I’m not sure if it’s El Nino or global warming or the Winter or some mysterious cosmic force only foretold of by Dionne Warwick and the Psychic Friends Hotline, but toxic people have been on my mind. Some of these have been people I have had the dubious pleasure of interacting with, but more often than not, it’s been friends of mine dealing with this abomination of the human spirit.
In thinking over this phenomenon, I tried to look to the cultural giants in human history for guidance. There is certainly nothing new about the existence of toxic people – they have certainly existed for probably about as long as human beings have walked the earth… and at least as long as MTV has decided to collect them for the purposes of reality TV.
So I quote the bard:
You’re toxic I’m slipping under
With a taste of a poison paradise
I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic
Yes Ms. Spears… yes. I do know this, but it was never going to work out between us in the end. We come from two different worlds and… umm… wait, where was I again?
Oh yes, toxic people. I think there are essentially a few different ways to handle this bane of human existence:
- Avoid them. Like the plague. Seriously. Certain people out there will just suck the life out of you every time you interact with them. It’s just their nature (or maybe their nurture if they grew up oppressed by a toxic parent). In the end, they are just not worth the time, aggravation and drama. And ohhhhh, the drama! The drama queen/king is really one of the more common forms of toxic people running around. Sure, there are people out there who look to tear you down with biting comments, but they are more rare than those who seem to have a parade of complete disaster trailing in their wake. They make me smile and chuckle softly to myself because their dead giveaway to their drama-dom is the line “… and I cannot figure out why all this stuff happens to me!” If they repeat that a lot… flee. The reason that all that stuff happens to them is because they subconsciously enjoy the drama (it gives them attention) or they constantly make bad choices that bring it upon them.
But what if they are your family member or co-worker or boss?
- Address the drama: Family members. This is trickier, obviously. It can be a little easier with family members because… well… they cannot really fire you from being related to them. I think in this case you just need to ask more gently when they are in the midst of a drama meltdown “Huh… well, why do you think this is happening to you?” They may have no idea they are creating their own drama and you need to ease your way into discussing this with them. If you go this approach and it stays the same or, God forbid, gets worse, then you will probably have to default to tip #1 more often than not. As harsh as that sounds, think of it this way – if you have brought the issue up with your family member and they continue the behavior and you end up absorbing all the stress, how fair is that really to you? I know you love them, but a little tough love through the absence of your presence may begin to snap them out of it.
- Address the drama: Your boss. A boss is a harder one because you don’t want to derail/ruin your career or lose your job by ticking off your boss… and if your boss is a toxic person, this is a definite possibility. I ain’t gonna lie to ya. The first and clearest option to me is to complete kick ass at your job and be sure you can prove you kick ass at your job. Why? Because a toxic boss who likes to pick away at you or create havoc for you will have a difficult time refuting cold hard facts of your complete awesomeness. Is this easy when you work for a toxic person? Hell no! But it’s what you truly need to consider because there are 2 primary benefits of doing this beyond having material to use with your boss if the gauntlet is thrown down: (1) You are making yourself more marketable and prepping your resume for your next step; and (2) Other people in your company/organization/department will begin to notice you are really good which can ease your transition to something new. You cannot underestimate the power of this second point, especially since other people where you work likely can tell you work with a toxic boss.
As you can see, there are various themes to these tips and avoidance is a piece of it (if possible). I can see a reaction from people that avoidance is a bad idea because you aren’t really “addressing” the problem. My response to that? Umm… yeah, that’s the point. We are often taught that every problem must be met head on… confronted directly in order to vanquish it like St. George slaying the dragon. Hogwash. Why? 2 reason: (1) It’s not your job to fix everyone else in the world, quite frankly. In addition, toxic people are by their very nature stressful to those around them. Why seek out stress you really don’t need? My life philosophy these days is to keep things very simple because life adds its own complications just fine without your help. (2) A toxic person has to choose to change. Yes, your confronting them on it may cause that change, but at some point, it’s like yelling at a wall. Believe me… I’ve yelled at some walls in my time and they really don’t listen well. Heck, they may not even listen AT ALL. Umm… oversharing?
In the end, putting in an effort to handle those people who are toxic is fine… to a point. After that, let it go and enjoy a life with a slightly smaller slice of happiness. Believe me, life is much better outside of the Superfund.
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