3 Ways to Deal with Toxic People: Which Is Right for You?By Homaira Kabir
Toxic people—those who spread negativity and find fault in others—are not hard to find. They're easier to spot in workplaces where the stresses can bring out the worst in us. Some of us also know them in our homes as partners, children, or the family members we would rather avoid.
It’s not easy to deal with them by any stretch of the imagination. As social animals, we're highly affected by the emotional energy around us. As conscientious individuals, we can also feel bad when we react in ways that aren't aligned with how we'd like to show up in the world.
If you're dealing with a toxic person (or people) in your life, here's a set of three responses that will help you decide how to best manage yourself around them. These are inspired by psychoanalyst Karen Horney's three categories of "neurotic needs"—natural human needs that can turn extreme when we’re unable to think clearly.
Response # 1: Fight for Power
This is the most common reaction to a violation of our space. It can show up as overt aggression, which often makes a bad situation worse, and we may end up with the secondary emotions of guilt and shame. It can also show up as suppressed anger where we talk about the toxic person behind their backs or ruminate about their behaviors and allow them to take up more space in our lives than they deserve. It’s best to stay away from a quid pro quo of toxicity and manage the situation in less confrontational ways. But if you believe that you’re not left with many other choices, you need to stand up for yourself by getting clear on the facts.
Where are they truly out of line and where may your own desire for power or recognition be getting in the way? When you have clarity, think of the one or two "asks" that will help you set clear boundaries. What do you need them to do? How do you expect them to behave? Make your asks short and to the point—it’s counterproductive to embark on lengthy explanations and best to end the interaction with an offer to help where you can. A word of caution: Stay vigilant about these boundaries and reestablish them when needed.
Response # 2: Cut Them Off
Another response is cutting ties with the other person. This strategy is best reserved for the "aware don't care"—toxic people who are aware of their behavior but don’t care what its impact is on others. Many of us have had a boss or co-worker in this category, and have found sanity by staying as clear of their path as possible. However, for people who are less aware of the