I’m sure, like me, you’ve come across people who always seem to be negative.
I’m not talking about someone having the odd ‘bad day’, because we all have those. No, I’m talking about people who are consistently negative, where their energy spills over to such an extent that it affects the people around them.
They’re never happy. Even a seemingly positive situation is picked apart until something bad is found. They may seem to attract, and feed off of, drama.
What is it like to be around a toxic person?
Over the course of a number of years I knew such a person and had a lot of contact with them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m normally quite good at feeling the ‘energy’ in a room. Almost like, if you walk into the middle of an awkward conversation and you can just ‘feel’ that you should probably turn round and walk out again!
And it was pretty much like this. I kind of knew what was coming even before anything was said, because the energy this person gave out was so pervasive and infectious.
What impact can it have to be around a toxic person?
Unfortunately, there were reasons which I can’t go into that made it difficult for me to break away from this person. What I will say is that it had a detrimental impact on my well-being. I ended up feeling things such as:
- Anxious at being around the person
- Fearful of what mood they would be in
- Frustrated that I couldn’t do much about the situation
- Feeling like the situation was my fault
- Believing that I might be imagining the situation and I needed to ‘get a grip’
- Guilty that I didn’t have more empathy for the person
Only now that I’m away from the situation am I able to reflect on it properly. I tried to step away mentally while I was still in contact with the person but I think that’s hard when you’re still trying to deal with it.
How can you deal with a toxic person?
1. Try and speak to the person.
I guess one step is to try and talk to the person about how their behaviour is making you feel. Be careful here though. You don’t want to say things like “You make me feel X when you do Y”.
The bottom line is that no one can make us feel anything unless we allow them to. It’s more a case that what we think about someone’s behaviour dictates how we feel (more on this in a little while).
So, to rephrase it slightly, it might be better to say “When you do Y, I feel X”, and then you are owning your feelings but highlighting that they’re connected to something this person is doing.
Whether or not you confront the person is up to you. You’ll probably have an idea of how they’ll react.
In my situation, I knew that no amount of speaking to this person would work, that they would turn it round onto me, say it was my problem and that I was the one being negative. How did I know this? Because I’d seen someone else try and speak to them. In that sense, I knew it wouldn’t have solved the problem.
2. Offer the person support.
It might be difficult but I like to try and show people empathy. Even though their negativity may be difficult to be around they’re obviously suffering to some degree, which can’t be nice for them.
In that sense, I might be inclined to sit down and try and help them come up with ways they can work through their situation.
However, I place a caveat on this. If they’re unwilling to take responsibility for themselves and make changes, but expect me to wave some sort of magic wand and do the hard work for them, then that is not going to happen!
I’ve also been in situations where I’ve had the same conversations multiple times and it’s made no difference because the person has decided not to do anything about their situation. At this point it’s also a good thing to consider whether you’re putting in more effort than you should.
3. Just not be around them anymore.
If you don’t want to see them, and if you have a choice not to see them, then make that break. If they want to know why, then it’s up to you whether or not you respond.
I’ve sometimes found that toxic people have only ever wanted to speak to me about their problems, so sometimes I just decided to stop asking how they were and they never contacted me again. It’s sad that some people only want to know you when they have something to moan about!
4. If you cannot change the person/situation then look at how you react to it.
Changing your way of thinking and reacting will help your mental well-being far more than trying to change something/someone you cannot change, which will just leave you extremely frustrated.
Why should I change ‘me’ when the other person is the problem?
This isn’t about changing ‘you’, and whilst the other person’s negativity is a problem for them it need only be a problem to you if you allow it to be.
I was talking to a good friend a few years’ ago about another toxic situation I was experiencing (I seem to attract them!). She helped me to think of it as an analogy, which has stayed with me ever since.
She suggested that I imagine the toxic situation/toxic energy as being in the form of an object. For me, the toxic situation was contained in a pretty, pink box wrapped up with a big pink bow. Whilst this box looked lovely on the outside, it had a lot of nasty stuff inside.
My friend said it was as though the toxic person was giving me the box, which contained all their negativity, and I was holding onto it. She told me that I had a choice not to hold onto it. In other words, when someone tries to give you the responsibility for their sh*t, you don’t have to carry it. You have a choice to say “no”!
What did I learn?
People who are consistently negative are difficult to be around, and it’s only too easy to end up taking on their negative energy and ending up being dragged down by it. Like I said, it was easier to learn from the situation once I was out of it. I found it too difficult to try and reflect when I was stuck in the middle of it.
But what I learned, and what I intend to put into practice in the future, is that another person’s negativity is not my problem. To go back to the analogy, that is their box of stuff, their responsibility, and I do not have to carry it for them.
If I come into contact with similar people again, I feel more confident that I can separate myself from the energy they’re giving out.
The bottom line is that it’s important to look after yourself in these situations. By all means offer support if you think it will give the person the ‘kick-start’ to work through their problems, but don’t take responsibility for their emotions.
Have you ever come across toxic people? How did it affect you? How did you deal with it?