Toxic people in the workplace: how to protect yourself

toxic people workplace
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Chances are you’ve had to deal with toxic people in the workplace at some point in your life. Maybe you’re dealing with them now.

Toxic people in the workplace come in a number of different forms.

In my career, I’ve experienced harassers, bullies, manipulators, and gossips. And I’m sure you can think of more examples among the people you’ve encountered at work.

The stress of dealing with toxic people in the workplace impacts your health and your ability to do your job. Click To Tweet

The stress of dealing with toxic people in the workplace impacts your health and your ability to do your job. The effects include but are not limited to:

  1. decreased job satisfaction
  2. lost sleep
  3. low productivity
  4. increased stress
  5. poor mental health

How to protect yourself

So, how do you protect yourself from these soul suckers? Here are 4 ways to deal with toxic people in the workplace:

1. Find supporters.

Form relationships with positive people in the office. You don’t need to talk to them about the difficult person.

Simply having good people on your side acts as an antidote to counter the effects of the toxic coworker.

2. Set boundaries.

Do your best not to respond emotionally to the toxic person. Rise above their madness and refuse to get pulled down to their level.

If it’s the office gossip, socializer, or negative Nancy, tell them you can’t talk right now, you’re busy working.

Use body language to indicate your unwillingness to engage with them. This could mean averting your eyes when they approach.

Or you could wear headphones as a barrier.

Bad Coworker GIFs | Tenor

I used to work at a place where my department would meet for lunch every day and gossip about everyone who wasn’t there.

I stayed silent until one day I decided to take my lunches outside rather than stew in that toxic environment.

3. Have good self care.

Meditation helps keep your mind off the offending person and on the present moment instead. It also calms your brain and gives you more mental clarity.

Get a good night’s sleep. You’re more susceptible to someone’s manipulation and other toxic tactics when you’re not well-rested. It’s also essential for your overall well-being.

You're more susceptible to someone's manipulation and other toxic tactics when you're not well-rested. Click To Tweet

Eating healthy and exercising regularly are two more ways to stay physically healthy and emotionally fit. They’ll increase your confidence to counteract the negative effects of your coworker.

Take time off for vacations and personal days when you are permitted to do so. It’s important to get away to reset and refresh and take care of interests you have outside of work.

4. Focus on solutions.

Rather than ruminate on things you can’t control, focus on actions you can take.

There’s no point trying to understand the mind and motives of an irrational person. These people are driven by nefarious methods of getting their way at any cost.

There's no point trying to understand the mind and motives of an irrational person. Click To Tweet

Instead of dwelling on the problem of the toxic person, think of ways you can manage them and maintain your sanity. This helps you feel more in control.

Tell yourself they must be insecure and unhappy and try to find compassion for them.

Don’t bother trying to reason with them or have a civil conversation. They don’t care about you and only know how to deflect blame.

If you do complain, they may manipulate the situation to make you look bad. So arm yourself with evidence and stick to the facts if you are forced to bring in HR.

Sometimes the best way to protect yourself means staying silent. Unlike a toxic friend or family member, you can’t detach yourself from a toxic person in the workplace.

ACEs: Adverse childhood experiences and how to overcome them

Have you heard of ACEs? These are adverse childhood experiences that impact the way you function in society.

The test to determine your ACE score covers three categories:

  1. abuse (physical, emotional, sexual);
  2. neglect (physical and emotional);
  3. household dysfunction (mental illness, incarcerated relative, substance abuse, violence and divorce).

Studies show most people have one ACE but the detrimental impact increases with each ACE the child experiences.

One of the biggest ways the effects of ACEs shows up is in difficulty regulating emotions and behavior. These are the kids who get in trouble in the classroom.

Or they might present as distracted or withdrawn. That was me as a young child: the model student who never bothered anyone or expressed her needs.

As I grew older, however, the emotional dysregulation came into play. In late high school, I began to drink to cope with my overwhelming emotions.

As it happens, addictive behaviors are common among people with high ACE scores.

I scored 6/10 on the test, which you can take here. Sadly, people with a score of 6 or more are at risk of their life span being shortened by 20 years.

Even ACE scores of 4 or more predispose people to all kinds of problems like increased likelihood of depression and suicidal ideation.

People with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to contract cancer than those with a score of zero. They are 460 per cent more likely to experience depression.

Adverse childhood experiences can effect you throughout your life if not addressed and dealt with. Click To Tweet

Above all, these adverse childhood experiences can effect you throughout your life if not addressed and dealt with.

ACEs have physical health consequences

These experiences have real physical connotations as well as mental and emotional ones.

For example, they change the child’s developing brain, how they respond to stress, and damage their immune systems.

Much of the chronic illness in our society today stems from adverse childhood experiences.

Much of the chronic illness in our society stems from adverse childhood experiences. Click To Tweet

And increased health risks come not only from substance abuse and other negative coping behaviors.

Instead, the health risk comes from the fight or flight responses in children with high ACEs having been triggered too often.

In other words, something that is supposed to protect them in dire circumstances like a bear attack, gets set off daily in a dysfunctional household.

The resulting toll on the body sets the child up for illness later in life regardless of their future lifestyle habits.

And women are more likely than men to experience adverse childhood experiences. As a result, women suffer autoimmune disease at rates three times higher than men.

How to heal from ACEs

ACEs, self care, personal growth, self improvement

It’s possible you’re discouraged by your score. But there are steps you can take to reverse the damaging effects of adverse childhood experiences.

Here are 5 things you can do to start your healing journey.

1. Know your resilience score

Now that you’ve got your ACE score, it’s time to get your resilience score (scroll down after you click).

The resilience quiz will help you understand what helped you withstand adversity in your childhood. After that, you can incorporate those factors into your adult life.

Having had one reliable adult in your life increases your resilience exponentially, for example.

If you had someone outside the home like a teacher or relative who cared about you, that would make all the difference in how you weathered your childhood adversity.

2. Mindfulness training

Meditation can help rewire your brain to feel more calm. Over time, it reduces your response levels to stress and helps you recover from stressful events faster.

Even when you’re not meditating, stop and pay attention to your surroundings. Mindfulness means inhabiting the present moment rather than rushing from task to task.

3. Honor your emotions

Feel your feelings rather than avoiding them. Remember you are not your emotions or your thoughts, you have them. Observe them without judgment.

Resist the urge to classify emotions as good or bad. They all carry information that will help you move forward in life.

Repressed emotions lead to physical illness. Validate your emotions instead.

Repressed emotions lead to physical illness. Validate your emotions instead. Click To Tweet

Journal your past experiences and all your feelings about them. Express your feelings honestly without shame. Write to yourself about what you really feel.

4. Self compassion

Speak to yourself nicely when you make a mistake. Encourage yourself and pat yourself on the back when you do well.

Nurture yourself in a way your parents never could. Let God be the father you never had. Unlike your earthly parents, his love is unconditional.

Eat a balanced diet. Take time to shop for and prepare healthy meals for yourself. Good eating habits have been credited with helping relieve brain fog, anxiety and even suicidal ideation.

Reach out to others and create fulfilling relationships in which you can share your heart. Good relationships help you produce oxytocin, also known as the feel-good hormone.

5. Forgiveness

This one may take some time. Forgiveness does not mean condoning what happened to you. It does not even mean you have to see the person.

It’s something you do for yourself, to be set free from the chains that bind you to the past.

How to slow down: 3 ways to be a tortoise in a hare’s world

Have you ever felt like a tortoise in a hare’s world? Maybe you’re a little slow at making decisions or processing your thoughts.

You don’t think quickly on your feet so get overlooked at meetings where fast talkers rule.

Have you ever felt like a tortoise in a hare's world? Maybe you're a little slower at making decisions or processing your thoughts. Click To Tweet

We live in a society that celebrates the fast and quick. It promotes the straight line from A to B.

I’m a proponent of staying on course and saying no to things that don’t serve you. But, I’m also willing to slow down and listen to God’s leading for my life.

Here are 3 ways to slow down and go at tortoise rather than hare speed. To ease up from relentless doing to live a life you love.

1. Create white space in your life

slow down, self care, simple living, simplicity
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Resist the urge to fill your calendar. Money experts tell us to pay ourselves first. Do the same with your time.

Reserve space for solitude and reflection in your schedule. How often is up to your individual needs.

Set aside time to simply sit and think. I like to set a timer for 16 minutes and let my thoughts roam. I get some of my best ideas and solutions to problems during this time.

You might find tears come when you simply sit and linger. These are emotions you’ve repressed while running around doing life at a hectic pace.

What a blessing to give them space to breathe.

You don’t need to judge any emotions that stir. Or do anything about them right now. Let them be and allow them to run through you.

I’ve been using the Pause app by John Eldredge which walks you through guided meditations in 1, 3, 5, and 10-minute increments.

You unlock the next pause session only after you’ve completed three of the previous shorter sessions.

So, you’re rewarded for achieving the goal of slowing down for longer stretches of time. The tortoise would approve!

2. Be flexible with your goals

Goals are a wonderful way to grow and chart progress. But don’t get so stuck on one that you fail to see when God has something else for you.

It’s like forcing a key into a stuck lock. The more you push, the worse it gets, until finally the key breaks and you’re locked out for good.

But you know how sometimes if you loosen your grip on the key or position it differently in the lock, you gain entry? That’s what I mean by holding loosely to your goals.

Sometimes if you loosen your grip on the key or position it differently in the lock, you gain entry. Click To Tweet

You might have to take a less direct route to get where you’re going. Some people call it a pivot.

You’re not giving up on your goal, but approaching it in a new way. And that might take more time.

To know when and whether to pivot in a new direction, you have to be flexible and humble. Less focused on winning and more on learning what’s best for you and the people you serve.

3. Embrace your gifts

slow down

You don’t have to do things the way everyone else does. The gurus say to wake up at 5 am and get productive.

But productivity is not the most important thing in life.

Embracing your gifts means saying no to events and activities that make you feel less like yourself.

You know the ones, where you have to wear a suit of armor to get through them and count the minutes until you can leave?

Do more of what you love instead. What is the thing you lose yourself in, that fulfills you, and makes you feel most like you?

When we don’t do enough of what fulfills us, we find other unhealthy ways to fill the void.

Too much wine, food, shopping, act as counterfeit substitutes. They attempt to soothe our souls but never succeed.

When we don't do enough of what fulfills us, we find other unhealthy ways to fill the void. Click To Tweet

Slow down and take time to understand your gifts. Maybe you’ve lost sight of them amidst all the caregiving and working for money.

Think back to your childhood and what you liked to do when time posed no object. It’s likely those things will still bring joy and meaning into your life.

The right playlist can be a blessing when you need hope

Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash

An encouraging playlist can be an amazing boon when you’re feeling discouraged or going through something hard. When you need a reminder of who you are and that you’re not lost or forsaken.

I polled my friends on Facebook and asked them for their go-to songs when they’re feeling down. This playlist compromises the top responses.

Let this playlist comfort you and lift you from a low place. These songs will remind you of your security (I Am Who You Say I Am), pump you with confidence (The Champion), or let you know it’s okay not to try so hard today (Just Be Held).

If you have any suggestions for additions to this playlist, please leave a note in the comments.

I’d love to know what you’re listening to that brings you up when you’re feeling low. Or even improves an already happy mood.

I Am Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship

You Say by Lauren Daigle

The Champion by Carrie Underwood ft. Ludacris

Just Be Held by Casting Crowns

Overcomer by Mandisa

Unsafe people: 4 signs someone is unsafe and how to avoid the pain

unsafe people, mental health, boundaries, personal growth, toxic people, self care

Unsafe people haven’t done the work of dealing with their internal issues. They express their poor mental health in ways that can harm the people in relationship with them.

The more time you spend with these people, the more they reveal their negative character. Nobody’s perfect, but these types can really hold you back and make you question yourself.

It’s important to know what to look for so you can spot the red flags early. Here are four major signs someone is unsafe and how to avoid getting involved with them.

1. They can’t tolerate vulnerability.

Unsafe people pretend they have it all together. The act can be so convincing, even to themselves, you believe they really don’t have any problems.

Unsafe people pretend they have it all together. Click To Tweet

Their image and reputation are really important to them. Certainly, more important than connecting with you or sharing a real relationship.

When you show vulnerability or share your struggles, they’ll shut down or change the subject because they can’t handle this level of openness.

They might even attack or pull away from you if you display this desire for connection. They make you the bad guy for wanting to share your struggles, which they portray as weak or shameful.

Rachel backstabber animated GIF.

These people are relentlessly positive and tell you not to dwell on your problems. Or quote Bible verses to you instead of listening.

This is extremely painful and confusing. It makes you believe there’s something wrong with you because you’re not perfect.

2. Unsafe people are selfish.

It’s all about them and their needs. When you bring up a problem, they immediately relate it to something in their own life.

Suddenly, the conversation is all about them and you’re wondering what happened.

These types of unsafe people are poor listeners. They are not interested in supporting you or discovering your needs.

Sometimes they are bottomless pits and no matter how much you give to them it’s never enough.

Selfish people can also be controlling because they don’t know where they end and you begin. As far as they’re concerned, everyone exists to serve their needs.

3. They are critical.

Critical people don’t give constructive criticism or helpful feedback. However they express it, they say you’re not good enough and never will be.

They have a mysterious standard you can’t live up to. They let you know you’re constantly disappointing them by falling short of that standard.

Critical people look down on you, act superior to you, and chip away at your self-esteem with their constant complaints.

4. Unsafe people demand trust before it’s earned.

An example of this type is someone in a marriage who’s had an affair. This person gets angry if you don’t let things go right away.

They don’t believe they should have to make any changes in their behavior to help win your trust back. They think an apology should be enough.

Another example is a spouse who betrays you financially and then balks at having his credit card activity monitored.

He thinks you should trust him even though he’s done nothing to earn it.

Trust has to develop over time even if someone has never betrayed you. You can still love someone before you decide whether to trust them.

You can still love someone before you decide whether to trust them. Click To Tweet

How to avoid the pain of unsafe people

unsafe people, mental health, boundaries, personal growth, toxic people, self care

Take time to get to know the whole person.

The deeper you go in a relationship the more you discover about the person. This is why some suggest waiting at least a year before marrying someone.

Anyone can appear squeaky clean on a first date or a job interview. That’s why companies have probationary periods. Unsafe people reveal themselves over time.

Unsafe people reveal themselves over time. Click To Tweet

Don’t get too caught up in external qualities.

We’re attracted to people’s surface qualities initially. These include their looks, sense of humor, charm, charisma, talent, and achievements.

That’s natural, but over time what sustains a good relationship is the internal qualities. These include a loving heart, a fair mind, an honest soul, and so on.

A person of integrity is someone whose outside matches their inside. They’re not one person at the beginning of the relationship and another once you get to know them.

Check their patterns…and yours.

Dr. Phil said the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Find out about this person’s previous relationships. How did they end?

Does chaos seem to follow them around? Do they refuse to take responsibility and it’s always someone else’s fault?

Now look at yourself. Can you think of someone in your life who embodies one of the categories? Have you dealt with people like this more than once in relationships?

If it happened once and you learned from the experience, that’s healthy. However, if you get into relationships with these people repeatedly, something’s wrong.

You’re ignoring or refusing to look at the warning signs. Or maybe you’re getting into relationships too quickly. You’re not setting appropriate boundaries to protect yourself.

This is not an exhaustive list of categories of unsafe people. You might think of more you’ve encountered, like people who are irresponsible and expect you to take care of them.

Most of the research from this post came from a talk by John Townsend who wrote the book Safe People with co-author Henry Cloud.