..See the pattern? Instead of telling the behaviors you see, ask them! Their only options are: 1)learn they cannot get away with that type of behavior on your clock 2) make bad excuses for bad choices. Either way, you win. Just remember that just because a person does wrong by you it does not give you free reign to do wrong to them. Respect yourself and earn respect from others with honorable actions.
8) Fight Only When it is Right
Most situations are not worthy of your time when it comes dealing with a toxic person, but there are some situations where a person needs to be put in their place before they hurt others by spreading their chaos! Be aware of your primal brain fight response and do not dig in your heels for the sake of making your point. This puts you in the position to fight on their turf and you are likely to lose. Collect yourself. Read and respond to your emotions, then you can wisely choose the optimal course of action. As I said above, truth and reason are your greatest tools.
9) Focus on The End Goal
Think about the many times you have had an argument or disagreement with someone and in the moment your feelings of anger, frustration or maybe sadness felt all consuming. After a period of time, you can look back and laugh at those moments and realize they weren’t as big a deal as you thought at the time. When in a similar situation with a toxic person, remember this feeling because it will save you! A toxic person can take you on a long journey of emotional instability and when you finally come out of it, if you come out of it, you’re often left in shock thinking– how did I get here? Instead, take some time for yourself, even waiting 10 seconds to react can help your fight or flight response simmer into your conscious-reasoning mind. React knowing that these emotions are fleeting and you will not allow this toxic person to manipulate them. Give them nothing to manipulate.
10) Forgive but Do NOT Forget
Why not forgive and forget? You cannot learn from a situation if you forget it. Emotionally intelligent people understand that forgiveness is for your own benefit. Forgiveness does not excuse, deny or justify the act, but it does release you from the negativity in the aftermath that often leads to feelings of revenge and hate. These types of negative feelings change you and sometimes mutate you into a toxic person. Release yourself by letting go of the emotions attached to the bad situation you were in, but remember smart victims of toxic people understand that they need to take an assertive approach to protecting themselves in the future.
Other Things to Consider:
If you try a few of these suggestions below and they do not work as well as you had hoped the first time, offer yourself some understanding and stay with it. The brain is always evolving. You CAN teach yourself by re-wiring your brain to respond differently to people who used to get under your skin and stay there. As a highly sensitive person and former conflict avoider, learning to respond to toxic behavior with ease was no easy feat. The payoff, realizing your potential to create your own surroundings, is an immense gift.