HCT February 2021

How to Handle Toxic Behavior

This month the Healthy Congregation Team’s column focuses on how to handle toxic behavior from friends, family, co-workers, and other acquaintances. Examples of toxic behavior are people who are “narcissists, compulsive liars, sociopaths, manipulators, gossipers, and those wallowing in self-pity.” (https://www.lifehack.org/283358/15-ways-clever-people-handle-toxic-people). These people tend to have lots of drama in their lives; they also have unpredictable mood swings and see themselves as victims. I would also include people who do not respect your boundaries, expecting your emotions and time to revolve around them and their demands. Below are some strategies to handle being around people who continually exhibit such behavior:

  • Stop excusing their behavior: We all have bad days or times when we may lash out in anger at someone else. However, when this behavior becomes commonplace and the offender never apologizes, it is time to recognize this behavior as toxic and act accordingly. I serve on the Board of another non-profit organization and for the last 6-8 months, another Board Member has been constantly snippy with others, repeatedly has claimed she is not appreciated when there is evidence otherwise, and lashed out at the Board President for only listening to certain Board Members when again, there is evidence otherwise. The final straw was an email she sent out where she lambasted the Board President, stating she was not her mom and she never listened to her anyways so she could just do what she wanted. The Board President apologized for unintentionally hurting her feelings but the other Board member never apologized for her outburst. Earlier, we had tried to rationalize this change in the Board Member’s behavior due to issues in her personal life and the stress of the pandemic but eventually, I realized that there was really no excusing her repeated bad behavior.
  • Don’t expect to change their behavior: From the above example, there is little any of us on the Board can do to change this person’s perception of their reality. If they are in victim mode where they feel everything they do is wrong and their work is never recognized, showing them instances where they are wrong will not satisfy their general unhappiness. The rest of the Board members have had to limit contact with this person and while we hope they change, we recognize that there is little we can do to change their behavior.
  • Limit how much time you spend thinking about them: I am someone who likes to figure out what makes people tick and why they act the way they do. There were considerable amount of time (phone calls and text messages) devoted to trying to figure out this change in attitude from this Board Member. Eventually, we realized that it was becoming a time suck and this person’s behavior was simply toxic. Repeatedly trying to figure out what was wrong with them was not healthy nor productive. As the saying goes, it is never good to allow someone to live rent free in your head.
  • Limit your interactions and stop apologizing: There may be co-workers or immediate family members who engage in toxic behaviors and you may not have a choice in completely avoiding them. However, you can keep your interactions brief, cordial, and to the point. If they try to bait you into a confrontation, don’t engage in an unwinnable back-and-forth. I would even suggest to stop apologizing for how they feel. Instead of saying “I’m sorry you feel that way”, simply state “I understand you feel differently and I cannot change that.” Some people who engage in this manipulative behavior want you to feel like you’re the bad person. Recognize the behavior they are engaging in and stop yourself from apologizing for how they feel.

Suggested Resources:

Madeline Sims

Member of the HCT