Today's blog is the second in a short series of blogs on how to make yourself a better, happier and more fulfilled person. Yesterday, I talked about the need to let go of past resentments. Todays subject is toxic people, and how you should manage them out of your life. Sadly, we have all come across them. People who you let into your life as a friend, partner, lover, work colleague and they turn out to be a nightmare.Over the last 10-15 years there is a new category, the social media Troll. I've talked about trolls at length before, so we will give them a wide berth today, although the advice is pretty much the same.
There are two types of toxic people that I've come across, although I suspect they are exactly the same, but in different circumstances. The first type are the people who start out as friends and then gradually morph into a problem. The second type are people who turn up and are always a problem. Often these are work/school colleagues or friends of friends.
The first type of toxic person will gain your trust and respect, then start to systematically undermine you, make you feel bad. These are people who indulge in spousal abuse and take great delight in making other people feel bad. For their actions to be effective, they need to establish a degree of dependency, so that there is a downside to simply breaking off contact. Once you are in a relationship, have shared property, shared interests, shared friends, it becomes rather more difficult to simply cut all contact. They know there is a personal cost and will seek to exploit this ruthlessly. Sadly the only way to get out of the situation and get on with your life is to take the pain, even if it means losing friends, property and money. Typically such people seek to gain coercive control and the tell tail signs are all too clear.
Healthline have compiled a lost of the signs. I would urge anyone who is worried to consider these, if you have a difficult relationship.
1. Isolating you from your support network
2. Monitoring your activity
3. Denying you freedom and autonomy
5. Name calling and putting you down
6. Limiting your access to money
7. Reinforcing traditional gender roles
8. Turning your children against you
9. Controlling aspects of your health and body
10. Making jealous accusations
11. Regulating your sexual activity
12. Threats of violence against your children or pets
If you recognise any of these signs and this is a problem (a partner suggesting a joint account to pay the mortgage isn't, a partner telling you that you can no longer have your own account is, as an example), then you really need to seriously think about getting out of that relationship. If someone is violent or abusive, then there are organisations that provide support. They have the experience to get you out of the situation, it will not be easy or pleasant, but it is worth doing. If you are on the end of domestic abuse, click this link. If you are worried about your partner seeing what you've been looking at, go to the library and use their IT facilities.
A bad partner is easy to spot, but bad friends can be as damaging. I'm sure we've all had experience of when a new person turns up in our social group and everyone else loves them, but for some reason, you don't hit it off. You suddenly find that you aren't being invited to get togethers, there are embarrassing pauses in conversations, where you are not quite sure what is going on. Get togethers that you used to enjoy have become difficult and stressful. The problem here is that you like everyone else, but the individual in question is ruining everything. In my experience, the only way to deal with this is to give the individual as wide a berth as possible. If this means sacrificing nights out, parties and holidays, it can be hard but will ultimately prove worth it. My advice is to find other things to fill the gap. Taking the 'its me or them' stance generally doesn't work because friends don't like being forced to choose or make hard decisions. If you quietly absent yourself from the group, then the person will generally start on someone else and sooner or later nature will take its course. The sad truth is that moving on from toxic situations and friendships is better than feeling bad about yourself. Many years ago, I had a situation where one such person inserted themselves into my closest friendship circle. I quickly realised that I did not want to spend time with them, but in order to keep the peace, I kept up pretenses, whilst cutting out all but necessary contact with the individual. In the end, I lost the friends anyway, as a situation was engineered that was irrecoverable by the poisonous individual. I realised that had I cut the association completely when I should have, I would have not ultimately lost the other friends in the group in the way I did. It would have been difficult, but ultimately when the toxic individual moved on, I would have still had the other friends.
The Toxic colleague/ business associate is an altogether more difficult problem to deal with. If you work for a large organisation, I'd suggest getting a paper trail. If they are making impossible demands, email them and ask them to clarify exactly what they want. I had a colleague at one company, who I realised was deliberately undermining me and trying to belittle me on conference calls. He would make unreasonable demands, then berate me when his expectations were not met. I felt he was trying to provoke a reaction. I dealt with this by emailing him when he made these demands, giving detailed explanations of what could and couldn't be delivered in the time frame, why this was so and asking for him to set priorities. He did not respond to these requests, at the next meeting he again berated me. I raised the email and said he'd not responded. He exploded at me and stated that he was too busy to bother reading my emails. I calmly stated that it was hard to deliver anything if he wouldn't read communications and set priorities. At this he was quite rude. As there were senior management on the call, he was removed from the project. I had taken the precaution of copying them in, so they were aware of what I'd asked. Large companies have grievance procedures and whistle blowing policies. These are a last resort, but as soon as you feel that you are in a position where you are uncomfortable, you should start building a dossier to support your case.
If you work for a small company or it is a voluntary organisation etc, this is more difficult. If it is the boss who is giving you problems, then sadly the only option may be to leave. Your happiness and mental health is your most important asset. There are always other jobs, other organisations. You are more important.
One other topic we should discuss. If there is a pattern and you find that you have these problems regularly, maybe you should consider options for self improvement. Our culture has a strange concept that addressing personal defects is a sign of personal failure. It isn't. It's a mature reaction to a realisation that you could be better, happier and more fulfilled. I've had counselling to deal with depression and anger over the course of my life. I have studied psychology, to help understand why people do such seemingly irrational things at times. When I have a problem with an individual, I develop a strategy for dealing with them. If it is someone who I cannot escape from due to circumstance, then I have a strategy to mitigate the damage they do. It doesn't always work, but when it doesn't that means the strategy simply needs improvement. Generally, a few basic rules if you know someone is trying to rile you. Stay calm and polite, if they insult you agree with them by saying "You are quite right, I must remember not to do that', if they tell lies about you, simply say "I really don't recall that but I'm sure you are correct" or say "I'm not disagreeing with you, no one is perfect" and leave it there.
If they do rile you, don't brood on it. Just make sure that next time they push that button, you don't respond. Always remember people attack you by referencing their own vulnerabilities. They will probe until they find a weakness then exploit it. But like a dam that springs a leak, you can allow the fault line to grow or you can repair it. Next time they reference it, don't respond. Do not try and get one up on them, by not rising to the bait, you already have. If you hear through third party that they have said something nasty, just revive the old Christine Keeler come back "Well they would say that wouldn't they!" with a laugh. You don't have to engage to make someone realise that the whole premise is ridiculous. Just make it clear that you've no interest in engaging with such nonsense. The truth is that toxic people spend their lives digging a hole for themselves, you don't have to jump into it with them. Walk away and hold your head high.
Here's a little inspiration to do that as it's a Friday