Friday, July 31, 2009

Health: Toxic People II

Yesterday I started an entry on Toxic People because I believe there is SO much more to being healthy than just being fit and strong! What good is it if you can run a half marathon, but your spirit and life is in shambles or you are losing your energy to negative people!! Let's get in shape on the inside and outside!!

I had a toxic relationship in my life... (really Mary, just one?) and I opened yesterday's post with a situation from it, walking away from the person because they crossed boundaries I had set. With this particular person, I explained why I had taken issue with a subject they continued to broach. Consistently the object of blame and manipulation, I revealed that I could no longer discuss the issue with them. They agreed not to bring it up and was aware that if they did, I would ask them to stop, only once. From there if they persisted, I would leave or ask them to leave, no matter where we were. This conversation about the problem went very well, they agreed to what I said and I came away believing we had an understanding. 

Not quite. While the person was rational during the chat, I soon found that they still wielded manipulative behavior and blame like a weapon when they were unhappy. They insisted on not respecting the line I had drawn in the sand.  I ended up asking them to leave my house, leaving them at a restaurant and walking away from other numerous gatherings to show them the boundary I set was being disrespected and that was unacceptable. It worked and thank goodness, because this person was in my life for good! They still try and rile me up at times, but I have limited my interaction with them and they are a bit more respectful of my boundaries now.

The best thing to do first is outright taking them to task and speaking with them rationally, expressing as nicely as you can, the behavior that you deem negative. There is a chance they didn't realize what they were doing, how negative they were being or that they were hurting you. If you feel that talking with them in person would only result in a fight or a circular conversation, send a letter outlining clearly, kindly and firmly what is happening and how you feel it is not in your best interest. Another very good option for talking to them is having a third party present. A person that is not involved or invested in the situation or relationship can sit in as a mediator and assure that both sides get to air their laundry. This can be tricky though because you don't want the person to feel ganged up on, so carefully chose someone who is truly unbiased. Once you confront them, you should know pretty quick whether they will be open to trying to change. If they aren't they you need to make a decision about what to do next.

You can assert some healthy personal boundaries and express those to the other person. For instance I said "when you bring up such and such a topic, it upsets me, so I will ask you not to bring that up." "When you say this particular thing to me, I feel you are doing it to hurt me"or "even if you don't intend to belittle me, what you're saying does." And ask them to stop or refrain from what you feel is negative. 

Sometimes it's not the snide remarks or backhanded compliments that a friend says that are the problem. Sometimes the problem is what they do, or bad unhealthy behavior they bring into your life (constant partying, hurting themselves, poor decisions that their friends pay for etc.) If friends are unwilling to listen or compromise, you may feel the need to ween yourself away from the relationship.  Make your self slightly unavailable to them in crisis times or when they need someone to partake in the drama. Limit your interaction with them by not letting them pull you in. I believe there is a healthy way to help someone through painful difficult situations, but other times people can use you or fill your life with constant drama they invite.

This can feel passive and sometimes wrong, so weigh the situation carefully and do this only if you have first tried to talk with them and they are not working on incorporating change. If they ask you why it is you have been unavailable, then you can answer honestly and they can see what their behavior will cost them. Still it is not to teach them a lesson, that is not the goal. We are not there to wag our fingers and say I told you so. Toxic people are hurting people, insecure people and people who need compassion. You can offer that as a friend, but must also look after your own emotional needs. Try and keep your motives in check so that if you do distance yourself, it's for your sake and your own emotional good.  If you want to give a lesson, a dose of honest sprinkled with love is the way to go. 

I would warn against cutting them out entirely or too quickly unless it is an extreme situation (someone stealing from you, breaking the law or placing you in danger etc.) Things like this done in haste can cost friendships that could be salvaged. Take a break and see if they are working on change or getting better before calling it quits for good.  

Not all relationships are friends and family, some are less intense, less personal, but more frequent like those in the workplace. These are trickier to deal with but with less investment as well. Do things like count to ten when they try your patience, answer sarcasm and negativity with kindness and an open outlook. You will feel better and hopefully drive them crazy. It's unfortunate, but in a work setting, confronting someone like you would others I mentioned above can be done, but is not always the best idea. If you need to, speak to HR about the problem, maybe they can do the speaking for you. Other options are, moving offices, switch projects or add a neutral party to the project. Confide in a friend to blow off steam or hit the skyways for a 10 min power walk if you think you can't take more. At the end of the day though, you can leave toxic co-workers in the out box. 

Thats my second installment on a topic that I guess I have to say a lot about. Tomorrow, round three, the woe, it's me... Lots of fitness fun updates coming over the weekend too!  
Lots of love, happy Friday!! 

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