How to lessen the effects of toxic people in your life
Interacting with a toxic person is like being bitten by an energy vampire — when you walk away, all the liveliness has been sucked out of you. Toxic people only know how to take. In addition to your energy, they might also extract your time, money, empathy and attention without a thought to ever replenishing your coffers.
The obvious solution is to remove these people from your life, to instead fill your social garden with friends who are blossoms of reciprocal kindness. Life is too short to waste your time with people who exploit you and who are unable to share the spotlight.
But sometimes, you cannot eliminate toxic people completely. Maybe they are a co-worker, the parent of your child, your best friend’s spouse or a member of your own family. In this case, you will need to set up very clear boundaries and stick to them. Be warned that the toxic person will try to get around the line you’ve drawn in the sand, so you will have to be firm and possibly even rude. Toxic people are used to getting their way and will stop at nothing.
Try these strategies for dealing with energy vampires
For the toxic person who usurps your time:
There are people who blather on and never get the cue that you might want to do something other than listen to their haircut story. Let them know up front that you have five minutes to talk. At two minutes, give them a warning that you need to hang up/leave. At one minute, repeat this. At the end of five minutes, say goodbye and walk away, even if they are still talking. If you see their name on your phone, just don’t answer it. If you work with this person, meet them anywhere but at your desk, so that you are not trapped. They don’t pay any attention to social cues, so it’s up to you to manage and end conversations. Good manners don’t always apply when dealing with energy vampires.
For the toxic person who needs your money:
Just don’t give it to them. You will never get this money back, because there will always be another money crisis around the corner. Don’t let the toxic person guilt you into giving them money. They are responsible for their own situation in life and it isn’t your job to bail them out. If you absolutely have to give them some money (for example: their kids are going hungry), then give the smallest amount possible and tell them it is a one-time gift. The next time they ask, just say that you don’t have any money. The more you explain about why you can’t give them money, the more they will attempt to solve the problem to leverage another “loan.”
For the toxic person who wants your empathy:
Toxic people always have some drama going on. Things never seem to go right in their lives and they need you to feel badly for them. You can likely see how they could make better decisions to avoid their current situation — do they really need three dogs that they can’t afford to take to the veterinarian? — but they don’t really want their problem solved. They want you to fan their ego by showering them with empathy. Helping and giving sage advice might feel good for awhile, but this is a black hole from which you cannot escape. If these empathy sponges are in your family, move far away from them. If you attend family reunions, stay in a different hotel. Create your own family of people who are like-minded and who let you feel sane.
For the toxic person who cannot pay attention to you:
Being in the limelight is the ultimate goal of toxic people and they have no interest in sharing the spotlight with anyone else. They want groupies to be enraptured by their dramatic lives, their super-important dilemmas and oh-so-exciting-but-actually-banal worlds. If they deign to ask you a question, they will do so only to point out how you have failed in some way — “Oh, you bought a car? Why would you make such a bad decision?” When you work with such a person, don’t fan their flames of glory. Limit interactions and don’t take their friendly bait to talk, because it will always shift to being about them.
Garlic and a cross won’t ward off these energy vampires. You will need to arm yourself with solid boundaries and firm “no’s”. If you can’t avoid them, limit interactions and do whatever you have to do to keep them out of your life as much as possible. They will suck you dry of energy, time, money and empathy, leaving you with nothing but exhaustion and bewilderment.