How do you deal with someone who is toxic or simply intent on causing trouble? You know the type. The person who begins a conversation with an innocent sounding premise, but then proceeds to launch a sugar-coated attack on you or places the blame for their transgressions onto you. Toxic Troublemakers, we’ve all got them in our lives.
A Toxic Troublemaker (TT) can be anyone intent on stirring up controversy so that they can then turn and blame you for it, using innocent sounding words as proof that they were just trying to be conciliatory. The TT usually decides he or she is better than everybody else, and often engages in gaslighting. Defined by Dr. Robin Stern, gaslighting, is “the systematic attempt by one person to erode another person’s reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”
So how do you deal with these crazy-inducing wackos? Since I happen to have a member of the TT royal family orbiting my life, I thought I would share a few of my time-worn tips.
1. Do not engage. I repeat, do not engage. Unless the TT does something that requires intervention by either the authorities or a lawyer, simply take the high road here. It will do you no good to engage and ultimately it will only serve to give the TT the platform they seek. Engaging will provide the TT with the ability to wring their hands, bat their eyelashes over wide eyes, and say something along the lines of “WHY is this person attacking me? I have done NOTHING wrong. I was JUST trying to be nice/helpful/conciliatory!”
No, the TT is not trying to any of the aforementioned. Rest assured that TT’s only objective is to make you look bad or crazy so they can then pretend to be a reasonable person. The TT is fighting a battle with him or herself, and you do not want any part of it.
I know it’s oh so tempting to shoot off a harshly worded text message or e-mail, to make a phone call, or even to confront the TT in person, but it will do you no good. Taking such action might feel good in the short-term, but in the long run, holding your head high and acting like a lady or gentleman will never be something you’ll regret.
2. Resist the urge to plead your case to the world. By the world, I mean anyone and everyone who knows the TT and may know of your relationship or history (or both) with the TT. While pleading your case might feel good at the moment, it will ultimately do nothing more than prove TT’s point for them: you are crazy/aggressive/unstable/out to get them.
Instead, hold your head high, refuse to discuss the negative relationship, and if pushed by well-intentioned friends or family, simply say that you do not have the time or the energy to engage in the negativity of gossip, or he said/she said. People may get their noses a little out of joint at first because, well, let’s face it, most people relish to some degree the drama implicit in gossip, but a refusal to engage will ultimately win you the respect of those who matter in your life.
Further, refusal to engage or plead your case will drive the TT straight up the wall and make him, or her, do something that will ultimately show the world what he or she really is. It is hard, but breathe through the temptations to meet crazy with crazy, and you will emerge the victor without any egg on your face.
3. Focus on the important things in life, for example, your family and your friends. I recently attended an event at which I knew I would run into my own TT. During the week prior, I was gnashing my teeth and not sleeping well.
Two days before the event, however, my 6-year-old son broke his arm and elbow, requiring surgery, and without even realizing it, I forgot all about the TT and the imminent event. I stopped stressing; I stopped thinking about the TT, and I stopped worrying about how the event would play out. I simply let the evening happen, and after it was all over, I realized I didn’t even care what the fallout might be, because it didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that my son was okay, that he was healthy and that he got through his surgery and returned to his regular, active and fun-loving little boy self.
When I stopped caring, my life and what was important came into sharp focus. The negativity and passive-aggressive behavior constantly coming from the TT was ultimately no more annoying than a buzzing mosquito, and it was just as easily squashed.
The bottom line is this: behave as you would if you knew your grandmother was watching and taking note of your behavior, and you will never be ashamed of yourself. You will always be able to hold your head high. Unless, of course, your grandmother is like the late, great Joan Rivers. Then it’s game on!
Do you have any tried and true tips for dealing with toxic people and troublemakers? Please share.