This morning, thinking about negative and toxic relationships, I started thinking of that "Poison" song by Bell biv DeVoe. You know: "That girl is poison/Never trust a big butt and a smile/That girl is poison." I mean, the "big butt and a smile" part doesn't necessarily fit with the toxic relationship topic, but you get what I mean- people's behavior and attitudes can be poisonous.
With some of these toxic relationships, you can move on- you can leave a bad relationship, you can even sometimes quit a job and leave a toxic work environment. But what do you do when you can't leave a relationship, for example when you have a toxic friend who is linked with your other friends? Or when you have a family member who brings you down (most people can't just eject a mean-spirited family member from your family.) What do you do when you, inevitably, have to deal with their bad behavior?
I hate confrontation. No, that's an understatement- I despise confrontation. And this is why, over the years, even when people's behavior has been rude, insensitive, or outright egregious, I've bit back a response and tried to move on with my life. I say "tried to move on with my life" because I tend to ruminate, so yes, weeks later I might still be thinking about how so and so said rude remarks to or about me. And if the person is particularly toxic, I might have automatic anxiety when having to interact with them since I anticipate bad behavior. And as I mentioned, with certain people, the negative interactions are inescapable. So what can we do?
This article, by Lachlan Brown, is a great place to start, as an introduction to toxic people and also provides tips on how to deal with them: https://hackspirit.com/9-warning-signs-surrounded-toxic-people-need-get-hell/
This is another article by Amy Morin, LCSW, with tips on how to manage toxic people: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201812/7-better-ways-deal-toxic-people
In addition, managing our expectations when dealing with toxic people is important. If we constantly expect them to have changed, we will be sorely disappointed in almost every interaction with them (there may be that one time when they actually behave themselves, but that should just be a pleasant surprise and not our expectation.) As Brown mentions in the article, creating boundaries with unpleasant people is an important step to managing our interactions with them. We don't have to become unfriendly or mean-spirited ourselves, but we do have to set limits. Maybe we don't have to go to every function that they attend. Maybe we can cut our conversations short. With more aggressive toxic people, they might take the chance to verbally attack us or slip into manipulative behavior when they sense boundaries being set, but either way, our goal is to protect our well-being. The older I get, the more I realize how deeply people have been hurt by their upbringing and bad things they've experienced in their lives, but I'm at the point where I do not want to take responsibility for their experiences and allow them to bring negativity to my life. We all are in charge of our own emotional health and we all have to work on ourselves.
The benefit of setting healthy boundaries is that we will have so much more time to spend with people who leave us feeling inspired, loved, and supported instead of drained, defensive, and low.