Friday, June 23, 2017

Are You the Toxic Friend? 5 Ways to Change It

I stumbles across this old Forbes article about 10 toxic people to avoid.  I don’t know about you, but when I see a headline like this, I immediately open it thinking, “Oh my god, is that me?”  By the way, this is a sign that this is probably not you because if you were a toxic friend then you would be thinking, “Oh my god, how many of my friends fit this list?”  

Toxic Friends
As I was reading through this though, I realized that at one time or another I’ve done some of these things.  My guess is that we all have, so what keeps us from adapting these behaviors more permanently as other “toxic” people have?  

I have a couple of theories on this.  
1) People that aren’t toxic are naturally more aware of their behaviors, and how their behavior effects others. 
2) Toxic behavior is a shield for some people.  "I’m don’t feel worthy so I will put you down so at least you think I’m better than you,” or, “You’re going to hurt me, so I will hurt you first,”  or 
3) Sometimes the person is depressed and unhappy and so embroiled in it that they can’t see the forest for the trees.  
4) Being this way has become a habit, and they have forgotten how to be different. 
5) Your life has become too small.  You have let go of your interests, passions and dreams in favor of your children’s’ or your husbands and you have lost your own identity and you are jealous of those who haven’t.
 6) All of the above
7) I think in a few instances, people are just truly toxic. I think the article summed it up nicely when it said,

"Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons.”
- Travis Bradberry,

If you are dealing with the person who derives satisfaction out of making other people miserable, my advice is to run like hell.  However, for the "blissfuly unaware”, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they might not be so blissful.  I mean, they probably get left out of a lot of things, and don’t even know it until they scroll through FaceBook or overhear someone mention it, and wonder why they weren’t included.  This makes them feel bad about themselves, so they double down on their toxic go-to’s (their shield), which in turn exacerbates the problem, and so on.  

I believe that deep down we all have a need to be accepted and included, and I think (most) toxic people are no different (except for the evil ones already mentioned).  I think some of these categories are people that have gotten into bad habits and some are just people you have to avoid.  

There are 2 million google hits on “You might have a toxic friend or avoid toxic people”, but none on how not to be toxic if that is your wish.  So, if you would like to be included more, or if you want better relationships and connections, you know like real friendships, then see if any of these behaviors have become your habits. 

They key to moving out of “Blissfully unaware” is to become aware.  Simple, right?  Aware of what you do and why.  Acknowledge that you are hurt, insecure.  It is okay to feel how you feel. It is not okay to act however you wish to act, so step two after becoming more aware is to take responsibility for your actions and the effects of those actions on others.  You will live with the consequences of those actions anyway, so you might as well take responsibility for them

What is simple and right is not always easy.  It takes a lot of courage to really look at your behavior and to make efforts to change it, and Yay! For those that are brave enough to look in the mirror and make a change (did I just quote Michael Jackson?). It calls for vulnerability and trust something toxic people have generally fallen out of practice with, but you can do this!  Better connection with friends, relatives, life, are waiting for you on the other side.  

Ready?  Here are Forbes 10 toxic people to avoid (and here is the link to the full article if you are interested 10 Toxic People You Should Avoid At All Costs) I did change the order they appear in the original article because I think some go together.

1) The Gossip

We all talk about people from time to time.  I’m not going to pretend that I don’t, and while I am not  advocating this as “okay”, I’m not talking abut discussing a mutual event to get someone else’s take on it.  I’m talking about talking about people and their business that has nothing to do with you.  You will recognize the gossip from the light in their eye because they get pleasure of talking about someone else’s misfortune.  

This may be you kind get some satisfaction when something goes wrong for someone in your circle.  When you feel better when someone who you envy in some way (or disdain because you are kind of jealous), then you may be a gossip.  Pay attention next time you have a convo with one of your friends, what is it that you spend the most amount of time talking about and how doesn’t it make you feel?  

If it is… If this is you, stop. In order to stop, you probably need to have something else to talk about instead because a lot of times we talk about people out of habit.  We have these people in common so instead of looking for other things that we may have in common to discuss, we talk about the people.  
An alternative behavior: One, get a life of your own that is interesting to talk about.  Get a hobby, volunteer some where.  In the meantime, come prepared with something else to discuss.  Where did they get that outfit? Have they had success getting their kids to eat veggies and if so how? Where was their favorite vacation spot?  Become curious about the person you are speaking with instead of being curious about someone els’e business with the person that you are speaking with.  You will both feel better, and bonus points! Guess what? People enjoy talking about themselves, so you will make your friend feel good about themselves, and they will want to spend more time with you.  

2) The temperamental person 

This person lashes out at you (or others), then makes you feel like their unhappiness or anger outburst is your fault.   

Is this you?  How do you treat the waiter when they screw up your order?  Do you unleash on them?  Then this is you.  When you have an angry outburst, act passive aggressively, or unleash one of your barbed witty insults, do you justify it by saying things like, “well, if they didn’t….” Or “I’m just speaking the truth.”  Then this may be you.  

If it is...Guess what? No one is responsible for your happiness.  Not your husband, not your kids, not the barista at Starbucks, not your friends.  It’s time to look deep and come to terms with your own unhappiness because you are making everyone else around you miserable and they will avoid you as much as possible.  Maybe you are suffering from depression and need to get a handle on that before you can change this behavior.

An alternative behavior… Listen how you talk to others as if you were listening from an outside perspective.  If you are a bitch, then get some help.  Talk to your doctor, maybe your hormones are out of wack.  Maybe you are actually depressed.  Not everyone depressed is sad, some people show anger as their primary emotion when they are depressed, and so go undiagnosed.  Take some responsibility for yourself and get help or risk every important relationship you have and die alone a bitter old lady.

3) The Victim.  

"Victims actively push away any personal responsibility by making every speed bump they encounter into an uncrossable mountain. They don’t see tough times as opportunities to learn and grow from; instead, they see them as an out."

Is this you? How many enemies or a frenemies do you have? Is circumstance always against you? Listen to your conversations with people.  How much time do you spend complaining then excusing why things are the way they are?  Some circumstance is always too much, poor poor me, followed by a shrug and "What can you do?”  (Note: Victims and Dementors often times overlap)

If is is...You can put on your big girl panties and be in charge of your own life.  Yes, life isn’t fair.  Life is pain sometimes, but if you stay and wallow in it then that’s on you.  Even acknowledging that you are making a choice to do nothing is a step in the right direction.  Where is your locus of control?  Do things happen to you and you react to it as it comes as best as you can because everything is out of your hands or is your locus of control internal and yes, shit happens but you believe in your ability to create your own circumstances.  

An alternative behavior So listen to yourself talk to your friends.  Does most of your conversation consist of you complaining about this and that? Overtime someone offers a solution do you have an excuse as to why it won’t work for you?  Why you are special that nothing will work for you?  Try this instead: Ask, "What can I do?” Pretend you are MacGyver and all you have with you is  bubble gum, a stick and a lighter, and do something with what you do have.  Imagine if he said, “Well, this sucks, all I have is this piece of string and some scotch tape.  I guess I’ll die."  Your choices all might suck, but you do have choices.  Even if you choose not to act, at least you are beginning to take some of your own personal power back and that is a step in the right direction.

4)The Self-Absorbed 

This might be you if… "You can usually tell when you’re hanging around self-absorbed people because you start to feel completely alone. This happens because as far as they’re concerned, there’s no point in having a real connection between them and anyone else. You’re merely a tool used to build their self-esteem”

If it is… Wow.  If you are constantly asking others to build you up then this could be you.  Some people think of the self absorbed as those asking for constant compliments on their appearance, but I also find it to be true of people who are always proving to you how smart they are, or rather how musc smarter than you they are.  I actually don’t see this as that different than the gossip, only you talk about yourself non-stop instead of other people.  So my advice is much the same...

An alternative behavior  Get over yourself.  There will always be someone prettier and smarter than you. The best way to get out of being self absorbed is by doing something for someone else. Help in a animal shelter, go to your city's Food Bank and get a tour and spend the day volunteering. Go somewhere where your looks and your intelligence don’t matter and give some of yourself to others. Or, use what you think makes you great to help someone else.  If you are smart, tutor a kid that needs help in something.  If you have a flair for style, find an organization that helps woman feel good about themselves again.  

5) The Envious (also “The Judgmental, and the Arrogant)

  •  9. The Judgmental "Instead of appreciating and learning from people who are different from them, judgmental people look down on others.” 
  • 10. The Arrogant "Arrogance is false confidence." 

This might be you if….Whenever you achieve something or your child achieves something, you are super proud.  That feeling only lasts as long as it takes for you to look around, and see your friend achieved something as well, and your achievement doesn’t look so good anymore, so you find yourself trivializing your friends’ achievement to make yours still feel good. OR....

This may be you if… When someone speaks of something they did or achieved is your first reaction a sort of panic followed by stating something that you did that was better or if you can’t think of anything, then putting it down and saying you don’t see what’s so great about it?  This is envy my friends displaying itself as judgement and arrogance.  My advice is the same here as it was in #5

Alternative suggestion 1): Much the same as the self-absorbed.  Go volunteer somewhere and do good for someone else who truly needs it.  This will make you feel better about yourself because you are making a difference in the world.  That is huge.  Little ol' you may change someone else’s life by just being you. That is so powerful.  

Alternative suggestion 2): Go do something you have always wanted to do, but have been afraid to try.  It doesn't have to be sky diving, although that would be a story worth sharing! Have it be something that someone else in your circle isn't doing so you won’t be tempted to compare.  Take a class in painting, drawing, stain glass, photography, jewelry making, learn a new language, plan a trip somewhere you’ve never been.  In other words, really delve into an interest you can get absorbed into. Find your own identity. 
Lastly Get off Facebook (unless you are looking at uplifting articles like this one) until you are in a place where you no longer view success as a pie (you know if she gets a slice there is less for me thinking). There is enough success for everyone.  

7. The Dementor (from In J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series)
"Dementors suck the life out of the room by imposing their negativity and pessimism upon everyone they encounter. Their viewpoints are always glass half empty, and they can inject fear and concern into even the most benign situations. A Notre Dame University study found that students assigned to roommates who thought negatively were far more likely to develop negative thinking and even depression themselves.”

This may be you if…
You are a powerful creature! Just not in a good way.  Listen to your reactions to simple questions or statements like, “sure is a nice day today.” Your response, “Yeah, but it’s going to rain tomorrow.” Complaining quickly becomes a habit.  A very powerful habit.  Sometimes we feel the need to point out all that could go wrong so we don’t get our expectations too high and be disappointed yet again.  

A alternative suggestion: 
Notice how many times you say, ‘yes, but”, “if,” and “as long as”. Replace “but” with “and”, or just a “yes” If someone’s safety isn’t at risk, we don’t really need to comment or point out what could go wrong, or remind them of what they did to screw up last time.  Ask, “Am I being helpful?” If the answer is “no” zip it.  Let’s practice.  “What a beautiful day!” Your response: “Yes it is” Let’s try another one. “You look great in that dress.” “Yes, but it’s old and it makes my hips look big” “Thank you” period.  “We are going to have a great school year next year.” “Yes, as long as…..(and you list everything that went wrong the previous year)” “Yes, and (list two positive possibilities, like my kids could meet a new best friend, and I will have time to pursue a painting class)."

One type of Dementor is really a fixer in disguise.  A fixer thinks of all the things that could go wrong so that they can plan how to fix them.  How you point out those flaws are critical will help people decide if they want to include you or avoid you.  Even if you can point out fifteen flaws in someone’s plan, you don’t necessarily have to.  However, if you do feel the need to do this, try to do it in a way where the person you are talking to comes up with the solution to their own problem. How?  In the form of questions! “Have you thought of?” “That sounds great. What do you think would be the most challenging part of making this a success?” First acknowledge what is right or what could be positive, then offer to help.  If you aren’t really interested in getting involved, then zip it, and repeat after me, "Not my circus, not my monkeys."

The following are two types who just need to be avoided as much as possible. They are aware of what they do, and fall under the category of "seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons.”

6. The Manipulator
"Manipulators suck time and energy out of your life under the fa├žade of friendship. They can be tricky to deal with because they treat you like a friend. They know what you like, what makes you happy, and what you think is funny, but the difference is that they use this information as part of a hidden agenda. Manipulators always want something from you, and if you look back on your relationships with them, it’s all take, take, take, with little or no giving. They’ll do anything to win you over just so they can work you over.”

8. The Twisted 
"There are certain toxic people who have bad intentions, deriving deep satisfaction from the pain and misery of others. They are either out to hurt you, to make you feel bad, or to get something from you; otherwise, they have no interest in you. The only good thing about this type is that you can spot their intentions quickly, which makes it that much faster to get them out of your life."

Maybe some of you recognized these behaviors in others around you. It is often easy to see things in others, but not ourselves.  Most of do some of things some of the time. It doesn't necessarily make us bad humans. However, when you deny that you have some of these tendancies, you actually give them reign to show their ugly heads more often.  Acknowledge it, take a deep breath and start again in a non-toxic way. Also, when you do see these behaviors sometimes in others perhaps you will have a teeny bit more sympathy for them as you know that sometimes this behavior is a mask for their own lack of confidence or they are unhappy and hurting or all of the above.  This does’t mean that you should adopt theses people as projects to help or to save.  Help has to come from within.  You can be empathetic and still not accept the behavior. In fact, for your own welfare it is imperative that you set boundaries with toxic people.  Why…..

"It’s often said that you’re the product of the five people you spend the most time with. If you allow even one of those five people to be toxic, you’ll soon find out how capable he or she is of holding you back."
-Travis Bradberry

So, in the meantime, what you can do when you have to deal with a toxic person: 

1) Quit trying to convince them that all is well, and arguing with their warped views.  Now that you know toxic people are looking for a reaction from you, you can deny them that. Get out of their game because it is a game you will not win.  

2)Take the emotion out of the interaction and stay rational.  If it helps, pretend you are a third party observer, a scientist gathering fact and making observations, not interact or change the wildlife.  Don’t respond to the emotion, just the facts

3) You may not be able to or may not want to totally cut toxic people out of your life, but have a plan about where, when and how you will deal with them ahead of time.  In other words, set boundaries and stick to them.   

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