Boost self-esteem by learning how to cope with toxic people

Toxic people tend to be bullies. They do not cope well with stress. They are the sort of people in organisations who react like children when they don’t get their own way. They tend to snap when they are under stress and out of their comfort zone. They will try to make you think that it is you that has a problem, and not them. They don’t apologise, as that would mean losing face.

Examples of how toxic people behave:

  • In constant need of attention, validation and reassurance.
  • Not meeting deadlines and then dismissing the need for such deadlines when challenged.
  • Sporadic outbursts of blame when called upon to undertake a task, even when that task is part of their job description.
  • Gossiping and spreading rumours about colleagues.
  • Manipulative and exploitative behaviour as they need to feel in control of other people.
  • Acting in a judgemental manner towards others to make themselves feel better.
  • Having a strong opinion on everything.
  • Making fun of your complaint or seeking to diminish it by laughing it off. They will exaggerate and seek to make it all about you.
  • They keep you wondering which version of them they will present.

You know you are around a toxic person when you feel like your energy levels drop in their company. Others tend to avoid them out of fear of confrontation. They are the sort of people who are short and snappy in their dealings with others, so there might be an unwritten rule within the organisation that they are to be avoided or worked around. They somehow hold onto their jobs by always seeking to please the boss and the senior decision makers.

It is important to not react when a toxic person is being difficult. It can be useful to practice the following exercise when triggered by the behaviour of a toxic person: stop and pause and take 30 seconds to reflect and ask yourself before reacting does it need to be said, does it need to be said by me, does it need to be said, by me, and now? This will help you to avoid the temptation to automatically react to their toxic outburst and instead allow you to respond in a more measured way. That way you don’t drop to their level and you can thereby preserve your personal power. This is the difference between reacting and responding.

When confronting the rude behaviour of toxic people try to stick to the facts. Ask them to repeat something if they snap at you with a rude outburst. Say something like “Did you just say what I think you said?” This can be a simple way of turning the focus on them and might also help with getting others on board as witnesses to their inappropriate behaviour.

Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to set boundaries and assess why you get triggered by someone else’s behaviour. Perhaps there is a wound from your background that gets touched and leads you to avoid confrontation with such people? This can be occurring unconsciously and it can be useful to investigate why someone stirs these feelings of fear. The therapy could be about bringing awareness to these past wounds within a safe and private space so that you may have the opportunity to heal these wounds. When you work on past hurts you will be less likely to get triggered by the toxic behaviour of others in the future.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SE1 & SE26
Written by Noel Bell, MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
London SE1 & SE26

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited clinical psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the Psychodynamic, CBT, Humanist, Existential and Transpersonal schools.

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