Too many screaming jalapenos give me a headache.
Last week I wrote about ending toxic relationships. But sometimes we may find ourselves temporarily stuck in a toxic situation. I say temporarily, because it won’t last forever. Hopefully it won’t last more than a few minutes.
Regardless of how hard we try to avoid toxic people, we all find ourselves in situations that are potentially toxic. We may run in to them at work, standing in line at the store, waiting in the doctor’s office, or maybe even in our own homes. Some of us have toxic relatives who we feel obligated to visit, though we would prefer to love them from a distance.
Here are some suggestions on how to take care of ourselves in toxic situations. Not all will work in every situation. It depends on the circumstances, so experiment and trust your intuition.
1. Remind yourself it’s not forever.
Find a way to limit the time you are exposed to a toxic situation. I know someone who limits visits with a “close” relative to 20 minutes. It’s okay to say, “I have some things I need to take care of.” You don’t have to say that one of those things you need to take care of is you, or that you need a nap, or time alone.
2. Try mindfulness.
Mindfulness is observing the present moment without judgement. If you’re not safe, get the hell out of there! But if you’re truly stuck, or want to practice mindfulness, just observe one thing at a time without reacting. You don’t have to attend every party, fight or argument you’re invited to. (Slow, deep breaths help too.) Related to mindfulness are emotional detachment and grounding. You could be mindful of person’s tone and body language, the sensations in your own body or the location of the exits. You can also be mindful of individual words or the message of the person or situation and ask questions for clarification.
3. What lesson or skill is this experience teaching?
It might be the “See ya later” skill, but it could also be an opportunity to work on listening or patience. (Oh joy, another one of those opportunities.) You can always ask God to show you a way to cope and what you can learn.
4. Assertive Boundary Setting:
I like to define assertiveness as honesty with respect. For example,
“When you criticize me like that/yell at me, I feel overwhelmed/sad/angry/scared/hurt. I’d appreciate it if you could say something positive sometimes/Could you please lower your voice?
(It’s easier for me to focus on what someone is trying to say if I’m not caught up in the fact that I’m getting yelled at, unless there’s a fire. Then, by all means, yell.)
Here’s another example:
“If you continue to talk negative/yell I can’t stay in the room with you.”(If you live with the person this could be a time to go to the bathroom.)
5. Use Positive Distraction.
Sometimes it’s not safe to leave, like when you’re in a moving vehicle. But you might be able to change the subject. If you’re with someone who likes to gossip about other people, you could ask, “So how are you doing with your job search/new hobby/class?” Or, “I loved that pie you made last October, can you tell me what you put in it? I think I’d like to try to make one.”
When all else fails, you can distract yourself by imagining a rainbow or angels above the person’s head. This could lead you to pray for them and for yourself. If you need to pay some attention to what a toxic person is saying, sing a simple tune in your head like the ABCs or a nursery rhyme.
Whatever you do, take care of you!
Any other ideas about coping in toxic situations? I’d love to hear your thoughts.