Positive lessons from negative people
Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash
Almost monthly, I field new and recurring complains from my students about a certain person’s toxicity (a boss, a friend, a relative, a business partner) causing them some type of mental paralysis, social anxiety or emotional pain. Nearly every time the complainants’ self-diagnosis is to ‘immediately cut toxic people out of their lives.’ Yet, I am not at all surprised at the high failure rate of this approach — simply because it is not very practical advice.
In surveying hundreds of students and professionals over the last few years, I discovered, the average person faced at least 1 out of 10 people in their lives whom they would qualify as a clear negative influence, although the level of negativity may vary significantly including some situations necessitating professional help. My own life experience would concur with this ratio. We can’t be too naive to discount the negative tendencies we all possess including self-sabotage and outright denial of our responsibilities fueling further chaos in our lives. But lets stick with this 10% statistic for now, which reflects a key external source of toxic influence in our lives.
Negativity Is Everywhere
We quickly cut people out of our lives, change jobs, relocate and still find more of the same elsewhere, the 10% ratio changing moderately but never down to zero. Real world exposes us to negativity frequently and bubbles are not practical places to live!
This got me thinking. There must be some purpose, some utility to all this negativity, right? Is there a paradox to be unearthed? What is life trying to teach us? Are we actively listening or too busy just venting and engaging in reactionary complaining? How can we interpret and extract life lessons to our benefit even from people that hurt us, subtly and flagrantly, deliberately and inadvertently?
Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash
In my attempt to decode the mystery of negativity’s net-benefits, I dug into several real life examples and gathered the following overarching observations:
First, I discovered that behind every smile or a frown is real story, a human one and some with medical conditions that we may be too quick to judge without relevant knowledge. In other words, when you begin to deal with toxic people in earnest, you genuinely develop a level of empathy and that's not a bad start.
Second, every person uttering or typing a negative comment is not hateful, maybe they are rough around the edges in how they communicate but the content, ex the tone, of what they say may be of value and based in helpful facts. So we should perhaps learn to create separation between the messenger and the message.
I also realized that no mean supervisor, online troll or manipulative friend can violate our mental and emotional space till we subconsciously opened the door for them. We are the gatekeepers of our joy and happiness — the choice is ours.
Finally, I concluded that some toxic people have the ability to make or break some of us. Depending upon our mindset, we can either allow them to be our overlords or our teachers — the choice is still ours.
Before I go any further into the types of toxic individuals, let me be crystal clear. I by no means advocate deliberately putting yourself through the misery grinder of dealing with negative souls just to go life-lesson hunting. You should love yourself far too much to undertake a counterproductive masochist exercise just for kicks.
There are limits to everything and in certain cases its best to just walk away from these people for good, who refuse to either get the message, understand the message or do something with the message. These people may never get it or they may simply decide in their heads that your physical presence and availability speaks louder than the discomfort you may be communicating.
The point is, barring certain outliers, live pragmatically and make the most of a recurring situation than letting it hold you a life-long captive — distance yourself from the person, not the lesson.
The Type, The Benefit
Based on the frequency of complains I hear, I have narrowed down to only 5 types of toxic people and summarized them using the following framework (lets call it CAAB — Complain, Analysis, Approach and Benefit).
1. The Intimidator
Complain — “As long as I can remember, my friend he has been a bully of sorts and to this date I can’t properly deal with his aggression. I am getting too old to be always semi-scared of another man. How do I deal with or break free from this now adult bully?”
Analysis — Bullies often suffer from avoidance of their inadequacies, low self-esteem or need for attention. Some also bully because that’s what they see in their homes and others may bully to fend off other bullies. The point is, it is not your problem why someone bullies. It is their issue. People who are agreeable and available tend to get bullied more. It is likely you are being picked on because you have somehow unintentionally allowed it.
Approach — Never deal with the bully, the person, but with the issue at hand. Keep your nerves under control and zone in on the point this person is trying to make. You need to gradually take control of the conversation knowing very well there maybe flareups and defensive posturing. Hold your ground with smiles and laugh-alongs. If there is outright screaming and yelling by the Intimidator, give a pause and ask him if he would be willing to discuss this at another more suitable time. Your calmness takes them out at their knees since their aggression’s diet is the victim’s fear — starve them of your fear!
Benefit — You will reap massive courage points helping you build real confidence and credibility with yourself. You will also learn to stay cool under pressure dealing only with the isolated issue and not the person. Over time you will learn not be intimidated by anyone or anything and that strength and freedom of mind is priceless.