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8 Steps for dealing with toxic people you can’t avoid

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You can't always avoid people who bring a lot of negativity to your life, but here's what you can do.

There are people who, unfortunately, only contribute negativity to our lives—sometimes on purpose, and sometimes not. Although we should work on our patience and try to help these people change their attitude for one that will do them and those around them more good, sometimes—as much as we might try—that doesn’t happen. We can even end up being infected by their attitude and becoming “toxic” ourselves.

What should we do, then? The obvious answer would be to distance ourselves from that person and to pray for them. However, sometimes there are people we can’t remove from our environment, such as relatives, business partners, or coworkers. Here are a few suggestions about how to manage that kind of situation.

1
Recognize the situation.

The first thing you need to do is accept that this person is toxic for you, and that you need to minimize their effect on you. It doesn’t mean they’re necessarily a bad person; maybe they’ve had a difficult past, or are going through a tough situation now, and their stress or mental illness is manifesting itself in their behavior.

2
Determine what kind of “toxic” person you’re dealing with.

There are different kinds of toxic people. Here are some of the most common:

  1. Blamers. They never recognize their mistakes, and always find someone else to accuse.
  2. Verbally aggressive people. They shout with the slightest provocation and could be called “explosive.”
  3. Habitual complainers. Complaining is a natural way of venting an emotion, and isn’t always bad, but when we do it too much and without a real desire to look for solutions, it becomes toxic.
  4. Mediocre people who want you to be mediocre too. These people are allergic to effort, and drag other people down with them.
  5. The envious. They’re always concerned about how much money other people are earning, how much someone spent on something they just bought, what they have, and so on.
  6. Belittlers. They always pay more attention to what others do wrong then to what they do right, and they denigrate other people’s efforts so that no one will see their own mistakes.
  7. Fakers. They haven’t built a healthy, strong identity, so they’re constantly pretending to be something they’re not, and usually attack people who actually do have a strong personality.
  8. Gossipers. The only thing they do is talk about other people, not exactly focusing on their virtues and achievements.

Once you identify what kind of toxic person you’re dealing with, you can come up with a more specific plan for how to deal with them, and how to ensure that their words do less damage to you and to others.

3
Avoid potentially negative situations.

Once you have identified who is toxic for you, you can grow in empathy for them and become more resistant to their influence. That will help you to manage the situation with greater emotional intelligence, and in some cases, to learn how to derail or avoid their “attacks.” You need to analyze the situation to see what triggers their toxic behavior; you’ll probably discover that there are some situations you can avoid.

It’s equally important that you establish boundaries. This is especially useful when dealing with gossipers and complainers. You can interrupt them, and try to turn the conversation into something more productive. For example, if they’re complaining, you can ask them something like, “What are you going to do to fix the problem?”

4
Examine the way you react.

It’s not your fault these people behave the way they do, and it’s only natural that when we are attacked by someone, we can get upset and react defensively or aggressively. However, with toxic people, that’s counterproductive, as it encourages them to keep provoking us. They can only offend us if we let them get under our skin. We can often neutralize their effect on us by not allowing ourselves to be provoked. Remember: they are the ones with a problem, not us. We won’t achieve anything by feeding back into their toxicity.

5
Inject more positivity into your life.

One way to deal with a toxic situation, especially when it’s hard to avoid, is to add more elements that bring happiness to your life. This could be something like signing up for a course about something that interests you, reading a book that enriches you, or spending more time with people who lift your spirits.

6
Minimize your contact with them

If you cannot distance this person from your life completely, and you feel like there’s nothing more you can do to help them or encourage them to change, try to minimize the time you spend with them.

7
Don't normalize or ignore their behavior

While we need to adapt, we shouldn’t simply resign ourselves and say, “Oh, all right, I’ll let them continue behaving this way, because they’re simply a toxic person, and there’s nothing to be done.” It’s important to let this person know, in as amicable and non-confrontational a way as possible, that their attitude is affecting you. It might not change their behavior overall, but it might change the way they treat you.

8
Find support

Don’t hesitate to look for help. Just as there are toxic people around us, there are others who help us. There may be other people who think the same thing you do about this toxic person. If, for example, you’re dealing with someone toxic at work, you and a coworker can perhaps talk to this person together. Without making them feel attacked, you can help them realize that there is a general perception that their behavior is problematic, and that they’re negatively affecting the work environment.

A toxic person isn’t necessarily doomed to be that way forever. All of us make mistakes and have bad moments and are able to change. If we’ve been affected by a toxic person, we need to forgive and move on as best we can, and learn to detect and deal with toxic people better in the future. And just in case we are guilty of the same, each of us should reflect to see if we might be behaving in a toxic way towards someone else and if so, work to change that.

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