The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships.
Have you ever heard that quote? I have many times — and I believe it.
Its message is especially relevant around the holidays, when we attend family gatherings, go to annual holiday parties, and celebrate traditions with people we are connected to in some way.
The reason why is that many of these people are borderline or outright toxic . . . and spending time around them is hurting you.
That’s because the quality of your life is also determined by your health — emotional and physical. And if you spend time with toxic people, both will suffer.
We’re always going to encounter negative people, but spending large amounts of time with them is not only unnecessary, it’s destructive.
The stress of being around these kinds of people wears you down and weakens your immune system. And it makes you more likely to make unhealthy choices, like eating the wrong foods and binge eating or drinking (or both).
There is a spectrum, of course. Some people are just mildly annoying, but then there are those that are truly toxic. To determine which is which, you have to go with your gut.
Do you dread being around this person? Do you feel anxiety when you’re with them? Do you they drain your energy? If someone said this person couldn’t make it to the party, would you be relieved?
If you find yourself silencing your voice, putting your own needs last, and enduring a feeling of helplessness, anger, or shame, you’re with a toxic person.
Here are some other signs:
- people who are pessimistic and constantly complain
- people who talk over you or dominate the conversation
- people who are always right
- people who make you feel like you can’t be the real you
- people you have to “gear up” for
- people who are critical of you (this can be subtle)
- people who gossip
- people who suck all the energy out of the room
It’s important to remember that even the smallest amount of contact with a toxic person is enough to throw you off balance emotionally, sap your energy, compromise your immune system, and make you make unhealthy choices.
But if you have to be with these people, here are some strategies to cope:
Prepare. Think through a typical encounter with this person. What they usually do or say? Plan how you’ll react when faced with the same behavior.
Do they put you down? Do they talk over you? Do you feel baited into arguments? Decide how you’ll respond or react. If they talk over you, see yourself saying assertively, “Excuse me, I was talking.” Have some topics ready to switch the conversation if it starts to veer off course.
In general, the more toxic the person, the more important it is not to give them anything to work with. Don’t sink to their level and join in the gossip. Don’t give information about your life that will open you up to criticism. And if you feel yourself becoming angry or feeling defensive, it’s always better to just walk away.
Don’t anesthetize yourself. This is hard, because toxic people make you feel like you have to get blackout just to be around them. But go in the polar opposite direction: stay in control.
You have to be able to think and speak clearly. The more in control you feel, the better you’ll handle the situation. And the more confident you are, the more of your power you get to claim. It’s important not to let the balance of power tilt in that person’s direction.
Not only that, if you lose control, you’ll be more likely to eat and drink whatever you see, and then you’ll wake up feeling bloated and hungover — in addition to losing four hours of your life spending it with someone you don’t enjoy.
Reflect. Zone out while that person dominates the conversation. Ask yourself questions designed to help you be stronger and grow as a human being.
What it is that makes you feel powerless around this person? How did your relationship develop? What can you do to feel more in control when you’re around them? How did you attract this person into your life?
Spending that time in quiet self-reflection will make you feel less helpless and less like a victim. Taking any kind of action means you’re asserting yourself — and you don’t even have to say a word.
Always remember that it only feels like you have to endure toxic people or situations where they’ll be. But you absolutely do not.
Stay for a little while . . . and leave. RSVP no. Say you’re not feeling well and can’t make it this year. It’s not a lie, because being around people like that really does make you sick.
What’s the worst thing that can happen? Maybe they’ll criticize you for not staying at the party. Maybe they’ll say you think you’re better than them for refusing to gossip. Maybe they’ll be angry that you won’t sit there and take it anymore. Who cares?
You don’t owe anyone anything. You don’t owe anyone an apology, a phone call, a gift, an explanation, or the benefit of the doubt. You do, however, owe it to yourself to honor your needs and feelings.
Women are so used to putting their needs last. We’re used to smiling when we’re angry. We’re used to overcompensating for everyone else. We’re used to putting up with this kind of treatment and never saying a word. And others expect us to be nice because we’ve been nice for so long.
But as long as you keep setting the same precedent with toxic people, they’ll continue to act this way. By being quiet, you’re giving them license to spread their toxicity.
Stop doing this. Push back. Speak up. Say no. Leave.
Remember, the more of these types of people you have in your life, the less room there is for supportive, joyful people who are excited about life and who love you for who you are — and who help you become the best you can be.
So this year, give a gift to yourself. Refuse to subject yourself to the toxic people in your life that should have been ditched long ago.
You don’t have to deal with negativity and toxicity. Your emotional — and physical — health depends on it.