We’ve all dealt with them. Toxic people. These are people who derive satisfaction at the chaos around them and usually unaware of the negative impact they have on others. They usually create unnecessarily complex, stressful lives. They are masters of manipulation. Manipulation of people and situations to their advantage. They can be anyone in our lives: coworkers, bosses, family members, spouses, our children and even ourselves! What is toxic behavior? How do we recognize it? How do you deal with a toxic person who is a non-family member? How do we deal with a toxic person who is a family member? What do to if you are the toxic person?
Toxic behavior is “any word, deed or action which detracts from you being your best self or hinders others from becoming their best selves” (Lund). The difference between a toxic person and a non-toxic person is the approach, the how and manner they treat people. A toxic person will rarely accept responsibility for their actions or their own feelings. They will place blame on others. A toxic person tends to hold grudges and will withhold love as punishment for any wrongdoing in their eyes. They are emotional blackmailers who use fear or guilt to accomplish their purpose. Toxic people will often keep themselves or others from succeeding and they want the freedom to criticize anyone at any time. Toxic people often see themselves as having “special insights” because their “superior position, wisdom, knowledge, power or authority” (Lund). Toxicity in manner of degrees in magnitude and frequency. Toxic behaviors are seen in the daily lives of a toxic person.
There are three types of toxic behavior:
- · Situational toxicity in which when the person is faced with stress or an uncomfortable situation, he or she will be toxic.
- · Universal toxicity is when a person is toxic to everyone in all circumstances and lives in a world of constantly strained relationships. This type is that is most commonly thought of when discussing toxic people.
- · Selective toxicity is when a person is toxic toward certain people in certain situations. This type is more difficult to recognize due to the varied conditions.
The types of toxic people:
- · The Perfectionist whom you will never measure up to his or her standards.
- · The Control Freak who is actually hiding his or her insecurity through the control of others.
- · The Constant Criticizer who sees faults in anyone or anything.
- · The Abuser Mentality: “someone else made me do it.”
- · The Martyr: a person who substitutes sympathy and self-pity for happiness
- · The Victim: a person who complains, bemoans, gripes about his or her circumstances
Therefore, there are signs to look for if you suspect someone you know is a toxic person. Not all toxic people will display all of these signs. However, even a few is a good sign someone is toxic. The signs are:
- · He or she talks more than listens. They will often bring irrelevant details into a conversation in order to distract from the topic.
- · He or she is never wrong.
- · Drama seems to follow him or her everywhere
- · He or she seem to force or exaggerate relationships.
- · His or her experience is the standard in which everyone should live. Someone else’s actions will be judged based on his or her experience as if the situations are identical.
- · He or she will often lie usually as a means to an end.
- · He or she lack tact and general courtesy. Derogatory statements, brutal “honesty” and stark humor are often used.
- · He or she will often lack empathy toward others and have a need to assert superiority
- · He or she will control behavior by pressuring another person to act a certain way.
- · He or she will make you prove yourself by regularly putting you in a position between a commitment and them in a way you feel obligated to choose them.
- · He or she will be there in a crisis but will never ever share in your joy. They will also find reasons why your good news isn’t good at all.
You may read these and think “Yikes! I do some of that!” We all can behave in a toxic manner especially when we are hurt or angry. However, what makes a person toxic is constant set of behaviors. We will get to what you can do if you suspect that you are a toxic person.
Number one thing to remember when dealing with any toxic person is that no one can change a person who is unwilling to change. You cannot change or stop the toxic behavior. You can only arm and protect yourself against it. First, choose healthy responses to the toxic person. Self-preparation is the best defense against a toxic person. Focus on being your own well-being. Also realize that there is some good in the worst of us and always room for improvement in the best of us. Second, set boundaries to protect yourself. Boundaries are behavior limits that you would consider acceptable and unacceptable. It is important that you do not allow the person to cross that boundary if you deem the behavior unacceptable. If they do, follow through with the consequences of breaking a boundary. Be prepared to say enough’s enough. Third, share only to the level in which the toxic person is willing to share with you. If you feel you are the only one contributing to the relationship, you’re probably right.
When the toxic person is a family member, it can be more difficult to deal with the toxic behavior; however, it can be done. First, remember that the loved one is not a bad person; however, it doesn’t mean they are the right person to be spending a lot of time with. Second, learn to recognize cleverly hidden passive aggression. A toxic person with act with non-verbal aggression in negative ways. Instead of telling you that they are upset, they will take jabs at you until you are the one who explodes. Third, learn to recognize their bullying behavior and prepare yourself to fight back. It is sad to think but some of the biggest bullies in our lives are toxic family members. Fourth, do not pretend that the toxic behavior is ok and if the behavior becomes physical, it needs to be addressed. Fifth, try not to take the toxic behavior personally, although it can be very difficult to do so. Lastly and most importantly, do not neglect yourself. Practice self-care every day especially when you have to deal with a toxic person on a daily basis. Have a safe place you can go to be alone to pray, mediate, exercise, anything which can help you relax.
When the toxic person is you, there are four steps to change. First, recognition and becoming aware of the toxic behavior you engage in. Most often than not, admitting you are toxic and desire to change is half the battle. Second, motivation to change. Toxic behaviors will not just disappear, they need to be replaced with healthier ones. Third, the acquisition of positive communication skills. Recognize the three ways we communicate with each other: facial expression and body language, tone of voice, and your choice of words. Communication skills also is learning how to keep the three messages in congruence or matching. Mixed messages create a difficult time interpreting the meaning of your message. For example, someone asks you to do something you really don’t want to do. So you frown, sigh and says “Yes, I’ll do that.” What is the real message? Does the person pay attention to your body language or your tone of voice or your words? Lastly, application of non-toxic behaviors in replace of the old toxic ones. Work hard to avoid toxic behaviors, however, you do not beat yourself up when you slip up. Allow yourself to learn from those mistakes, take note of what to pay attention to in the future, apologize for the behavior and move forward.
In conclusion, the way we approach our weaknesses and the weaknesses of others is at the heart of a healthy person versus an unhealthy person. The means in which you address shortcomings is what defines toxic versus nontoxic behaviors. It is important to not become a toxic person yourself in order to deal with a toxic behavior. Fighting fire with fire only causes more damage. People can change; however, sometimes all you can do is let go and protect yourself against the burbs of a toxic person. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is stay as far away as possible. The level of involvement depends on your ability to protect yourself from the toxic behavior. If it’s too difficult to do so, it’s best to stay away from that relationship on any deeper level. Toxic behavior is a big topic and I apologize if this post seems overwhelming or too simplified. I highly recommend reading How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing with Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities by Dr. John Lewis Lund. He provides great insights and information, many I have shared but he goes into greater detail than I can.
How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing with Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities
is available on Amazon in paperback and on the Kindle