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Episode 208: Dealing With Toxic People



And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast.
The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 208 it’s titled Dealing With Toxic People and if you're ready we'll start the show.

Looking at all the snow outside my office window today it's fair to say that Christmas is coming folks, but please don't let it stress you out though. I know there's a lot of pressure to try and be cheerful this time of year and to be everywhere and see everyone. Especially when Christmas last year was missing so much social stuff 'cos of Covid so there might be a lot of pressure to try and make up for it this year. And it might be a good idea to challenge that idea.

You might prefer to limit your social gatherings not because of Covid but for your mental health, for your stress levels. As we've found these last 18 months we live in a modern world and can take advantage of it. We've got Skype, Zoom and Facetime, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and actually we've also got the choice to not bother with people as well you know. Even family.

It's worth acknowledging that for some people family is just a blood line, a connection with each other that's by design rather than desire. And It's OK to not love your family. It's OK to not even LIKE your family. And the annoying thing is that it's likely that someone will wish us a Merry Christmas and assume that just because THEY are looking forward to spending time with their family that you will too.

And this notion that Christmas is always lovely and there's something wrong with you if it's not isn't helped by the endless TV adverts showing these huge tables with a dozen people sitting round it all smiling and laughing, and liking each other. And non of them appear to be toxic, non of them appear to have passive aggressive attitudes or are making snide remarks. No-ones being racist or drunk or telling someone else how to better parent their children.

And if anything toxic is on the radar for you, I'm so sorry, you deserve better you really do. Unfortunately boundaries can be crossed at these sorts of events, and whether that makes you feel angry and makes you want to argue or makes you anxious and leads you to want to withdraw, notice it. Be aware of how you're feeling and why. By acknowledging it we can get some control over it because then

we can begin to lengthen the spaces in between the thoughts, the emotions and our behaviours you see. We just need to take a few deep breaths though as we're figuring all this out to help us recognise that just because your brother is a jerk it doesn't mean you have to be intimidated by him. You can feel intimidated because he's being intimidating, but hopefully you can prevent it from turning into BEING intimidated.

In some cases that jerky attitude might not be even crossing boundaries to him, it could be he's so used to acting that way towards you that he's normalised it and doesn't think you care. So don't. I know it's easier said than done and it takes a lot of practise and maybe that's what Christmas will give you, the opportunity to practise these things. If it helps think of it like this.

If you think that It's hard to tell someone how you feel, to set boundaries with someone and tell them you don't like the way they take advantage of you or whatever. Because if it wasn't hard you'd have done it by now so it obviously is. So if you think that it would make you uncomfortable, how uncomfortable does it make you feel in having to put up with them? How uncomfortable does it make you feel afterwards when they've drained you. Is that difficult too?

Chances are yes it is, so you're stuck between a rock and a hard place and no matter which way you live your life you're still uncomfortable, well which one would be better in the long run. Unless the person in question actually thrives on being a jerk then setting healthy boundaries is going to be good for you. If someone in your life is toxic and you need to set boundaries as to say how much time you give them for example,

then there will be some pushback, after all this is a toxic person we're talking about. It's not you being overly sensitive, it's them. They're probably a bit messed up themselves which is why they do what they do. So if you need to rehearse what you're gong to say to them to get it straight in your head, do that. Say it out loud. wait till everyones out and stand in front of a mirror and practise what you're going to say,

imagine the push back if you have to and how they'll react AND how you will too. Think about how you'll be, how you'll talk fairly slowly, calmly and deliberately rather than panicky, fast and unintelligible. How you'll say to your angry dad when he has too much to drink and raves about sending people back to where they came from because foreigners are a drain on the country how you'll say

"Actually dad, most people don't realise it but immigration usually adds 1% to the UK's GDP. " and if he pushes back you can say "Let's change the subject. Fold or scrunch, what's the best way to use toilet paper?" Or something like that. Or exactly that actually. It's a weird conversation starter and not something for a first date, but it definitely changes the subject. We've also got the worse case scenario here that sometimes we actually do have to learn to cut people out of our life.

Sad, I know but sometimes it has to happen. It's not so easy with family but with so called friends you might have to keep your distance moving forward because they're not changing. You can set boundaries so that you only see them or talk to them at certain times, you can calmly assert yourself so that you've communicated what you want and what you expect from them. You can even act in ways yourself that you'd want from them in the hope that they pick up on it

and become more comfortable to be around. But when they ring you up for no other reason, yet again, to complain about something there's only so many times you can say "I've got an appointment in 10 minutes but I can chat before I go" and then after 9 and a half minutes say "Hey I hear you, but I've got to go." Theres only so many times you can do that and get a text message 10 minutes later saying something rude about you because you cut them off,

And this happens a lot, I hear this all the time. Some people, probably because of their own attachment injuries will treat you like this. And if after 10 years of it you've had enough of them, that's OK. They are not your responsibility, limit your time with them if you find them draining to your own mental health, set boundaries and if they aren't learning how to be decent towards you then

I'm sorry, but they've probably got to go. In your life. YOU are more important than they are and it's not selfish, and if it is then so be it, its OK to be selfish if in putting yourself first you're better able to be there for others if they need you. And if you're not able to be there because this one friend is draining you. Then they need someone else to be their sounding board. If after every encounter with them you feel angry, exhausted or manipulated.

Then the relationship is toxic to you. If they make you feel bad about yourself, if they make you feel ashamed or guilty just for being you, then they are toxic to you. And if after all the boundary settings and assertive ways of saying how you feel about it like I talked about in the boundaries episode in October, I think it was. That was a Patreon episode actually, jump on board on Patreon if you want to hear that and very much more with it. If, after all that,

their behaviour doesn't change and the relationship is still toxic then it really does need to stop and even with family, sometimes we need to let them go. You deserve better than that. I know it's not always possible because sometimes its very close family and you might be forced into the same room as each other because of circumstances. Especially at Christmas. But that doesn't mean you need to keep the connection open for the rest of the year.

And it's a shame, it really is of course. In an ideal world it WOULD be like it is on the telly. That when you leave work and someone says with a big smile "Have a lovely Christmas" that you can smile back and mean it when you say "I will, you too" But you might not be expecting to have a lovely Christmas, it might be that your family is difficult to deal with and you'd rather be alone that put up with them.

And that can be hard to accept. It's hard to come to terms with what that means to you, that your family might just mean that you're related to each other by blood, and that's all. That you have nothing else in common and in any other circumstances, you just wouldn't be friends. Which is fine if they don't make you feel awful when you're around them, but if they do. What do you do?

What if this person is a sibling that will also be there at your parents house on Christmas Day for lunch. well, maybe you get an excuse ready as to why you won't be there. If you've given them enough chances and this is someone you need to disconnect from for your own mental health then whether it's this year or next year if the same arrangement goes on you make an excuse. And you visit your parents when the toxic one isn't around instead. And if this is your life, and on your last day at work

someone wishes you a merry Christmas, and tells you that they hope you have a nice day. Maybe you feel like telling them where to shove their Merry Christmas but you smile and say "Yes you too" just see it as a game, a silly game that our culture plays with each other that seems to make this one day each year the most important one, when actually, its just Saturday isn't it. It's just another Saturday with an extra couple of days off afterwards this year.

A day where it seems we're expected to happy whether we have treatment resistant depression or not, and of course we might be happy. But don't beat yourself up if you're not. And also check you're not making yourself worse by expecting too much from yourself just because society says you're supposed to make everything perfect and wonderful. So that if you're hosting a get together,

It's OK for it not to be perfect. And if you're worried, ask for help. Ask someone if they could make the starter for you, or bring a dessert or something. We might not be able to avoid getting stressed but we can maybe avoid unnecessary stress. We can say "No" to some things and "Yes" to others. I'm sure I say this every year but you don't have to attend every social event that your network is involved in.

And in-between these events make sure that you make time for what's important to you. For resting, relaxing. You might find that listening to music whilst thumbing through a copy of Top Gear magazine or whatever is more enjoyable in the long run than another late night with people you don't really get on with, in a room thats too noisy to hear each other anyway. I'm sounding miserable here a bit and that's not my point, you can still enjoy this time of year and think differently about it.

There's a big gap between being Ebeneezer Scrooge and being Buddy the elf. Do what's right for you, it's your holiday too you know and if you need to plan in advance the days where you aren't going to see anyone, because you want to go for a walk for an hour, or catch up on some tv programme that's fine, do it. And for goodness sake don't soak up the crap that's on social media, if some friend is posting

loads of photos of the dozens of presents they've wrapped up for their children "hashtag love my kids." Feel free to ignore it, don't compare your life to them. It's not good, unless you've really got yourself emotionally sorted, and of course you might have actually not everyone who listens to these has mental health issues, some people are just really interested in psychology, psychotherapy and what makes people tick and well-being so hello to you too,

and if this is you then sure enjoy other peoples nice days that they post on social media and be happy for them not envious that's great. Not everyone can do that and if you can't it's perfectly OK to leave social media well alone. As with many things in life there are no rules really as to what guarantees wellbeing and happiness, just do what's right for you. So let's go for another month, looking at the time.

As always you can hear more from me on Patreon. If you enjoy my podcast series and you'd like to support me you can do so through and as a thank you you get a podcast episode every Monday morning some super chill out hypnotherapy tracks to listen to and a warm glow knowing that you're helping the world become a better place because a big portion of your pledge does go to helping a lot of charities as well. So I'll love you and leave you for now. Have a nice December however you're spending it and I'll speak to you again soon, OK. Bye for now.