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.

Scapegoat: How to determine you’re one and take steps to heal

toxic family scapegoat

The scapegoat is first mentioned in the Bible as a living sacrifice. The community releases the scapegoat into the wild to carry away with it the sins of the whole group.

The group casts out the scapegoat and leaves it to its own devices. Its only purpose is to bear the burden of sins that are not its own.

Today, we more often see scapegoats in dysfunctional families. The family singles out one person to bear the burden of the group’s sins.

This person is usually the mentally healthiest of the bunch. They may also be the most creative, sensitive, and honest.

The scapegoat is usually the mentally healthiest family member. They may also be the most creative, sensitive, and honest. Click To Tweet

Rather than look at themselves, the family points a collective finger at the scapegoat. This allows them to carry on without changing.

They pretend to themselves they’re all right while the scapegoat is all wrong.

Are you the family scapegoat?

There are several signs you’re the scapegoat in your family. Here are five you might recognize:

1. You are punished for telling the truth.

It seems like anytime you speak the truth, your family casts you out. They abandon or punish you when you don’t follow along with the status quo, even when it’s criminal.

They can’t acknowledge the obvious truths that you bring up. If they did, they would have to change. Instead they point the finger at you and say you are the one with the problem.

2. You are the whistle blower.

The scapegoat is often a whistle blower. Perhaps you threatened to expose a family secret. In bringing the truth to light, you become branded the bad guy.

The scapegoat is often the family whistle blower. Click To Tweet

They refuse to examine the poor behavior you’re asking them to acknowledge. Instead they point to your very human reaction to that behavior. And pretend that’s the issue instead.

Your desire to bring the truth to light poses a threat to a family dynamic that functions in the dark.

3. You feel left out.

You may find yourself left out of family events or conversations. Because you tell the truth, they’d rather not hear from you.

The last thing they want is your insight. That would force them to look at themselves and the ways they need to change. They can’t bear to do that.

4. They ruin your reputation.

Family members talk about you behind your back. They may try to brainwash your few supporters against you.

They speak poorly of you even to those outside the family circle. Rather than face their dysfunction they’ll sully your reputation publicly.

This is so you won’t receive support from outside the family and they can continue in their collective delusion.

5. Your family makes you feel ashamed or guilty.

As a result of this unjust treatment, you have internalized a false sense of being bad or wrong. You have trouble standing up for yourself and accept too much blame.

You may accept jobs below your qualifications and abilities. Or experience workplace bullying and general disrespect from others.

When you are successful, your family downplays your achievements. You realize you’ve never been praised or encouraged. This makes it hard to feel good about yourself.

Due to your family’s betrayal, you find it difficult to trust people and form secure relationships.

You have internalized anger from a lifetime of absorbing all this negative attention. That can impact your health through stress-related disease, or make you feel on-edge, depressed or anxious.

How to heal if you are the family scapegoat

If all this sounds familiar to you, take heart. The scapegoat is generally the mentally healthiest member of the family.

These very qualities of honesty and sensitivity will help you heal from the damage of scapegoating.

The scapegoat is generally the mentally healthiest member of the family. Click To Tweet

The hardest part of being a scapegoat is that families can be very good at hiding their dysfunction. This results in further isolation when the victim is not believed.

You may be told that family relationships should be kept at all cost. This is not true!

If your family has been abusing you, either physically or emotionally, you do have a choice.

You can stand up for yourself and refuse to tolerate the abuse any longer. You may even make the difficult decision to cut ties.

Here are three ways to reclaim your life from the lies:


1. Let go of the longing for your family to accept you.

Understand that nothing you do is likely to make the abusers acknowledge wrongdoing.

No matter how reasonable and rational your position, they will never understand because they don’t want to.

They may never apologize for what they’ve done to you. More likely, they will double down on making you wrong.

Instead of hoping for something you’ll never receive, move forward and forge a new identity based on the truth of who you are.

It’s up to you to set boundaries with your family to protect yourself. Stop allowing them to treat you with disrespect. That may mean walking away.

2. Change the narrative.

You must challenge the story about yourself that your family has placed in your head. Look honestly at the situation and put some critical distance between yourself and them.

See that you are punished disproportionately to anything you have done. Most often, you are targeted simply for telling the truth!

You are not bad or wrong or have a fatal flaw that makes you unlovable. To remind yourself of this, make a list of your good qualities and read it to yourself often.

You are not bad or wrong or have a fatal flaw that makes you unlovable. Click To Tweet

3. Listen to what God says about you rather than your human family.

As you heal from the damaging effects of scapegoating, let God provide you with the comfort you never received from family members.

You are not who your parents or family say you are.

Remember, if you are suffering as the scapegoat, you are in excellent company. Jesus bore the burden of the world’s sins even though he had done nothing wrong.

Unconditional love means love with no strings attached

unconditional love

The meaning of unconditional love

Like many of us, I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My mother suffered with a mental illness which made her unable to empathize or show compassion, even to her children.

My father, on the other hand, was distant and unemotional. Neither of them offered encouragement or direction.

They never seemed to care about me, so I worked hard to try and win their love.

I grew up feeling like love had to be earned, and I never could seem to do the right things to get it.

Unconditional love is love you don’t have to earn. You should be able to make mistakes every day and still be worthy of love.

Maybe you are missing that kind of no-strings-attached love in your life.

Unconditional love is love you don't have to earn. Click To Tweet

Looking back on a life filled with limited affection, I’ve discerned six conditions people place on love.

In subtle ways they tell you they will withdraw their devotion if you fail to meet one or more of these demands:

1. You entertain me.

This condition says I will withdraw love if you want to talk about your problems or get too heavy with your needs.

This condition causes us to detach from our true selves as we keep things light regardless of dark feelings.

We withhold ourselves for the pleasure of the other person. Rather than challenging that person to see us as we are, we hide.

Both people are denied the right to grow and change and self-reflect. Without a savior, it is too scary to enter into your dark side.

2. You keep my secrets.

This often happens in families when the scapegoat or whistle blower finds herself ostracized and abused simply for pointing out the truth. Rather than face their problems, the family demonizes the scapegoat.

They pretend to themselves they’re all right while the scapegoat is all wrong. Only if she goes along with the lie, will she retain their love.

3. You give me sex.

This one is self-explanatory and happens all too often in the modern dating world. You get the message they can get it somewhere else if you don’t comply with their demand.

This culture keeps both men and women giving into something they may not want. Giving away sex only semi-consensually takes a huge toll on the soul.

4. You fulfill my needs.

unconditional love

This sounds okay, even like a love song, but can be dangerous when you are expected to meet another’s needs in order to receive their love.

“That’s why we need Jesus,” my friend said, which came as a huge relief to me.

When I discovered no human being could fulfill all my needs, I could let them off the hook and just love them.

5. You make things easy for me.

Similar to #1, this kind of faux love requires you not to rock the boat. You are asked to maintain the status quo, pretending things are fine when they’re not.

You don’t question the person when they let you down. Nor do you challenge them to do better. You are unfailingly supportive even when it makes you sick and exhausted.

6. You must be successful/perfect.

I had always suspected my family would reject me if I messed up. Those fears were realized when my marriage ended and they refused to support me.

As long as I agreed not to talk about my divorce, they would continue to tolerate me. Of course, that became a “love” I could no longer bear.

I learned to turn to God for love instead and accept the limitations of my human family.

True unconditional love

Perhaps you have suffered some or all these conditions on love and even live under them now. Maybe you’ve never known unconditional love.

Love with caveats is no love at all because it's constantly at risk of being lost. Click To Tweet

Love with caveats is no love at all because it’s constantly at risk of being lost. True love is secure and withstands human error.

If the people in your life won’t love you without conditions it’s not your fault, it’s theirs. It means they’re afraid of feeling exposed and vulnerable. A weakness on their part they refuse to face.

Pruning: getting rid of the good to make room for the best


Boundaries author Henry Cloud uses pruning as an image to describe how we should practice self care in our lives.

Gardeners prune rosebushes to help them flourish. It involves cutting away healthy buds to give the best ones full access to the resources of the vine or bush.

How can you use this concept of pruning to live to your own highest potential?

It helps to view setting boundaries as a three-step process.

1. Garbage removal

In this stage, boundaries involve eliminating things from your life that serve little to no purpose.

When you first start setting boundaries, it’s easy to know what to snip away. You have so much in your life that’s not working for you.

You take years of toxic baggage to the curb. Slowly, removing things that don’t serve you helps you figure out your likes and dislikes.

You uncover who you are and what you value. And you begin to align your life with those things.

Now you’re in the second stage.

2. Re-organization

You’ve become a little more discerning. If you’re an introvert, for instance, you might decline to host a big event.

If you’re aiming for a house with less chaos you stop to consider every purchase before you make it.

You live by the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your homes that is not useful or beautiful.”

"Have nothing in your homes that is not useful or beautiful." Click To Tweet

With practice, these boundaries have become easier to set. They are now a matter of preference rather than life or death.

You reach a point where you’ve gotten rid of all the junk that took up space in your life. You’re beginning to look around and like what you see. But there’s still more work to do.

This is the third step where pruning or refinement comes in.

3. Refinement

You’ve removed all the garbage and re-organized what’s left. You look around at a pristine castle and wonder how you can make it better. The castle is you, by the way.

Now the decisions about what stays in your life and what goes are less obvious. It’s no longer a matter of bad vs. good but good vs. best.

You’ve got mostly good things in your life now. But if you want to fulfill your God-given potential you’ve got to make room for the best.

That’s why some people say, “New level, new devil.” The more personal growth you achieve, the harder it becomes to improve.

Now you look at the time you spend on certain activities. And even the people with whom you spend that time.

Instead of, “is this any good for me?” you ask, “is this the very best use of my talents and resources?”

You’ve cleared so much clutter from your head that you no longer react to life. Now, you make intentional choices to use your gifts for the greatest good.

Pruning in all areas of life

The pruning principle works in other areas of life as well. Take your children’s extracurricular activities, for example (if you have them).

Many parents want to expose their kids to as many opportunities as possible. But it’s impossible to excel at everything.

Helping your child pick his favorite activity will ensure he derives more satisfaction from it. He will be able to focus and improve when he’s not stretched thin over multiple commitments.

Pruning applies for weight loss if that’s an area you’re working on. If you’re overweight and decide to eat healthily the pounds come off quickly at first.

Then you reach the dreaded plateau. It’s always the last few that are the hardest to lose. New level, new devil.

Pruning to align with your values

It’s tough to face but even people fall into this category. Good people sometimes need to be pruned from our lives to make room for what’s best.

For example, when our values misalign or we outgrow each other. When I quit drinking I stopped spending time with certain people.

They weren’t bad. But friends whose social lives centered around drinking would never help me be my best self.

Time becomes more precious as we get older. As a result, we have to discern with whom it’s best spent.

If you want to reach your goals, surround yourself with people who understand and support those aims. Click To Tweet

If you want to reach your goals, it’s important to surround yourself with people who understand and support those aims.

Pruning takes self care to the next level. It challenges you to eliminate things in your life that might be good but not the best for you.

And give your attention and focus, like the rosebush’s resources, to growing a few buds to their glorious potential.

Emotional neglect: how to know if you’ve experienced it and 3 ways to heal

emotional neglect

Have you heard of emotional neglect? You’re probably more familiar with the term emotional abuse, which acknowledges you don’t need to be hit to experience harm.

Sometimes, emotional abuse is so bad people have to estrange from their families. We accept that even without physical scars, emotional wounds run deep and deserve to be acknowledged.

Perhaps you have wondered if you were emotionally abused because of the deep hurt you experienced growing up. But your parents didn’t call you names or scream at you.

You find it difficult to put your finger on what happened to you. But you know your childhood experience has left lasting scars.

You see the praise and affection your friends receive from their parents and wonder what that’s like.

You witness them calling their mom for help when they go through something hard. And their mom offering comfort and advice, while you have to handle things on your own.

It’s possible you have trouble understanding what happened to you because you’ve experienced emotional neglect rather than abuse.

The problem is less what your parents did than what they didn’t do. And that’s why it can be hard to describe and recognize.

With emotional neglect, the problem is less what your parents did than what they didn't do. Click To Tweet

What are the signs of emotional neglect?

Emotional neglect can show up in a number of different ways. But here are seven signs that may sound familiar to you:

1. Your parents were either focused on rules or overly permissive. Either way, they seemed to care little about your feelings.

2. You never learned to set boundaries or establish healthy coping mechanisms as a result.

3. You rarely received positive feedback from your parents or even constructive criticism. They never helped you see your strengths and weaknesses or develop your talents.

4, Your parents’ needs took precedence over yours. If you were struggling, they did little to help you understand what you were feeling.

5. You can’t talk to your parents about emotional topics and if you do they make you feel worse. You’ve learned to keep your feelings to yourself so as not to overburden others.

6. You are over responsible. Good at caring for others but not so good at caring for yourself. You may feel resentful about how much you give and how little you receive.

7. You are unduly hard on yourself and even feel like you have a fatal flaw that makes you defective. You feel that if people really knew you they wouldn’t like you.

It is within your power to heal from emotional neglect. Click To Tweet

If you see yourself in the above descriptions and believe you’ve been the victim of emotional neglect, take heart. It is within your power to heal.

Here are 3 things you can do.

1. Understand that emotions are not bad, they give you information

If you were never taught to deal with your emotions, it makes sense you’d have trouble regulating them.

I used to avoid emotions and misunderstand them. Anger to me was so all-encompassing it could take me out for a whole day.

For that reason, I’d avoid feeling angry until I blew up. Then experience tremendous shame and guilt.

I’d avoid sadness because I feared that would throw me into a deep depression. I’d try to talk myself out of a low mood instead of allowing myself to feel and process it.

Now, I understand anger is often justified. It might be a sign that something needs to be changed or addressed.

And rather than deny sad feelings, I surrender them to God and ask for His comfort. It lasts less than a day and I come out on the other side feeling refreshed and renewed.

emotional neglect, boundaries

2. Learn to set boundaries and develop routines

If you suffered emotional neglect as a child, you probably didn’t feel like you could say no or ask for what you wanted.

As you learn to protect yourself through boundaries, you’ll feel safer and experience more authentic relationships.

You may have never learned the value of routines like getting up early or making a healthy lunch for work. Or find it hard to motivate yourself to do them.

They may seem pointless or tedious to you, but they are important elements of self-care.

When you take care of yourself through routines like exercise, healthy eating, and getting to bed at a certain time, you will experience increased health and self-worth.

You have to become the parent to yourself that you never had.

3. Spend time discovering yourself

Take time to journal and understand yourself. Treat yourself as you would a cherished loved one. Take yourself out on dates and pay attention to your likes and dislikes.

Figure out what gives you comfort and fulfills you and do more of that. Maybe you want to read for a whole day. Or go for a meandering walk.

Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and consider connecting with others who share those interests.