Briefings Magazine

Toxic People. Bad, or Sometimes Good?

Completely cutting them out might not be the answer.

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By: Liz Bentley

Obviously there are some people who are just not good for you, but the question to ask is: why? In the last decade, the term “toxic” has surfaced as a trendy way to describe people who gaslight us or make us noticeably uncomfortable. And while that is difficult to be around, completely cutting them out might not be the answer. Often these “toxic” people are reflecting back to you areas in your life where you need to grow—issues you have been avoiding. In some cases, you are simply being challenged to be better.

I see many people in the workplace and elsewhere too easily cut people (clients, colleagues, friends, or family members) out of their lives when the relationship becomes difficult. They justify the separation by thinking that this toxic person is the problem and if they remove that person, the problem will go away. However, in most instances, the real issue is the problem being presented. For example, a marketing executive may be driven to switch accounts when a client constantly criticizes his work and demands countless rounds of revisions. Writing the client off as an unreasonable complainer and leaving makes life easier, but what’s the opportunity cost? The client could be picking up on the marketer’s stagnancy and their standards could propel growth in both skills and confidence from having successfully navigated an exacting client.

“It is easier in the short run to blame the ‘toxic person,’ but not in the long run.”

Overall, there are two main contributors to why I see people cut out toxic people: Insecurity and triggers. Both of those reasons are our issues to fix. If we are feeling insecure, it’s because of a deficit we see, and there will always be someone shining a light on that struggle. Same with triggers—they are ours to heal. Each of us have triggers that are unique to us from our life experience. People will push our buttons and that is our problem, not theirs. To me, what we need to uncover is whether the relationship is truly toxic or whether we need to look in the mirror and grow to fix the deeper problem.

Learn how to identify if it’s them or you.

If you have suffered abuse or something serious and the person who is toxic in your life is the abuser or someone who too closely resembles them and their habits, then it is best to remove that person from your life. It doesn’t mean you can ignore the problems, but removing the person will give you the space to work on them.

Shift your focus back to you.

Stop focusing on the person, instead focus on how you feel. What is the feeling you’re having—hurt, anger, frustration, sadness? Then think why. What is at the root of that emotion—a feeling of inadequacy, lack of intelligence, fear of failure? By shifting your focus away from the person and onto the issue, you will be growing and discovering what it could be and how you can help yourself move past it. Then, you can start to practice new ways of thinking, acquire different skills to grow, and start to transform.

Recognize why it’s worth it.

Warning: This is hard work. It is easier in the short run to blame the toxic person and cut them out of your life. But not in the long run. Life is a marathon and your ability to rise to your greatest potential will come from constantly facing the hard things and fixing the problems that sabotage you. By keeping that toxic person in your life, you push yourself to work on you instead of blaming others. That work on yourself will lead to greater confidence, the ability to take risks more easily, and a willingness to move out of your comfort zone…all things that help you step into your power.

Bentley is a founder and presenter for Liz Bentley Associates, a coaching firm.


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