5 ways to contain toxic people.
What's different in “real life" in how we interact with others that makes it different from social media?
Social media allows for a sense of anonymity, or, at least, a physical distance from the person with whom you're communicating. This allows people to feel safer and more open to engage in interactions which eventually alienate or offend others (you know, that person who posts any toxic thing that comes to mind). When people like that irk us, we simply "unfollow" them.
But how do you "unfollow" a toxic person who you're interacting with in everyday real life?
There are people in all of our lives, whether it's at work, school, social circles, or even family members, who we'd probably do better “unfollowing” for our own mental well being.
In a Forbes article author Travis Bradberry explains why: “Recent research from Friedrich Schiller University in Germany shows just how serious toxic people are. They found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions — the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with toxic people — caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response.”
In other words, a toxic person is a person in our life who seems to suck the energy out of us.
They create and live in constant drama. They're needy, don't respect boundaries, are critical of others, manipulative and judgmental. It’s important to note that I am not saying that the person, themselves, is toxic, but that their behaviors are toxic. (This is an important distinction to not label a person.)
In my clinical practice, I find that toxic people tend to suffer from at least one personality disorder (defined as “long-term patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy and inflexible"). The behaviors cause serious problems in their relationships and work environment. Most personality disorders begin in childhood, continuing into adulthood. They are treatable with psychological intervention and behavior change work, as long as the person is willing to do the work needed to change their thoughts and behaviors to healthy ones.
Though it's unfortunate that someone suffers from a personality disorder, when it comes to you and I dealing with their toxic behaviors, research indicates that we need to either learn how to protect ourselves OR know when to "unfollow" them in real life.
Here are my tips for how to "unfollow" a toxic person when you can't 100 percent remove them from your life:
1. Set clear, firm limits (and hold to them).
Maintain a healthy boundary by limiting your time with the toxic person as well as limiting the amount of energy you give them. You may choose to listen to what they're saying, but you don't have to engage in their rant. Limit the amount of interaction you have with them, telling them what you're doing and what limits you've put in place.
And be prepared that they'll likely test your boundaries. Honoring them is up to you.
2. Don't let their emotions infect yours.
Other people's emotions can be contagious, so stay aware of your own emotions when interacting with toxic people. If they're in a negative rant, check to ensure you too aren't getting into those negative emotions. If you are, you need to politely leave the situation to refresh yourself.
If the toxic person follows you or continues the rant after you've asked them to stop, you may need to cut them out of your life 100 percent for your own emotional health.
3. Focus on solutions.
We all have choices, and we can either go through life being problem-focused (only looking at the problem and feeling constantly discouraged), or we can be solution-focused (proactive and focused on taking strategic, healthy action).
If a toxic person brings you down, take action, either by leaving the situation, or focusing on the positive qualities of the toxic person. Everyone has positive qualities if we look deep enough. Focus on their positives, and if possible, use their positive skills to your advantage or to the advantage of the job.
4. Monitor your stress level.
If you find yourself feeling stressed prior to interacting this toxic person, realize that you must do all you can to avoid that person at this time. When we are stressed or anxious our defenses come down, reducing our ability to cope in a healthy way. When stress levels escalate, take time to yourself to breathe and re-center.
5. Don't go it alone.
I'm sure there are others who also feel affected by this toxic person. Enlist their help, not in a negative manner focused against the toxic person (gossip, etc), but rather in a positive way to keep a check on yourself. You may be too close to the situation to always realize when you need to move away from the person. Enlist healthy people in your life to help you stay on top of your emotional health.
Coping with toxic people is not easy.
But, if we understand that they're most likely suffering emotionally or coping with a personality disorder, and that their outward toxic behavior is a result of that suffering, then it's possible we can learn to approach them with a bit of compassion.
Your compassion for them, however, should not stand in the way of your emotional health.
In life, as on social media, sometimes we just need to "unfollow" certain people.