How to Deal with Toxic People
[Published in Natural Awakening’s magazine, July 2017 edition.]
We all have that (at least!) one person in our life that we just don’t know what to do with. We try to be civil, logical, and empathetic but we continue to be overwhelmed by the drama. We’re exhausted and confused. So, for all you who say to yourselves “I feel like I’m going crazy,” this is the article for you.
Understanding the Drama
When dealing with a toxic person, it is important to remember the adage that “Hurt people hurt people.” When people are creating unhealthy dynamics it is more of a reflection of their issues than of ours. Don’t fall for the belief that everything is your fault, as the other person would have you believe. And, don’t fool yourself in thinking “I can change them,” either.
A helpful way to understand the drama is by recognizing that the point of a toxic relationship is to manipulate and keep others pulled into that drama. Often this can include the offending individual pulling in a third party to make the drama bigger and in order to have someone validate how they are the one who is “right.” However, when we deal with toxic relationships, we are not dealing with logic about what is “right” versus “wrong.” By design, the rules of the game with a toxic relationship don’t make sense. And, they will never make sense, no matter how hard we try. So, there’s no use wasting time on it.
Because we can’t make sense of the drama created in toxic relationships, the key is to know how to handle ourselves. Remember, there cannot be an offending party without someone to offend and vice versa. Roles in a toxic relationship are co-created and feed off each other. So, this leaves us with three key rules to handling the drama.
How to Handle the Drama
1) Don’t participate! – Since the roles in a toxic relationship are co-created, if you refuse to participate, the drama will eventually be directed to someone else. Even when you want to retaliate, observe that gut response but remind yourself to not participate. Keep in mind that we are talking about roles. The toxic person is not your typical person. Instead of becoming exhausted by the drama, they feed off it. They thrive on their ability to exhaust others with the drama. And, with each re-engagement we initiate, we give them the opportunity to keep the drama going.
I cannot stress this too much here – not participating is our only option to say sane. To channel the energy in a constructive way, consider using the tendency to have one last say as a practice of finding peace within yourself, regardless of external outcomes. As Ritu Ghatourey reflects, “Be selective in your battles. Sometimes peace is better than being right.”
2) Make your self-care a priority – The only way we can have the inner peace for non-action and the strength when action is needed is to care for ourselves. The toxic person will drain us for all we have. So, take the extra and constant steps required to keep your battery charged. Get good sleep. Eat well. Maintain your exercise routine. Meditate. Do whatever it takes. Prioritize your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
3) Emphasize boundaries – Sometimes the toxic person is someone we can easily avoid. Unfortunately, sometimes they are harder to avoid, like a co-worker or parent. The beauty of boundaries is that they give us back the power to better manage the rules of the game. Since the toxic person lives in their own world, they do not have a set of rules that will make sense to us. So, we need to make our own.
For example, maybe you don’t call the individual right back after they leave a nasty message on your phone. Maybe you don’t call them back at all. Maybe you inform them that you will no longer be answering their emails outside of business hours. Maybe you block them on social media so that you are not triggered by their drama. Maybe you choose to speak to them only when you are well-rested and of sound mind. Explore the ways to take back some peace in your life.
As a therapist, I hear a lot of things. But, there is something a client once said that I will never forget. Reflecting on the drama present in their life, they remarked “You can’t argue with crazy.” As harsh as this may sound, we need to acknowledge the truth of this statement. Because hurt people hurt people, we have to remind ourselves that healing the hurts of others is not our battle to fight. We are only responsible for improving our own relationships. Such toxic interactions can serve as a reminder about the value of our well-being.
Such toxic people may have a mental illness that merits mental health treatment. Other times, such behaviors are ingrained ways of dealing with people based on abusive tendencies. There is a thin line between dysfunction and abusive behavior. So, if you are truly a victim of an abusive relationship, there is help out there. Seek support and contact a local shelter for more information. The average toxic person is not fun to deal with. But, if there are abusive dynamics in an intimate relationship, risks need to be taken into consideration before acting in order to insure safety.
~Ashley Carter Youngblood, LMSW, LMFT, CADC, ADS
Ashley Carter Youngblood is both a Fully-licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist who has been in the field since 2007. She offers counseling in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. She is passionate about her work with clients, whether it’s providing individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, or life coaching. Her specialties include holistic healing/mindfulness, counseling for women, anxiety, couples counseling, and addictions/substance abuse.
I welcome you to contact me or leave any questions or feedback you have about this post. Please keep in mind that the above information is the opinion of an individual, should not be considered medical advice, and is for entertainment/educational purposes only. I write these blogs as an expression of my passion for wellness and with the hope to be able to help as many people as possible. Therefore, I would encourage anyone seeking mental health advice to contact a therapist in your area who can better evaluate your situation and provide you with case-specific information for treatment. Also remember, if you are experiencing an emergency, contact 911 or present yourself to your nearest emergency room.
Thanks for reading.