Protecting yourself from toxic people

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Do you have unrelenting people in your life? Do they influence you in detrimental ways? Do they leave you feeling manipulated or drained after every encounter? If so, you’re probably perplexed as to why this is? Despite your positive attitude and zest for life, you find yourself unexpectedly attracted by negativity. It might not be apparent that some of your stronger positive qualities may actually be attracting toxic people. These people possibly subconsciously feel threatened by your strengths, or they may just deem you an easy target. Either way, they will endeavor in undermining or controlling you by restricting your peace of mind, happiness or success.

It’s vital to understand that every character strength has what is commonly referred to as its shadow side. This, in essence means that our strengths can become weaknesses and also make us more vulnerable to toxic people. I’ve experienced this in my own life. One of my character strengths is that I am extremely sincere and emphatic. When pushed to the limit, however, my sincerity and empathy may become people pleasing. I’ve realized that I often appease people who are pushy or rude just so they will like me. By doing so, I inadvertently allow these people to enter my life and subject me to their negative behavior.

I eventually learned my boundaries and the ability to say no more. I also became aware of how people may try to use my strengths to their advantage. This awareness has helped me ward off many negative relationships. The key is not to suppress your positive character strengths, but to educate yourself so negative predators can’t use them against you. If you feel like these people are drawn to you, here are five possible explanations why this may be happening, and some tips which may help you address it:

1. You are a good listener. Let’s face it. With the advancement of technological distractions gaining our attention most of the time, good listeners are often hard to find. When you find one, it’s not difficult to take advantage of this rare opportunity to be heard. Toxic people, however, take things to another level. They’ll talk to you for many a while when they can get away with it. They’ll ignore every body language and verbal cue you display towards them. They will often share unsolicited, negative details about their life each time they cross your path. Moreover, they certainly have no interest in what you have to say – because they’re only interested in seeing and hearing things their way. If you’re great at active or empathetic listening, you may find yourself inadvertently becoming the target of a conversational bully or narcissist.

The solution: When starting a conversation, decide how much time you are able to spend with the other person. Restrict your conversations with toxic people to no more than a few minutes. Also ponder abut some exit lines you can use when the time is up or when a lull in the conversation develops. The key to this strategy is to not send mixed signals. Let your body language and your words correspond. This will feel harsh sometimes, but it’s a necessity for your own positive well being.

2. You’re open, honest and trusting with your dreams. Sadly, many people opt to settle in life. So if you’re striving for big dreams and goals, you will inevitably attract the unwanted attention of a toxic person or two. If you freely share your dreams and aspirations with them, they may view you as aggressive, greedy, unrealistic, or selfish. Driven by the fear that you might actually attain your goals, they’ll be armed with a word of discouragement. They’ll try to sow the seeds of fear and doubt. And as you begin to show progress, they’ll ramp up the ante on their strategy.

The solution: Never share your deepest dreams and aspirations with people who have proven to be toxic or close-minded. Further, be more wary of people who have many opinions though never challenge their own views, educate themselves, offer positive alternatives, or take action. To counteract their negativity, immerse yourself with people pursuing similar dreams and aspirations.

3. You’re really easygoing. If you’re an easygoing person, you’re good at maintaining your composure in tough situations whilst putting others at ease with a comforting word. You’re also likely to be passive, patient and generous. But that inner peace you exude is like a giant magnet to the negative person who’s keen to disrupt your peace. They may misinterpret your pacifism and conclude that you’re a target for their manipulating ways. And in your weaker moments you may find yourself saying yes to them more often than you might realize.

The solution: Be aware of how a toxic person may try to take advantage of your easygoing ways. For example, your kind words and gestures may appear to be an open invitation. Avoid the tendency to automatically commit to requests. Instead, make your default response: “Let me get back to you on that in ten minutes”.

4. Your positive disposition is all-inclusive. As the saying goes, opposites attract. Sometimes the positive light you shine attracts people who are yearning for the light themselves. As a person with a positive disposition, you’re often the one who invokes a conversation or lights up a room with your infectious smile. These qualities make you a pleasure to be with but may also be attractive to those negative people who ultimately want to control everyone’s attention and make the conversation about “ME”. They are usually unhappy with themselves and looking towards others for validation.

The solution: Many toxic people are unable to find joy within themselves, and they often believe that you can make them happy. They’re relatively easy to spot because they’ll go above and beyond to flatter you and furnish you with gifts. They’ll be overly agreeable and willing to fulfill your requests or desires, as long as you give them a “yes” to everything. These are warning signs that you may be in danger of falling under the obligations of a negative person who will eventually expect you to inflate their ego. But the truth is, you can’t make them happy, even if you could oblige to their every need. And you will certainly make yourself drained by doing so. If you find yourself entering into a relationship with someone like this, ask yourself: Am I spending time with this person because they flatter me or because I genuinely want to be in their company? If the answer is the former, don’t be afraid to give yourself some breathing room.

5. Your view of human nature is positive. For most of us, our daily interactions with people affirm our basic assumptions that the average human being is kind and decent. But every so often, we run into the darker sides of human nature in the people around us that may challenge these assumptions. Do you struggle to accept the darker sides of human nature such as possessiveness, narcissism, greed, and deception? Do you hold on to friendships with such people because you believe they will change? Do you brush off their put downs and unkind deeds and spend lots of time with them anyway? If so, you may have a relatively high tolerance for negative people. You may find yourself enduring their negativity and even abusive behavior. And you actually may not realize that you are in a relationship with a negative person until the situation becomes dire.

The solution: Human beings are good at sensing danger with their intuition – not just physical dangers but also emotional dangers. If you’re in an emotionally negative or abusive situation, don’t second-guess the discomfort you feel inside. This may be difficult because your optimism about others may drown out uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, shock, anger, or emotional withdrawal. When warning signs manifest in the form of emotional discomfort, instead of ignoring them, ask yourself these questions: What is causing this feeling in me when I’m with this person? What is this discomfort trying to protect me from? What positive actions can I take to relieve this discomfort? Just like physical pain protects you from further bodily harm, emotional discomfort, when embraced, can protect you from the damaging effects of a negative environment. Afterthoughts The positivity and goodness you bring to the world truly are precious gifts. Protect these gifts from negative influences. Invest yourself in people and circumstances that will magnify your efforts rather than diminish them. Even though your positive traits may inadvertently attract negative people, do not let this stop you from being who you are. Just be aware of this reality so you can detect danger if it arises and take proactive and protective measures. Also consider that your positive gifts have the power to indirectly transform negativity. Just as light will dispel darkness, your light can be a shining example to those who mean well but don’t realize their negative tendencies.

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