How to deal with toxic people when you can’t avoid them

‘If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.’ – Daniel Goleman

Ever had the narcissistic boss who believed the world revolved around her, insisted on always being right, and had temper tantrums like a two year old when she did not get her way? Count yourself lucky if you haven’t.

Unfortunately, people who trigger us are everywhere – in our homes, at work, and even in the grocery store – and as much as we would like to avoid them, that’s not always possible. Though we find them annoying, they can be our best teachers.

How do you deal with them in a way that keeps you empowered and not do them bodily harm?

A few days ago I had an encounter with someone who was pushing all my buttons. As the conversation went on, I felt my stomach churning and my heart beat increasing. I thought of all the things I could scream at this person including how despicable she was and the countless ways in which she lacks integrity. Oh, yes! And as I was adding to the list, it did not feel good. I was getting very worked up.

The tendency when dealing with toxic individuals is for us to get defensive and prepare for fierce battle or to crawl into our shells and let them have their way. Neither is empowering. In the end, we feel depleted and empty or end up in a tailspin.

When faced with someone of this nature, we are presented with an opportunity to make a new choice, a different choice, an empowering choice.

In the situation I was in, I chose to get really present using my breath. Instead of unleashing all the negative judgments I had, I asked myself, “What do I want here?” I wanted to feel calm and peaceful.

One of my teachers told me that the opposite of hate is not love; it is indifference. That is, you are not affected by what the other person says or does. You can only control yourself, i.e. your thoughts, the meaning you give to events and people, and your reactions.

In addition to getting present, there is a technique I learned called EFA which I find very useful. Empathy, Fact, and Action are employed to clearly and assertively state your point. For example: “I understand you want an answer by today (Empathy). However, the due date is Friday (Fact). I will get back to you by then (Action)” or “I can see how you feel that way about the work I do (Empathy). However, I enjoy it (Fact). I would appreciate if don’t make such comments again. (Action)”. Then, politely end the conversation. If the person keeps going, try repeating the fact and action parts of your EFA script.

Are there people in your life with whom you could use these techniques – getting present and utilizing EFA? Try them the next time, and see what happens. You are only in control of yourself, and you have the amazing ability to choose the reaction that keeps you empowered….and perhaps even out of jail.:)

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2 thoughts on “How to deal with toxic people when you can’t avoid them

  1. Thanks for your article–fabulously thoughtful– very on point with things I have been encountering the last 5 years. At some point, if we don’t deal with toxic individuals, we will rejoin those people. Kindest choice for all involved, I find, is to detach with love and compassion.

    • You are welcome. Absolutely, the most empowering choice may be to let go of the relationship with loving kindness.

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