I can’t quite believe I’ve got to my ripe old age and I’m still having to fight back tears when dealing with some typical ‘toxic personalities’ in my social network. Hence my New Year’s resolution. I’d like to detox my social network. Not by avoiding people, but by coming up with strategies to neutralise their stings. I want to develop a super hero protective shield to stop myself and people around me from being hurt from the barbed and cruel comments which are thrown our way.
If this sounds strange, let’s just remind ourselves of what a rollercoaster 2016 has been. It’s been a divisive and poisonous year politically and socially. Strong opinions have polarised my social network. People’s thoughts and actions have made me despair at certain points this year and feel overwhelmed with misery. After this ‘cauchemar (nightmare) ’ of a year, more than ever I need to toughen up, move on and bounce back.
I’ve wanted to ‘stop all the clocks, cut off the phone’ (and internet) and just get away from everyone. But, I also recognise that I need people. An active social network is as much a necessity as breathing. While some people have made me very miserable this year, there’s also been moments where they’ve made me ecstatic. You can’t have one without the other and it’s seeing life in all its technicolor glory that makes it so precious.
Being an expat also possibly makes dealing with people more complicated. However well you speak the language, it’s easy to miss the subtleties of cultural differences and it’s much harder to defend yourself in your non-native language. Yes, I’d be the first to state that being an expat is also an honour and a privilege. Travelling, living and working abroad gives you a ‘4th’ dimension and a much greater perspective and awareness of the world in general. There is a sadness though to this. It comes when you realise that that you no longer belong in your previous life and that while your travels and experience have broadened your opinions, the friends and family you’ve left behind have not moved on in the same way. It can leave you in a lonely and isolated no man’s land.
But I am ‘oh so tired’ of feeling sad and this is why I have made this resolution. I have no problem with ‘agreeing to disagree’ but I am no longer prepared to let toxic overbearing personalities (in any nationality!) tear chunks out of me or people I care about in the process. I want to make a stand, but in an appropriate way and mature (!) way – without screaming, crying or losing my temper.
Are there particular types of people who can make us more miserable than others? Yes, I think so. My beady ears and big eyes have identified 4 particularly toxic types. So, with a drum roll here’s a summary of the different ‘toxicities’ together with my ‘no nonsense’ tips on tackling them:
#1 The straight talker aka ‘I call a spade a spade’
There are 2 main issues with the ‘I tell it like it is’ or ‘I like people who tell it like it is’ personality. The first is that they will usually proudly declare their views while showing absolutely zero consideration for your own thoughts and opinions. The second, and to my mind the worse aspect is that ‘I like to tell it like it is’ talkers tend to have a hissy fit and throw their toys out the pram the instant that you ‘talk straight back to them’ and challenge them. You usually end up with very one sided dialogue of their opinions and find yourself tip toeing around them, terrified of upsetting them.
The main negative emotions they’ll make you feel? Frustrated, hurt, let down, insignificant, miserable.
How to tackle them? Privately or publicly, but you must tackle them. Interrupt them in mid rant if necessary and ask them sweetly if, given their appreciation of straight talking, you could also talk directly to them and express your opinions. Stay factual, don’t get emotional and don’t let them bully you, but make 100% sure that you express your opinions too. They may not listen to them – the third negative point about ‘straight talkers’ is that they are usually useless at listening (!), but at least you will start to walk away from them feeling that the dialogue was more balanced.
#2 The passive and subtly very aggressive
My least favourite personality type. They stroke you with one hand to then punch you with the other. Typical passive aggressive talk is along the lines of ‘I like your new haircut, it’s so much better than your other one’ or ‘ You presented so well for someone with your level of French’ Ouch! Its saccharin coated maliciousness! This type of behaviour seems to be more typical in females and tends to run in families. It’s the kind of nasty ‘playground’ behaviour that will have your children coming home in tears, never sure if their best friend really likes them or not. The most damaging aspect of being exposed to this type of personality is that you end up cowering in front of them, never sure if you are going to be caressed or kicked.
The main negative emotions they’ll make you feel? Diminished, belittled, lacking in confidence, desperate for their approval, unbearably sad…..
How to tackle them? Call them out publicly, loudly and never let them get away with it. They pride themselves as coming across as nice people, and will often say their barbed comments with a tinkling laugh or with a sly smile. Try something like this (Put on a sad face) ‘I am glad that you like my new haircut, but I’m so hurt about your comments on my previous style. What did n’t you like about it’?! (Look sadly at everyone once else around you and make an even sadder face to get everyone on your side). Usually the passive/aggressive personality will backtrack when they see everyone looking disapprovingly at them and start muttering about how they did n’t mean it like that. Good! So, you can ask them again to explain exactly what they did mean……
#3 The push, push, push personality
This type of personality pushes you to the edge of your limits and beyond. Often found in our social networks and in our corporate environments, though family members can be guilty of this too! While this type of pressure can inspire you to produce incredible work, it can equally make you feel that nothing is ever good enough for them. Every time you do something you get a running commentary on how it could be changed or improved. Every blinking time.
The main negative emotions they’ll make you feel? Resentful, exhausted, frustrated, inadequate and miserable.
How to tackle them? Like the ‘straight talker’, ideally 1 on 1. Make sure that you define very clearly your boundaries and how much extra effort or work you are prepared to commit and underline clearly how their comments make you feel. Learn to say ‘no’ or ‘’that’s not possible’ and, don’t feel guilty about doing this either!
#4 The put you down in public personality
The most heart-breaking thing about this type of personality is that they are often someone who is very close to you. In the words of the late and fabulous George Micheal ‘You need someone who will protect you, love and respect you’. And, having someone you love constantly run you down in public does n’t just wound you, it scars you permanently. My theory? People who do this are usually not happy themselves. Constantly putting down someone is a sign of weakness and insecurity. And no, I’m not trying to excuse them, there is no excuse for publicly ripping holes in people you care about.
The main negative emotions they’ll make you feel? Broken, inadequate, betrayed, despairing and incredibly miserable.
How to tackle them? Publicly and instantly. Don’t ever let anyone get away with doing this to you as it then becomes a habit. You deserve so much better. Try saying ‘I really don’t like you speaking about me like that. I would never do this to you. It makes you sound mean and aggressive and you are embarrassing yourself and our friends. Don’t ever do it again’. Then turn around and take a large gulp of wine while staring defiantly at the offender. This usually sorts out the issue very quickly…..