Dealing with Toxic People

If you’re anything like us, you fly into every new year with the best of intentions. Old habits wrestle with new ones and by the time spring is on the horizon, the idea of getting up an hour earlier to get to the gym is a distant memory.

Sometimes these new resolutions include how we deal with people. We swear not to let so-and-so push our buttons this year at family dinners. We promise ourselves that we won’t get riled up when some random person copies our packaging designs or products (sigh). You get the idea.

This brings us to the topic of today’s blog – emotional intelligence. This is the ability to notice, express, and figure out what we’re feeling. Psychologists say there are five key aspects to emotional intelligence which help us navigate relationships and manage our reactions to others’ behaviors. They are: social skills, empathy, self-awareness, motivation to achieve one’s goals, and the ability to manage one’s emotions and reactions.

Dealing with others’ negativity is dependent on all those five aspects and, in doing so mindfully, we can get to know ourselves better. Taking that concept a step further – understanding why we react to certain people in a certain way sheds light on the why. And once we explore that, it can create some internal peace.

“We can come to see how we are affected by specific people along with what is actually happening in ourselves,” Dr. Diana Brecher told writer Deena Kara Shaffer in a recent issue of Alive magazine. “This can create more internal spaciousness as we get clearer on what’s ‘ours’ and what’s ‘theirs,’ so to speak.” In other words, don’t get sucked into others’ drama. (I find it sometimes helps to repeat the quote “Not my circus, not my monkeys” silently. Or you can do it out loud, if that makes you feel better!)

When dealing with toxic people it’s important to set limits on unacceptable behavior. Speak up. Don’t yell but be firm. It’s also helpful to be connected to how you’re feeling, and what your needs are. Don’t push them aside. A couple of great lines: To a toxic coworker you might say: “I’m okay with criticism but I’d prefer if you not make it personal. My being overweight has nothing to do with my performance.” Or to a family member who makes jokes at your expense, “I’m sorry but that’s not funny. I may not be the most organized housekeeper, but my family seems to be thriving nonetheless.”

Says psychologist Daryl Vineberg (as told to Shaffer): “It is crucial to accept that emotions are meant to be felt and, when appropriate, expressed. One huge upside to learning the language of emotions is that they are full of information about ourselves, which can help us to become ever clearer about what we want and what we don’t want in our lives.”