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Handle Toxic People You Can’t Escape (How To)

Toxic People

Do you know how to thrive in spite of toxic people you cannot easily “escape” from like close friends, supervisors, associates, and family?

The middle of a heated argument with a toxic coworker, acquaintance, spouse, or family member is not the time to draft a plan. As noted by the title: you cannot (entirely) remove them from your life, so you need a plan in advance.

Why?

With the right approach to their reoccurring negativity you can:

  • Stop and/or mitigate emotional harm
  • Maintain your personal peace
  • Maintain control over your emotions
  • Control interactions with them

But, first…

Let’s identify what I mean by “toxic” in this post (and on AML overall).

I don’t mean: the random cat-caller on the street, or that rude barista who’s work schedule always seems to sync with your commute, or your former high school bestie that complains you never talk anymore on Facebook.

I do mean: people who have a direct impact on your ability to sustain yourself financially (supervisors, bosses, managers, fellow employees with powerful political connections), family, close family friends (toxic people who are a deep part of other family member’s lives that you have healthy relationships with), or communal leaders (faith or identity-related authorities).

Flawless Victory

If you are familiar with the video game Mortal Kombat, you know it is responsible for the introduction of the term “Flawless Victory”  within gamer lexicon over two decades ago. If you don’t–please bear with my former core identity for a moment.

What’s a “Flawless Victory?”

To achieve a “Flawless Victory” in the game, you must “kill” your opponent’s character without letting them land a successful attack upon your character.

If you avoid, redirect, block, and counter their attacks while delivering yours the game’s announcer will call out: “Flawless Victory” at the end of your match. (#Winner)

Avoid   Redirect   Block   Counter

What does a video game have to teach us about dealing with difficult people we cannot completely remove from our lives?

Quite a bit as it turns out.

The toxic people we cannot fully remove from our lives are the most dangerous to our peace of mind because they often come with social ties: familial relationships, religious or  work politics, debts, networking, future events, social politics, etc.

Unlike a rude clerk or crazy-dude-on-the-street, these people have inextricable ties to you and other people you care about that aren’t toxic to you.

Habitually avoiding, redirecting, countering, and blocking their re-ocurring negativity will be necessary to maintain those meaningful relationships while preserving your boundaries and emotional well-being.

#Kumite

We know we need a strategy for dealing with the re-ocurring, toxic characters in our lives. But what does that look like?

AVOIDANCE

In combat, real and fictional, it’s (always) better to simply avoid conflict or situations that invite an attack whenever possible.

I know, the point of this post are the instances we can’t avoid beloved readers; however, if you cannot avoid the issue or person entirely, you can avoid what turns a “disagreement” into WWIII more often than you may realize.

How do you do that?

1. Identify triggers

Because you deal with these people often, you’ll find that when you really sit down to think about it, you know what many of their “tells” are. Perhaps its a certain event that should not be mentioned, a food, an outfit, a holiday, what-have-you.

BE HONEST with yourself.

You may find the answer has to do with you, a part of who you are, or who you are entirely.

That’s okay. (Not in a general sense, but for the purpose of this post, mind you.)

You’re not passing judgment on them, assigning value to them, or justifying their existence. They may be absolutely ridiculous. That’s okay. Again, you just want to identify them.

2. Avoid them.

I know, beloved readers #obvious. (Don’t mind me.) Speaking from experience, if I’m brutally honest with myself, there were times I could have side stepped an issue with a bit of forethought on my part.

Why didn’t I? Pitifully: I simply resented having to put forth the effort; however, it’s always proven to be worth my peace of mind.

The relationships I wanted to maintain always proved to be worth the bit of extra work on my part to mitigate toxicity aimed my way, which has quelled said resentment over time. In other words: It gets easier. It gets better.

I’m not suggesting you walk on eggshells around them forever–that’s unhealthy. I am suggesting that you resist the desire to not take an extra step, that may save you a leap, if and when you can.

REDIRECT

Avoidance is difficult with family, supervisors, etc. So is redirecting; yet it’s the most effective technique of the four. Redirecting the energy, emotion, and “sting” of the triggers you identified is a vital life skill.

When you implement this well, you redirect much of the toxic person’s toxicity away from you–while maintaining control of yourself and more than likely the situation as a whole. I’ve found that this works best when I adhere to the following, during interactions with The Toxic:

1. Identify the goal of the interaction

(Plan a menu, get a phone number, set a date, avoid giving personal information, etc.)

2. Don’t speak to any rudeness or inappropriate remarks.

(Speak only to the goal of the interaction.)

A full break down of how to do this and why it makes you a force to be reckoned with can be read here. The urge to shoot back a witty zinger or defend oneself can be overwhelming. (I get it!) Unfortunately, doing that just prolongs the interaction, ultimately draining you not he or she.

3. Keep it short.

Once you have spoken to the goal of the conversation, keep the rest of the interaction short. You may even need to say outright: “That’s all I have to say on the matter.” (Politely, but firmly.) Remember, he or she thrives by stealing your positivity and/or unloading their negativity onto you. Don’t be his or her emotional charging station!

Exhibit A

The following convo occurred during a family event. At the time for the sake of my health (I was extremely over weight at the time) I was adopting a clean eating lifestyle. Practicing avoidance, I mentioned–a week in advance–I would bring an alternative to eat to remain disciplined. #healthgoals

This caused no issue at the time with the future hostess. Calorie-dense food was prepared for the event as planned. Unfortunately, feelings changed in a rather abrupt way at the table, the day of the event.

Interaction Goal: Return to eating quickly and respectfully.

Difficult Relative: Hey! What’s that there? *Points at my plate.*

Me: *Recognizes trigger.* Just a little something I brought, like I mentioned last week (Block). I didn’t want to be a bother asking for something special to be prepared just for me (Redirect).

DR: (Angrily) Why are you eating that? This isn’t good enough for you? *Gestures to everyone’s plate establishing an Us vs. You narrative.*

Me: (Calmly) It looks wonderful (Block). *Returns to eating, breaking eye-contact.*

DR: (Louder) Everyone else is eating it. They don’t have any problems. Nothing is wrong with what I fix. This is all good food, here. *Everyone suddenly finds their plate fascinating. Side conversation dies off.*

Me: *Nods politely* Mmm-hmm (Block).

DR: (Even louder) You’re just going to eat that then? Is that it? All this is here and you’re just going eat that? You can’t eat what’s just fine for everyone else? You need something special? For your “diet”? Nobody else’s system has a problem but yours!

Me: (Firm, calm tone.) Yes, I am. (Block) *Returns to eating.*

This relative mumbled various comments about me after wards, but continued eating after realizing I was not going to trade blows with her. Conversation quickly resumed.

This conversation took place in front of my entire maternal family, during a meal, with said relative standing over me, while I sat. Also consider: I was a teenager. As this relative was older than myself–there were unwritten, cultural rules of familial hierarchy I had to obey as well–fair or not.

Is it hard and annoying to redirect? Yes.

And yes, sometimes it hurts. It cut me to the bone to be dressed in front of family again for my desire to lose weight, eat healthfully, and better myself. Is it worth it? Always.

BLOCK

In the above conversation I denoted where I employed a “block technique.”

This is when you say something that does not inflame or prolong the interaction you are in.

In the above conversation, I could have said far more in my defense or made an issue of her approach towards me. I chose not to. I stated what I was going to do and nothing more. Through bitter trial and error I learned this was the way forward through these re-ocurring situations.

Defending myself was often labeled as “disrespect,” and left me subject to negative social sanctions. I could feel helpless and unprotected or I control the one thing I could in the situation: myself. In doing so I gained more than just control over my feelings, but the situation at large.

Unsurprisingly, I discovered this technique worked with bullies, condescending professors, negative classmates, and later toxic coworkers and supervisors.

A word of caution: This technique is deceptively easy.

Why?

If your “block” is rudely executed, the rudeness of the “block” itself will continue the interaction! #mindyourmanners

COUNTER

Counters are the quickest way to a make a situation better or worse. For this reason, they should not be employed alone (see my conversation above). Counters should be employed after blocks, in my observations, beloved readers.

You must first block the oncoming negativity, and if it cannot be redirected, counter it with something that still shortens the interaction. Countering a toxic person, without blocking, is like throwing a gasoline tank into a bonfire! Always:

1. Identify the goal of the interaction.

2. Make a short statement that brings the interaction back to the goal of the interaction (without necessarily stopping it as a block would).

Exhibit B

Toxic Person: Why can’t you just do XYZ this way? You’re always doing things in some stupid way. Just do XYZ like everyone else, for once!

Person A: Doing XYZ this way allows me to get XYZ done as quickly as possible (Block). We both want XYZ done soon (Counter). I’m going to do XYZ this way (Block), so XYZ will be done as soon as possible (Redirect).

TKO

Life isn’t a game of Mortal Kombat (thankfully). But dealing with toxic people that you can’t outright remove from your life can feel like I battle. I understand. I’ve been there. It’s rough.

Their toxicity doesn’t have to steal your peace or cause you to behave in ways that damage your reputation, self-respect, or unique femininity.

Ready? (Fight.)