How many times do you get to work in a really positive mood, thinking the world is at your fingertips, only to find that your enthusiasm and energy is sucked out of you before you’ve had your first cafe latte of the day?
I worked with a woman who spent the first 20 minutes each morning ‘offloading’. I would get to work about an hour before Wendy (not her real name), and I would often sit at my desk really pleased with life and enthusiastic about the day ahead. I would dream about my successes and I would enjoy being me. Then Wendy would come in!
Wendy saved up all her troubles from the day before so that she could offload each morning. She wouldn’t talk to me or with me, no, she would talk AT me. Wendy would rant about other people and how they were stupid, incompetent and how they were making her life miserable. I would eagerly wait for Wendy to shut up. Left deflated, I would rush out for a double espresso in a full fat latte – with a triple chocolate muffin on the side.
Wendy sucked the energy from me. Wendy was a toxic person.
Interestingly, I had a psychotherapy session with a client a few weeks ago. She is desperately trying to succeed in her job and she is very ambitious. However, every day she seems to burn out quickly; her energy and enthusiasm dissipates by mid-morning. Thinking she was ill, she visited her GP but thankfully there was nothing physically wrong with her. During our session it became obvious what the problem was; she worked with a Wendy! The toxicity from her colleague was sucking the energy from her and was causing her great anxiety.
I thought it might be a nice idea to reflect on my session with my client and put some thoughts together about toxic people. They really can cause harm.
If you work in an office, especially an open plan office, take a few minutes to listen to people around you. How many of them, while on the phone or talking to a colleague, are negative? How many people criticize others, complain about other people and generally rant about how hard their lives are being make by other people? They are all toxic!
How many toxic people are sucking your enthusiasm?
It is not the person that is toxic – it is their behaviour
If you want to succeed in life it is important that you remain enthusiastic and motivated. It is equally important that you recognise things that might be negatively affecting your enthusiasm. It is important to recognise toxic people in your life. Sometimes you can’t get rid of them completely and rarely will you be able to change them, but it is important that you recognise them and recognise their impact on you.
Whenever I have a life coach session with one of my clients we talk about ‘developmental blockers’. These are things that are blocking you from achieving your goals. Developmental blockers can often be people – toxic people in particular.
It is not the person that is toxic, it is their behaviour. Sometimes people offload onto others because they haven’t been able to accept their particular situation, therefore everything and everyone else is to blame. They cherish the opportunity to rant to another person about their crisis. They are usually in much need of therapy but they haven’t recognised this in themselves. So, they offload onto others.
Most toxic people are indeed in crisis. They create dramas in their lives so that they can become the center of attention, thereby manipulating others. They try to get their needs met through criticism of others and through bemoaning their bad fortune. Just think about some people you work with or people you know.
Often, toxic people will leave you drained of energy, sometimes you might compromise your own values when talking to them. It is really important, for your own survival and success, to recognise your role in the interaction with toxic people, so that you can acquire defence mechanisms.
Typical traits of toxics
Do you know a toxic person? Think about people in your life who might show some, or all, of the following.
Toxic people are manipulative. They want to use other people to accomplish their own goals and objectives. Nothing is equal in their relationships though, it is all about them and their terms.
Toxic people are highly judgemental. They will be the first to criticise others while never accepting their own faults. They never apologise.
Taking responsibility for your own feelings is a wonderful trait to have. However, toxics will never do this. They will blame others for their own feelings. They are always the victim and they will use their victim status to seek sympathy from others.
One of the most interesting aspects of a toxic person’s behaviour is their ‘divide and conquer’ attitude. They will almost always want to make you chose them over someone else.
Have you ever had the feeling that you need to defend yourself and your actions when talking to a colleague at work? Well, that is not surprising because toxic people will shoot your ideas down quickly, and they will seldom be interested in your point of view.
Whenever I talk with my clients about relationships they have with other people some key phrases come up time and time again. My clients often say things life “I feel emotionally wiped out after speaking to her” and “I am left frustrated and unfulfilled”. These are common feelings when working with toxic people. They can drain your enthusiasm, leaving you feeling inadequate and unworthy.
Surviving toxic behaviour
Researchers in Germany, from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, found that exposure to negative stimuli caused their subjects’ brains to show massive stress responses. They concluded that whenever we are subjected to something negative our brains treat this as a stress. Electrical energy in our brains change, which affects our short-term mood. So, unbeknown to us, these toxic people are actually having a biological effect on us.
We can’t avoid toxics, they are everywhere. But we can develop strategies to neutralize their effect on us. Here are a few suggestions.
If you were to sit next to someone who blew cigarette smoke in your face, would you continue to sit and take it? No, of course not. Yet, you might be willing to sit and listen to a negative person while they wallow in their problems. It can seem rude to stop them but there is a fine line between being helpful by listening and getting the life drained out of you. Ask them, very directly, how they are going to fix their problem. See what happens when you do this. Toxics don’t like to come up with solutions, so asking them how they are going to solve their problem can have a dramatic effect.
I often suggest to my clients that they think of themselves as a counsellor. When listening to a toxic rant, imagine yourself as their therapist. You listen intently and try to put yourself into their world. At the end of the session, think about how different (and good) your world is compared to their one. This technique is called distancing and it helps to put a barrier between their life and your own.
Recognition of your own emotions is critical. Think about your own emotions. Are you getting wound up by the person’s rant, or are you near to breaking point? Are you praying that the floor opens up so that you can get a break from the barrage of negativity. Recognition of your own feelings while listening to others can work wonders for your own sanity. It actually puts you on a higher plane than your speaker. This is another form of distancing.
Where you focus your attention will determine your emotional state. If you think negatively, your brain’s neurons will make connections that store those negative thoughts. This is why cognitive behavioural therapy is a wonderful tool, because it changes your thought process – more on this later. You can use a similar technique while listening to a toxic. While they moan and groan in their negativity, you need to turn those thoughts into positives. For example, while they go on about a colleague, in your own mind you should picture the colleague and think about positive things about her, things that you like and admire about her. You could reflect these back to the toxic to see how she reacts. Distancing yourself and your world from the toxic’s world is a crucial element of maintaining your sanity.
Toxic folk can be good for us
You know, I actually learned a lot from working with Wendy. I certainly learned how to distance myself so that her world was kept very separate from my (nice) world.
I need to catch up with my client to see how she is getting on with her colleague.
I would love to hear your tales about toxic people you might know.