In my line of work, I hear from dozens of people a month, and connect with professionals in a more public, open way than ever before. Through this experience, I’ve seen scores of toxic behaviors that push people away (including me). And I’ve witnessed the damage these behaviors cause – to relationships, professional success, and to the well-being of both the individual behaving negatively, and to everyone around him or her.
Let’s be real – we’ve all acted in toxic, damaging ways at one time or another (none of us are immune to it), but many people are more evolved, balanced, and aware, and as a result, it happens only rarely in their lives.
Whether your toxic behavior is a common occurrence, or once in a blue moon, it’s critical for your happiness and success that you are able to recognize when you’re behaving badly, and shift it when it emerges.
The 6 most toxic behaviors I see every day are:
Taking everything personally
There is a lot of pushback to this. “Really, – don’t take anything personally?”
People are toxic to be around when they believe that everything that happens in life is a direct assault on them or is in some way all about them. The reality is that what people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their filters, and their perspectives, wounds and experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re the worst, again, it’s more about them. I’m not saying we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback. I am saying that so much hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from our taking things personally when it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of others’ good or bad opinion of you, and to operate with your own heart, intuition and wisdom as your guide. So yes – don’t take anything personally.
Obsessing about negative thoughts
It’s very hard to be around people who can’t or won’t let go of negativity – when they dwell on and speak incessantly about the terrible things that could happen and have happened, the slights they’ve suffered, and the unfairness of life. These people stubbornly refuse to see the positive side of life and the positive lessons from what’s transpiring. Pessimism is one thing – but remaining perpetually locked in negative thoughts is another. Only seeing the negative, and operating from a view that everything is negative and against you, is a skewed way of thinking and living, and you can change that.
Treating yourself like a victim
Another toxic behavior is non-stop complaining that fuels your sense of victimization. Believing you’re a victim, that you have no power to exert and no influence on the direction of your life, is a toxic stance that keeps you stuck and small. Working as a coach with people who’ve suffered terrible trauma in their lives but found the courage to turn it all around, I know that we have access to far more power, authority, and influence over our lives than we initially believe. When you refuse to see yourself as a hapless victim of fate, then you’ll find that you are more powerful than you realized, but only if you choose to accept that reality.
Cruelty – lacking in empathy or putting yourself in others shoes
One of the most toxic and damaging behaviors – cruelty – stems from a total lack of empathy, concern or compassion for others. We see it every day online and in the media – people being devastatingly cruel and destructive to others just because they can. They tear people down online but in a cowardly way, using their anonymity as a weapon. Cruelty, backstabbing, and gossiping are toxic, and it hurts your credibility as well as your target.
If you find yourself backstabbing and tearing someone else down, stop in your tracks. Dig deep and find compassion in your heart, and realize that we’re all the same.
An inability to manage your emotions is toxic to everyone around you. We all know these people – men and women who explode over the smallest hiccup or problem. Yelling at the bank teller for the long line, giving the checkout counter lady a hard time, or losing it with your child for spilling juice on the floor. If you find that you’re overreacting, losing it at every turn, you need some outside assistance to help you gain control over your emotions and understand what’s at the root of your reactions. There’s more to it that appears on the surface. An outside perspective – and a new kind of support – is critical.
Needing constant validation
Finally, people who constantly strive for validation and self-esteem by obsessing about achieving outward measures of success are exhausting to be around. Those men and women who get caught up in the need to prove their worth over and over, and constantly want to “win” over their colleagues or peers, are toxic and draining. There is a bigger picture to your life, and it’s not only about what you achieve or fail at today.
It’s about the journey, the process, the path – what you’re learning and applying, how you’re helping others, and the growing process you allow yourself to engage in.