You’re in the best of moods and the day feels just great. Suddenly you feel sapped of energy and your spirits have been dampened. The source of the deflation? You’ve just encountered someone else’s bad attitude and it has cast a pall over your own mood. While it’s a personal choice to seek to deflect the negative moods of others, it’s not always that easy – emotions are contagious and we’re programmed to empathize with others around us and to tune into their emotions.
The negative moods and thinking of a toxic person are pervasive – nervous energy, anger, sadness, complaints, clinginess, a view of the world constantly tinged with negativity. And if you happen to be caught up with toxic people daily in your life, by letting their negativity get to you, it can erode your own sense of self and deflate even the most optimistic outlook. Constantly negative emotions can lead to illness and a shortened lifespan – toxic personalities are not healthy for themselves or for you. And since misery loves company, miserable people will try to drag you into their fold; however, take charge of defending yourself and learn how to break free from toxic attitudes around you, to sustain your healthy, fulfilling, and optimistic outlook.
- Discover your current attitudes towards life in general. There is no point in striving to be progressive and successful, when you yourself possess the negative energy that holds you back. Take stock of your actions and words. If your own behaviors head in the direction of self-pity and pessimism (a self-perceived victim status), it’s time to re-track and start over by making a choice to adopt more optimistic beliefs and attitudes. Life will give you what you expect, so that your expectations need to be balanced with realistic measures and a more positive framework. This starts with you as a person before looking to blame others for your failures and miseries.
- Learn to pick up on the energy (or vibes) around you. Besides knowing yourself well, you need to know how you feel when toxic people are around you. You probably already know how to do this but learn to make it a conscious act, not just an unconscious reaction. For example, think about how you feel when you walk into a business where everyone is friendly and cannot do enough to engage you in casual conversation. Then, think about walking into a business where the mood is sour, the assistants are barely able to mumble a hello to you and appear to have other things to do than to engage with you, their faces filled with resentment and a desire to be anywhere than where they are. The energy in both cases is enormously different and you pick up on it immediately. It is the same with individuals; you will grow to consciously notice when you feel immediately uplifted or plunged downward by the people in your presence and you can take steps to make choices about how to react once you recognize these feelings.
- Recognize the toxic personality types. We all have our down days, and each of us is prone to the blues now and then. However, when it comes to toxic people, the blues appear to be a permanent state of being and feeling down, glum, angry, etc., becomes a primary personality trait rather than a temporary state of mind. The following toxic personality types are ones to be on the watch for:
- Angry at life: A person who is always angry, blowing up, shouting, and reacting to everyone in a volatile manner is a toxic person. They need a lot of help but you don’t need to be their battering board. Staying around a person like this will cause you to become angry too, to see slights where there are none, to react instead of reflecting, and to fear things.
- Everything in the world is rotten: A person with this worldview is always down and always finds the dark side in everything. And they love miserable company; the more dark thinkers agreeing with their conspiracies and frightening theories, the better. Oddly enough, this person will often be competitive about their misery, trying to outdo any other person’s misery. Prone to seeing other people’s mistakes as enormous transgressions (and therefore cannot forgive) and to fearing that people are going to let them down/let them go any moment, they live in constant state of fate-determining negativity and lack hope. Since they don’t feel capable of changing their trajectory, they’ll try to drag you in with them.
- Attention seekers: Insecure, unable to create their own sense of self-worth, and emotionally immature, this person is a “clinger”. They want your attention, they want it when they want it (now!) and they need to be at the center of everything. This person’s constant need to be heard and rescued will wear you down eventually and their inability to settle down and take a good, long hard look at themselves means that they try to suck the energy and life from elsewhere, namely from you.
- Gossips: When all else in your own life fails, spill the beans on other people’s misfortunes is the motto of this difficult character. Instead of keeping confidences and being supportive, this person allows envious feelings to get the better of them instead of getting the better of their envious feelings. Unfortunately, gossip feels exciting to those receiving it initially but it’s like a sugar high; it soon crashes and the nasty after-effects harm everyone. If you have found yourself caught up with a gossip and you’ve enabled them or benefited from them, don’t get hung up on worrying about your complicity; forgive yourself, make a choice to only speak well of others from this point on, and remove yourself form their sphere.
- Fearful frighteners: Worry, anxiety, “what ifs”, and fear push this personality. Everything in life, from relationships to crossing the road, holds some potential for fear and terror, and this person’s anxiety is unfortunately very contagious.
- Take a look at the company you keep (or attract). Looking at the list in the previous step, analyze friendships, family relationships, working colleagues and decide objectively just how healthy these people are in terms of your overall well-being and composure. Do they bring out the best in you or do you serve as a sponge for all their problems and miseries? If the latter is the case, for your own sanity and well-being, let them go. This might be really hard initially because of the expectations and sense of obligation that builds up in relationships but staying with people who lead you into constant misery isn’t going to be rewarded, so don’t subject yourself to it. Disengage yourself from their company politely by minimizing contact until a healthy distance can be maintained. You need this time to ponder and reflect on saving and preserving yourself, drawing on the optimism, hope and positive energy you have within.
- There is a primal instinct in each of us to mirror others we’re with. It’s a survival and a social technique. And if that mirror is murky, negative, and lacking in self-esteem, it’s a mirror you need to throw a drape over for the sake of self-protection and moving forward. Remember that you can’t change another person, only yourself, so don’t bog yourself down with excuses about being responsible for them or feeling pity for them. You can only truly help a negative person when you’re no longer influenced by them.
- Create a personal signal to remind yourself to keep deflecting the negative conversation and signals beamed at you from a toxic personality. It might be pulling a piece of your hair, digging your thumbnail into your palm, flicking your wrist, tapping your knee, etc. This minor action is a protective mechanism to remind you to consciously note that negativity is being sent your way and to make a conscious effort to refuse it entry into or lodgings in your own thoughts.
- When dealing with blamers, shift the perspective. While the toxic personality wants another person to take the blame for a situation, stay calm and keep insisting that the problem be solved instead of discussing whose fault it is. Seeking to blame someone keeps things static, and stuck in time, and a solution won’t be found because it has been lost from sight and the blamer doesn’t want to take responsibility for improving their own situation anyway. Stick to the facts and point out what needs to be done to fix a problem. If they become hot-headed or violent, remove yourself from them and allow them the space to calm down.
- Use empathy and compassion with those who seek to spread fear. Limit your exposure to their fear talk by turning their negative talk back on itself. For example, if they insist that your business venture is going to fail, ask them “Well, what if it doesn’t?”. Help them to see the possibilities rather than endless negatives. And when they really get to you, see their fear as a form of being upset and tell yourself over and over again that this is their reaction, not yours, and that you have the choice to remain grounded and true to your goals.
- Always remind yourself that negative emotions have a time limit; they do not last, they will soon pass. You do not need to carry the ball of negativity with you beyond the encounter.
- Take up practices that help to ground you. Some things that might help you include meditation, yoga, reflection in nature, martial arts, endurance sports, a hobby that fulfills a passion, etc. Find something that calms and centers you and to which you can retreat when you need to re-energize yourself.
- At times, you will need to make compromises with the people close to you or who impact your professional life but do so knowingly and confidently, and not because you feel bludgeoned into making choices by a toxic personality.
- Pass it on. Use the inspirational example of the more positive people in your life to guide yourself away from the toxic thought dwellers. In turn, become more like the optimistic people by seeing the best in others and complimenting the good you see in people. Be the source of a “healthy chain of emotions” by remaining upbeat when interacting with others; accept and give compliments with thankfulness, maintain eye contact with them, and smile.
- Strive to see the best in everything you do. Once the voices on the inside echo louder than the voices on the outside, then you have achieved a higher level of thinking within yourself.
- It matters not if people think of you as antisocial or arrogant; such terminology is all too easily applied to a person who assertively strikes forth to make a mark in the world and to better themselves. You need to become the most important person in your own life. If their presence brings you undue grief, then you are better off without them or their presence and this is not disloyal or snobbish; remember that toxic people will attempt to make you see it that way so as to drag you back into their toxic worldview but even their judgment of you is wrongheaded and in reality an excuse for their own behavior rather than a level-headed summation of who you are.
- Find one thing a day to be grateful for. Force yourself to do this until it becomes a daily habit you cannot live without. You will discover that it causes negative encounters to move away from your thoughts and will replace these with more harmonious, happy, and productive thoughts.
- By remembering the above steps, your mind and psyche stands on guard against those to knowingly or unknowingly put you down or create misgivings about your own potential and capabilities.
Whenever tempted to complaint or feelings of ‘not enough-ness’, try belly breathing in a resounding “Yes”, followed by a gentle “Thank you” exhale. We always have the very basic ‘gift of the given’ and our job is to make space to find it. Breathing, yoga, meditation, music, sport and intimate communication are exquisite activities to deepen this appreciation. In the end, our real security, our spiritual security, revolves around the simple two word practice, deepened throughout the day.
- How to Eliminate Toxic Arguments from Your Relationship
- How to End a Toxic Friendship
- How to Recognize a Toxic Friend
- How to Be Less Clingy
- How to Recognize a Manipulative or Controlling Relationship
- How to Deal With a Manipulative Person
Sources and Citations
- Bo Forbes, Protect your mood, pp. 78-81, in Body+Soul, August 2007 – research source
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