Get rid of the toxic people from your life

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a rare personality?

According to the Myers-Briggs personality model, the INFJ is thought to be the rarest of personality types. INFJs read people very well and they can easily see ‘behind the mask’ that some people unconsciously wear. They are people with many layers, they can be mystical and very private and, above all else, they are rare. Sound familiar?

Firstly, let’s look at what I mean by the Myers-Briggs personality model. During the early part of the 20th century, Carl Gustav Jung, an early psychologist, came up with a theory that each one of us falls into the category of ‘introverts’ or ‘extroverts’. Introverts tend to focus on their internal world while extroverts prefer to focus externally.

In the 1920s, Jung’s theory was further worked on by Katherine Cook Briggs. She was a teacher and had a fascination with personality types. Together with her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, they developed a 16-personality model, now known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (trade marked in the US).

The Myers-Briggs model is based on the idea that we have basic preferences, and these can be categorised into four main areas. These are:

Do we prefer to focus on the outer world or do we prefer to focus on our own inner world: Extroversion (E) or Introversion (I)?

Do we prefer to focus on basic information we take in or do we prefer to interpret and add meaning to the information we get: Sensing (S) or Intuitive (I)?

When making decisions, do we prefer to look for the logical or do we prefer to consider the people element: Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)?

And finally, do we prefer decisiveness or do we prefer to remain open and procrastinate for a while: Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)?

Now then, if we put all of the above together, we get 16 variations. For example, an ISTJ person is someone who is systematic, factual, organised and pragmatic, while an ESFP is a person who craves excitement, is energetic and sociable.

Back to the rare people

You might think that, because there are 16 personality types or combinations, there would be an equal amount of each in the population. However, this is not the case. The most common personality type is the ISFJ, with just over 13% in the population. The least common, with only 1.5%, is the INFJ.

INFJs are gentle and caring but intensely complex individuals. They look for hidden meanings in things and they rarely take situations at face value. One of their greatest strengths is their ability to ‘feel’ things and to intuitively understand other people. INFJs have been known to experience psychic intuition. Their sixth sense can often be difficult for them to explain, so they give up trying, which can leave them feeling isolated and misunderstood.

It is not unusual for INFJs to absorb other people’s emotions. They don’t just sense the emotions of others, they can actually feel them in their own bodies. No other personality type does this quite like an INFJ. They truly have superpowers!

Shallow and one-sided relationships don’t usually work for INFJs. As introverts, they have limited social energy therefore finding their true soulmate can be difficult. When they do find that person, they will feel like a miracle has happened.

A word of caution

As a professional psychologist and counsellor, I sometimes use Myers-Briggs as a starting point at my consultations. I know from doing the tests myself that the results can be consistent, so I am a great fan of the theory. However, I must stress that there is an awful lot of misrepresentation online about personality traits. I have come across websites that claim to predict how unstable each personality type can be and how some are more susceptible to mental health problems than others. Let me assure you, there is no conclusive research so far that shows specific traits are more or less likely to suffer from mental illness.

Having said the above, discovering your personality trait can be good fun. There is a great free test at http://www.16personalities.com.

Let me know if there any other INFJs out there!

 

 

 

 

 

If you change nothing, nothing will change!

I thought it might be nice to reflect on the success I have just had with one of my clients. Obviously, I can’t use her real name and I can’t share her details, so for now I will call her Julie.

I had a wonderful Skype meeting with her last week. She was excited and talked non-stop for the first ten minutes. You see, Julie had just received her first royalty payment for a book she has written. I won’t share with you the amount she received, suffice to say it was the equivalent of six months income for the average UK and US employee!

What makes this story more poignant is that Julie almost ended her own life two years ago. She experienced a really bad run of luck and it all got too much for her. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants and he recommended she see a counsellor. That’s where I came into her story.

In need of a life coach

Actually, Julie didn’t need a counsellor, she needed a life coach. Sure, her mental health wasn’t all it could have been and there were some issues that were troubling her, but the root of Julie’s problems was centered around her feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and lack of confidence in her abilities. Julie wanted to change her life, she wanted to get out of the rut and drudgery of her daily grind, but she didn’t know how. No amount of antidepressants or other medications would have helped Julie to make changes in her life.

Julie was a very creative person. She loved to paint, draw, take photographs and she really loved to write fiction. However, her lack of self-confidence was always the stumbling block. When I first met Julie she showed me a wonderful portfolio of pencil drawings she had done. But each time she pulled out a drawing for me to look at she would say stuff like “this one isn’t very good” or “I don’t like the sky in this one”. After looking at ten pictures I stopped her and asked if she could find one she really liked. She couldn’t bring herself to say any of her work was ‘good’.

I won’t go into detail about why Julie lacked self-confidence. There was a whole load of reasons. Sometimes, the wrong thing to do is to look back for reasons. Sometimes it is better to look to the future and forget the past. Some people need psychoanalysis before they can move on to greater things in their lives, but some people just need to look at the ‘here and now’. It is always a dilemma that I have when working with new clients; do I go for the treatment that is based on analysis or do I go for life coaching techniques. With Julie, I decided life coaching was the answer.

What is life coaching?

Let me pause for a second to explain a little more about life coaching.

Life coaching is a means of helping people, usually a person, tap into their true potential and to realise their aspirations and dreams. I like to use the analogy with tennis. Suppose you wanted to take up tennis as a new sport. You could read a book on the subject, you could watch numerous YouTube videos, and you could talk to other players about the sport. However, none of those things will get you playing tennis. So, you decide to buy a racket, some balls, and find a wall to practice against. You might pick up the basics through self-teaching, but you will almost certainly pick up bad habits too. You might find progress is very slow and you may become demoralised and give up.

You might find a tennis coach. He will teach you the basics, then, as you progress, he will teach you more advanced techniques. Perhaps you will get into competitions and your coach will support you through your matches, helping you to analyse your opponents strengths and weaknesses. Your coach will set you goals and objectives and he will work with you to help achieve those. He will pick you up and dust you off when you fall down and he will encourage you. He will almost certainly push your boundaries, but in a safe and encouraging way. Together you will win. But the one thing he will not do is to play your matches for you. YOU will do that yourself. YOU will learn, YOU will play, YOU will win.

Life coaches have the ability to help you shed light on difficult situations. They will do many things, such as setting regular goals and targets, looking at the big picture so that you can look at the detail, have regular check-ins, motivate, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, help you to work smart rather than work hard.

I read an interesting piece about life coaching in a recent edition of the Public Management magazine. The author reflected on a recent study that showed training alone increases productivity in companies by about 22% while training combined with coaching increases productivity by over 80%.

Life coaching is incredibly popular now. Why? Well, it is simple really. More and more people are getting tired of what they ‘should’ do and are ready to do something special and meaningful with their lives. The problem is, most people can’t seem to see a way to reorient their life. A life coach has a vast toolkit that can be used to help reset and move forward.

Back to Julie

Julie wanted to change but her self-doubt held her back. For years she didn’t change. The desire was there but she couldn’t see a way to make a breakthrough. Her self-esteem was rock bottom, her mental wellbeing was in need of help, and her belief that she was a valuable person was almost non-existent. There was one positive thing about Julie that I recognised immediately – she wanted to change. In fact, her desire to change was as strong as I have seen in anyone before.

I started work with visualization techniques. Between us, Julie and I pictured success. Julie didn’t want to be a millionaire, she didn’t want fancy cars or exotic holidays, she just wanted a life that was fulfilling. So, we pictured it together. Through a combination of relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis, Julie was able to start ‘seeing’ her new life. A good start.

After you see what the future might look like, the next stage is to plan how to get there. It really is like a journey. If you want to arrive at your destination, you need to travel. So, together Julie and I planned her journey. We looked at her strengths and weaknesses. We looked at the things she could do now, and we looked at subjects she was passionate about. We came up with a plan. Julie would write a book. She had been scribbling away for years but she never thought her idea would fly. Well, it was time to give it wings.

Life coaches need to check-in regularly, so that was exactly what I did with Julie. I checked on her progress, I motivated, I listened to her when she was down and struggling and I picked her up again. Her strength grew each week. We developed ways to help her build self-confidence and we laughed when my ideas went horribly wrong (yes, life coaches get it wrong sometimes!).

Finally, it was judgement day. Julie had sent her work to a literary agent. To her surprise and delight, the agent emailed and asked to meet for a discussion. I spent two hours with Julie before her meeting with the agent. We had coffee and we walked in a local park. I needed to build her confidence to an all-time high so that she would go into her meeting and wow that agent. And she did.

Beaming from cheek to cheek, Julie emerged from her meeting triumphant. Her agent agreed to get a deal for her. And the rest, as they say, is history. Julie is writing her second book.

The one thing I want you to take away from Julie’s story is this. I, as the life coach, didn’t write her book – Julie wrote it. Julie came up with the ideas for the book, Julie constructed all the characters, Julie spent days, weeks and months writing, and Julie closed the deal with the agent – not me. All I did was to take a person who needed direction and work with her to help her find the answer. Life coaching is wonderful.

I really hope you enhoyed my piece on life coaching.

I have a new podcast series on life coaching coming out very soon. Keep in touch.

http://www.ahelpinghand.biz