Toxic People

One of my coaching clients (we’ll call her Genevieve) called for advice on how to respond to an email from her granddaughter that seemed mean-spirited to put it mildly (she read it to me.) The gist of it was the girl’s accusation that Genevieve had wrongly taken sides against her in a family dispute. This was followed by a long laundry list of all the other things her grandmother had done (or neglected to do) over the years.

My client, being all-too-human had written an angry and defensive response but had the good sense to call before sending it.

Reading between the lines, it was pretty clear that the granddaughter was in emotional pain. I suggested to Genevieve, a church-going woman who wanted to do the right thing, that she rewrite her email and begin by acknowledging the girl’s hurt: “I can tell you’re in pain and I’m sorry if I had anything to do with it.”

Genevieve called me the next day to excitedly report that it had worked! Her granddaughter responded with a much nicer email. My client’s knee-jerk response would have resulted in more bile. Instead, her granddaughter poured her heart out.

One of the most important things to keep in mind during contentious situations is that hurt people hurt people.

It’s much too easy to dismiss toxic people as jerks (or other colorful names). In reality, no one becomes toxic voluntarily anymore than you would deliberately contract the flu. Toxicity takes hold when an individual is continually hurt by others over a long period of time. Genevieve’s granddaughter had been hurt and was doing her best to make sure it didn’t happen again. Toxicity is always a tool of self-protection. “If I’m cynical and negative, then I have control. No one else can hurt me.” In its purest form, it is a type of self-mutilation. Instead of physically cutting themselves, toxic people adopt poisonous attitudes before anyone else has a chance to strike at them. And this poison makes them very sick.

Workers and managers often ask me what to do about toxic employees. There are, of course, a wide variety of ways to interact—some effective and some not. Keeping in mind that “hurt people hurt people” is a good start. It doesn’t excuse behavior; it helps you to understand it.

Slogan on a T-Shirt:

You cannot hate someone whose story you know.

Once you understand the behavior of a troubled soul, you are not as inclined to hit back. After all, if someone was physically hurt and crying you wouldn’t respond by kicking them—you would look for some way to help. That same spirit, when applied to toxic people often results in a calming of turbulent waters.

Remember, you get more of what you focus on. If, when a toxic person verbally attacks, you focus on creating a war, a war is what you will get. Instead of a counter-attack, you can remain calm and say, “I don’t let people talk to me that way so let’s discuss this when we can be calmer.” And then remove yourself from the situation.

Ironically, those who have the most trouble with toxic people have had lots of hurt in their own lives. Like attracts like and timidity is the flip side of aggression. It’s no accident that toxic people single out the timid. If your response to being hurt was to become timid, you are more likely to attract bullies who responded to hurt by becoming aggressive. They despise weakness in others because it reminds them of their own. Bullies and their victims—the dance of hurt. That’s why the only way to stop bullying is to stand up for yourself because once you do, you are no longer alike and the Law of Attraction makes sure they don’t bother you anymore.

The very best anti-toxin is to do everything in your power to be in a good mood. Positive moods are the equivalent of bug repellant to toxic people. And you won’t even need a protective mask to administer it.

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