First off - Who are They?
Here’s my take, a person with toxic behaviors is one who pushes buttons to the point of your having a very strong reaction. This reaction may be of frustration, anger, humiliation, or fear. These folks are masters at getting a ‘rise’ out of you. You have especially fallen prey to someone's toxic behaviors when you want revenge. A revenge reaction may take on different forms yet oftentimes it requires a large amount of psychic energy spent on fabricating a fabulous fantasy involving you and the toxic-behaviored (yes, I made up that word) person, a TBP.
Personally, I have worked diligently to remove TBPs from my life. Outside of one distant relative with whom I have the misfortune of interfacing every 5-10 years, I’ve been fairly successful. But what does one do when feeling 'stuck' with a TBP at work or within a family unit? I don't know what would be most difficult: 1) Dealing with a TBP at work or 2) Feeling stuck in a personal relationship with a TBP.
Only yesterday I found this article online:
The question for me remains: Why are we spending time and energy identifying and thinking about these folks?
Here’s my answer: I believe it’s easier to take a look at (what I call an inventory) other people’s behaviors rather than at our own behaviors or reactions. If we spent more time understanding our own reactions and then working toward solutions versus time spent trying to understand why someone is behaving inappropriately, we may move forward more readily.
As mentioned earlier, folks with toxic behaviors have a way of pushing our buttons to get a rise out of us. Any ideas as to the reason for this?
I have some ideas. Surprised? After 10 years of counseling children and adults dealing with grief, I learned a valuable lesson. When someone has a lot of pain, they need relief. On a physical level, think about when you are developing a headache. Do you go directly to the medicine cabinet and grab some ibuprofen or the equivalent homeopathic medicine? If not, then I think you're a super hero.
If so, you do this because…? Because you want relief. Our emotions are not much different. When one is carrying an emotional burden, she or he wants relief. One way people in grief take their emotional medicine is by sharing many many touching stories about the loved one who died. The person listening and witnessing these stories gets to hear about how wonderful was the deceased. And in some ways, they get to share the loss by better understanding the griever’s pain, thus lessening the burden for the griever.
A person with toxic behaviors is carrying a burden of pain. I need to believe this in order to have more compassion. And sadly, in many instances when someone is behaving in a toxic way, they are either not conscious of it or simply do not have the tools for handling that pain. And in other instances, they may have a very fragile ego that is protected by their toxic behaviors. I do believe that those people who we judge to be arrogant or narcissistic have the most fragile egos. They protect those egos by seemingly over-inflating them - attempting to make someone else look small ultimately helping themselves feel bigger and better. People with toxic behaviors get momentary relief from their pain by attempting to dump it on someone else. That dumping is their ibuprofen – only it lasts a short while so they continually make trips back to the medicine cabinet – your psyche.
The best way to handle people with toxic behaviors is to handle your own reactions to them. Are you really going to allow yourself to be disempowered? You are only powerless when you choose to be.
One mantra that has helped me in the past is: This is not about me
In the past if someone said something toxic and inappropriate to me, I used to say (in my head) 'It’s not about me' unless of course I was directly responsible for their reaction. I certainly will not shirk responsibility for righting a wrong. In that case, I remedy the situation. If you can emotionally separate yourself from another person’s toxic behaviors, you can keep better boundaries and be less reactive. And by all means, be assertive and communicate your thoughts when necessary. Use your I Statements! These are vital to your having Courageous Conversations. At this point in my life, I more easily and directly communicate my thoughts, so I rarely need the ‘it’s not about me’ mantra. Every now and then I still need it....
Some useful phrases may include:
I'm offended by that comment.
I'm concerned when you say...
I prefer that we communicate differently together.
I would be more open to hearing you and working together if you would be willing to use more constructive language.
I feel drained and often angry when I'm around you, because I'm often defending myself. I wish you would withhold critical judgments of me. Would you be willing to try that? (keep in mind - the other person may not be willing to do this! Ask a closed-ended question, you may not get the response you want.)
It seems like when we're together, I spend about 75% of my time listening to you talk about other people. I'd rather not engage in this type of conversation.
When we're together, I often find myself feeling down. I realize that about half of the comments you share have a negative connotation. I'd like to try talking in a more positive light. Would you be willing to try this?
I'd prefer to handle this without your input (when dealing with someone you judge to be 'nosy').
How do we free ourselves from them?
I believe it is so important that you allow yourself the personal freedom of being nonreactive or effectively communicating your reactions with TBPs. Do it for your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Make the effort to empower yourself to rise above their behaviors rather than their getting a rise out of you. Can you imagine replacing your anger with compassion? Keep an eye out in an upcoming blog around mid-June. I will discuss how to find and hold compassion for TBP's.
No one can get a reaction from you without your permission.
I become gracefully free when I become convinced that I have the power to do a new thing.
- Sam Keen
Cheers to you and to your personal power,
PS: if you're wondering about the paragraph separations (line of asterisks) that I inserted, it's an experiment. Sometimes my hard returns work and sometimes they don't. When they don't work, there is no paragraph separation as you can see from past posts. I'm open to any suggestions!