If you’re like most people, you probably have to deal with toxic people in your life. Whether it’s an old friend who’s turned sour, a competitive co-worker or a family member that just won’t go away, toxic people can be tough to deal with.
Should you fight fire with fire? Or should you simply accept them the way they are? These are difficult questions that aren’t easy to answer.
Fortunately on Psychology Today, a professional psychologist has revealed 8 strategies for dealing with toxic people. I’ve summarized the excellent tips below.
1) Recognize the traits that make you easy prey
Firstly, keep in mind that assessing what traits cause mistreatment of you doesn’t mean that you are to blame.
Do you have a need to please or do you fear causing even the slightest conflict? Take a step back and consider the interactions you have had by focusing on what you did, but not what you felt – and see if you can find a pattern. Once you find a pattern, you can be more aware of what behaviours cause that person to take advantage of you.
2) Explore your reactivity
Again, without taking blame for the dynamic, you should look at how your overreacting and under-reacting in the relationship. For example, if you’re dealing with a bully, continually under-reacting gives them permission to keep on bullying you. Also, people who are easily anxious tend to over-react when a relationship is going south, which only gives narcissists more power to keep on playing with you.
3) Trust your gut
Some people stay in a hurtful relationship because they don’t trust themselves or their judgment. You tend to rationalize their toxic behaviour or give the person the benefit of the doubt. If you find yourself continually making excuses for someone, stop.
4) Beware of the sunk cost fallacy
What’s keeping you in this relationship? According to the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Twerksy, humans are notoriously loss-averse and usually prefer to hold onto what they have in the short term – even if giving up a little in the short term will lead to more in the long run.
Also, humans prefer the known to the unknown. Keep this in mind and realize that short term loss may actually lead to long term gain.
5) Recognize the power of intermittent reinforcement
Despite what you may have thought, humans are overly optimistic. We tend to see a close loss as a “near win”. This is what keeps people on slot machines.
Evolution explains this. In our hunter gatherer days, when the challenges of life were mostly physical, staying encouraged enough to keep going and turn the near win into a real one was a good thing. So in toxic relationships, we’re motivated to hang in there, even though we only get what we want some of the time. “Now and again” does not make a pattern and you need to keep that in mind.
6) Guard those boundaries or plan an exit strategy
If the toxic person is someone you can’t avoid, you need to set boundaries for the type of behaviour and contact you’re going to have. You don’t need to be rude, but you need to be firm and decisive. To a co-worker you might say, “I’m okay with criticism, but my being overweight has nothing to do with my performance.”
7) Anticipate push-back retaliation
It’s likely that the toxic person is benefiting in some way from the way they’re acting to you. Once you set boundaries, chances are they will redouble their efforts to keep manipulating to gain the upper hand. Keep firm, strong and direct.
8) Don’t normalize abusive behaviour
They tend to excuse their behaviour by saying things like “they’re only words” or that the real problem was your sensitivity. The bottom line is that emotional or verbal abuse is never OK.