For some reason or another, I worked with difficult populations in the mental health field. I specialize in early onset psychosis. I worked with individuals coming out of short-term units often following a suicide attempt. Others were coming out of state run facilities and getting their first taste of independence in years. My clients tested my patience day in and day out. I have been bitten, screamed at, grabbed, headbutted, and threatened. I got stories for days. Even on my worst days though, I pulled sympathy out of my ass. Even my most horrid clients possessed redeeming qualities or could at least have their behaviors rationalized.
There was a reason I was there. They needed help. I was the one who could provide them that help. In order for me to assist them, I reminded myself constantly of their “human” side. These were children, parents, siblings, friends, workers, and, most importantly, people. Keeping this in mind channeled my compassionate side in session and kept rapport intact. However, I was also being paid to put up with their bullshit.
Growing up, I was always a “people pleaser.” I went above and beyond to make everyone else around me happy. I did whatever I could to put a smile on someone’s face. I did so at my own expense, often forgetting about myself along the way.
Of course, most individuals appreciated it. They saw me as a nice person and thanked me for my efforts. Unfortunately, not everyone was as nice. Other individuals picked right up on it and exposed me quicker than Pee-Wee Herman in an adult theater.
I tried to reason with myself. “They are my friends. They would never do such a thing.” “Oh, they are just going through a rough time.” “Nobody would ever hurt someone like that.” The sad reality was there were people like that out there. There were individuals that furthered their own selfish agenda at the expense of others. They would do what it took to fuel their greed.
These “toxic” individuals sink their fangs deep into your emotional jugular with no mercy. They let the venom seep in. We do not understand what is happening to us until it is too late. We are paralyzed from the toxins. We sit there frozen in disbelief over how we could such a creature put us in a vulnerable position. These metaphorical fangs come in many shapes and forms.
Placing blame elsewhere.
Never taking responsibility.
Dodging conversations or questions without addressing the issue.
Playing the victim.
Twisting your words.
The list goes on and on.
After experiencing enough grief associated with toxic relationships, I had to lay some ground rules. If I did not, there would be nothing left of me soon. My goal was to have toxic people exit my life as quickly as they entered it.
Set firm boundaries. A toxic person wants you to play by their rules. Lay the framework. Make it clear and simple, so that way nothing you say can be misconstrued. You have to stick to your guns and not allow for any wiggle room. The moment they see an opening, they will run circles around you and drive past you like an NBA point guard.
Know and acknowledge your weaknesses. Along those same lines, you need to know and understand your own flaws going into a situation with a toxic individual. They know them better than you do probably. They will use them against you. If you can catch them as they are doing it though, then you are one step ahead.
Know their tricks. The odds are that this is not your first rodeo with this person. They likely know you just as well as you know them. You can likely predict what they will say or react to get their desired outcome.
Remain in control. If they want to play the game, let me play by your rules. This first pertains to your reactions. The toxic person wants to get under your skin and get you all riled up. Once they latch onto your heartstrings, then you lost the battle. Keep an eye on your emotional thermometer and do not let your feelings get the better part of you. Control also includes the direction of the conversation. You go into the conversation with a goal in mind. Stick to that goal and do not let the conversation derail.
Stick to the facts. Most toxic people will tap into emotional reasoning on either end of the situation rather than rely on common sense. Nobody can deny reality, and it can be your friend in this case. Examining the facts plucks apart their flawed rationale. Logic will pull the foundation right out from under them.
Take responsibility for yourself, not for them. I was in a car accident a year ago making a left turn in my development when my neighbor backed out of his driveway right into my car. I was still 20% at fault according to my insurance company. Moral of the story: nobody is fault free in any situation. Own up to your part, but do not take it all upon yourself.
If all else fails, cut them off. This one hurts the most whether it is temporary or permanent. This really should be a last resort, especially if it is someone you care about. It might be the only way to get your message across that you have had enough. However, cutting a person out of your life altogether sometimes is the only means of self-preservation.
There is an antidote for their venom.
-The Caring Counselor