Encountering a toxic person can be daunting. There are some strategies for coping with emotional abuse that you will want to implement when dealing with someone like that. These strategies will help you regardless of the relationship you have with the bully, whether a family relation or in a more superficial situation. All these strategies are meant to strengthen your defenses and minimize the impact a toxic person has on your mental and emotional well-being. It is good to remind yourself that these are not intended to improve or build an actual healthy relationship with a toxic person.
First Things First
The first step in coping with a toxic person is accepting the fact that their behavior will not change. The only thing you can change is your attitude and behavior around them in an attempt to defuse the situation. The best you should hope for is managing the relationship.
The basics of dealing with a toxic person is all about making yourself less vulnerable, taking focus away from yourself and not triggering any further attacks. All of that while not compromising yourself and your well-being.
What Not to Do
I always prefer to talk about strategies that you can implement to deal with a trouble person. But there are simply some thing that you really need to avoid. So let’s have a look at those first.
Empathy is usually a good thing when building healthy relationships. It allows you to understand and share the feelings of the other person, which helps you connect. When it comes to toxic people, empathy can actually hurt you. It can leave you vulnerable to catching their feelings through heightened emotional susceptibility (we go into that some more here). You are far better off simply showing sympathy. A far less effective tool in making emotional connections to others, but enough to make the toxic person feel you are taking them serious. Consequently, they will not feel the need to make you pay for your insufficient care for them.
It can be so tempting to hit back when someone hurts you. But, remember, the person you are dealing with is unlikely to comprehend they have made a transgression against you (and even if they do, they will not care). So, any revenge will be counter productive. You revenge will count against you and will leave you in a worse position than you were in before. Getting even can be really tempting though, so I often have to remind myself to let Karma take care of things for me on that score.
Confronting the Toxic Person
Having it out with someone can be a great way to resolve issues, release tension and come to solutions or compromises. That is, if both parties are interested in resolving the conflict. Even if you have fantastic communication skills, a confrontation with a toxic person is pointless. They don’t know or don’t care about the problems they are causing, and are not interested in finding a solution. Confrontation can really only have one outcome: an even more enraged toxic person with an ax to grind.
Toxic people defy logic. 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.
What Can You Do?
So now that we talked about what not to do, let’s focus on strategies that you can implement to protect yourself from further attacks and minimize the impact the toxic person has on you…
Putting Up Boundaries
Distance is really the key when it comes to toxic people. Whether that means actual physical distance or emotional distance depends on your situation and personal choices. Setting up boundaries is all about reducing the ammunition and opportunities you provide the toxic person to inflict damage. You can even start doing this while still in a “close” relationship with the abuser.
Work on Your Self-Esteem
I understand that this takes a lot of work and time. But strengthening your sense of self will be the greatest weapon you have against the toxic influence. While developing a good understanding and acceptance of your talents and weaknesses, you become less susceptible to the self-image that the toxic person is trying to impose upon you.
There are many ways and resources that can help you build your self-esteem. One way to start is to focus your attention on your talents. You can do this by creating personal affirmations. In Children of the Self-Absorbed by Nina W.Brown Ed.D., LPC you will find the following suggestion on how to do just that (I have paraphrased somewhat):
Make a list of about 10 to 12 of your greatest achievements in your life. It can be anything from being a great mother, to having a successful career, or being a good friend… you name it.
For each of these achievements write down the personality traits that you associate with that success. Is it because your organizational skills, your communication skills, your determination or ambition. Don’t be shy, write down whatever comes to mind. Aim for at least 3 or 4 for each of your achievements.
Now from all these personality traits make a list of the 8 to 10 that are repeated most often. These are the basis of your affirmations.
Copy this list onto flash cards, the mirror, the fridge… wherever you will come across them regularly. Write: “I am…”
The more you will come across these affirmations, the more you will internalize them. Keep repeating the list in your mind. That way you can recall the list when you are under attack from the toxic person, strengthening your shield against their influence.
Detach Yourself from the Situation
This one is tricky, and it will require some practice, When dealing with the toxic person you will want to keep yourself in a sort of neutral setting. Responding enough to satisfy the toxic person, while not actually engaging emotionally. That last one is particularly tricky, it is not something we are typically used to and you do not really want to develop a habit for it, as feeling and processing your emotions is very important for a healthy and balanced life. So rather than not feeling the emotion, decide for yourself to postpone the feeling.
When you are triggered to feel anger for example, try to postpone that feeling and for now, bring it down to annoyance. Deal with the anger once you have left the situation. By neutralizing your emotional response, you do not let the toxic person know they triggered you. They want you to be triggered, and not showing they have succeeded will make it less likely that they will continue to use that trigger.
In order to detach yourself, try to keep you body language neutral. Don’t block the person entirely, but don’t be too involved in the conversation either. Lean back and place your hands open on you knees for example. You will not offend, but at the same time will not invite more conversation that necessary.
Keep Doing Reality Checks
It is important to remind yourself of what is normal and real. The reality that the toxic person creates is neither.
Finding someone to confide in is essential. You must remain grounded.
A therapist, partner, close friend or the community on this website can help you work through things, and remind you of what is normal. That feedback is invaluable when it comes to dealing with the emotional abuser. They will make every attempt to have you life in the negative reality they created for you. For a large part coping will be understanding and maintaining your grip on actual reality.