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Dealing with Toxic People

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

When talking with a couple of friends recently, I noticed that all the issues we discussed had similar themes: poisonous people. Those interactions inspired me to write about having to deal with toxic people and how can affect us when it comes to our spiritual well-being. I hope my words can be of some use to you.

Dealing with toxic people can sometimes feel like a wave from behind that knocks us down. But there's no need to panic! Turns out, we can do a better job in handling such situations.

Yes, I was laughing! After all, there was nothing I could do at that point to stop the wave from hitting me and dragging me to the ground. I might have gotten some scrapes from the sand, but I got up and walked away from it. That's what matters the most! Of course, I learned my lesson and didn't go back in the water that day. Dealing with toxic people shouldn't be any different.

Every time I got upset as a kid, I would storm away from my parents and head to my bedroom, shutting the door behind me. There, I would sit and wait for them to come to talk to me; to listen to whatever I had to say, and maybe help me deal with the way I was feeling. I do not recall them ever showing up, though. Back then, I was too young to understand that the way I was behaving was actually pushing them away; I never learned how to deal with stressful situations.

My dad was noble when it came to my feelings. I’ll never forget one Sunday morning in May 1994. While watching TV, I accidentally saw Formula One driver Ayrton Senna of the Imola circuit crash against the barriers. As the camera covering the race closed in, I could see his head tipping to the side toward his shoulder, signaling unconsciousness. Later, I heard he had died as a result of the accident. Just as many Brazilians, I was a big admirer, not only because of the way he represented Brazil, but for the simple fact that he was known for being a very kind and caring human being.

Unsure of how to react, I laid on my bed sadly. When my father saw me, he started to talk to me about it. He helped me to understand what I was feeling and how to deal with it. A couple of years later, a Brazilian band I was a huge fan of vanished after an airplane crash. Once again, he was there for me. As a result, dealing with sadness over the years wasn’t too challenging for me; thanks to him, I had learned to cope with it and move on, always taking his advice to heart.

On the other hand, no one showed any desire or interest in dealing with me when I was upset. So, each time, I chose to stay alone (and mad) for hours, thinking. The more I would think, the more upset I would get; mostly because instead of focusing on me and the way I was handling the situation, I was more concerned that others were treating me unfairly. As a consequence, I acquired the custom of wasting hours distressed, and as a result, practically trained my brain to follow the same pattern over and over again for many years. Nevertheless, this mental configuration was cracked in my early adulthood with the help of my husband. During the first year of our marriage, he kindly shared some of his thoughts with me, teaching me a very valuable lesson that helped completely reverse that cycle:

You need to understand and accept that we do not have control over others. We only have control over ourselves!

I allowed myself a moment to reflect on his words while troubled by the way an unknown individual had behaved. On the other hand, I was oblivious to the fact that I could have taken a completely different approach to the incident. Besides, the amount of time I just had spent on something that there was no fix for, it didn't make any sense. It was a waste of my time! Giving that, I finally realized I had to let go of that mindset—seeking to change the world by modifying others—and instead accept that I couldn't transform people based solely upon my will, which was key to changing the way I dealt with similar issues.

I then ended up adopting the concept of letting go when it came to random incidents, just as I had learned to do with people who didn't bring out the best in me. After all, I was aware of the fact that changing them wasn't my concern, since my priority was to live my life embracing and accepting who I was, despite their judgment or their desire to cause me harm. It’s my belief that peoples' hurtful actions say more about them than about others. In the end, who they chose to be is only their problem.

In reality, being indifferent to toxic people was something I became proficient at early in my life. I have lost count of how many people I once called a friend to later find out they were envious or ingenuine. Completely frauds; fake people. I actually had better luck when I was a child—possibly because few kids wanted to be friends with me ( picture) and the few I did find were for real; probably early evidence that my father was actually right when he taught me that good friends can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I must say, however, my teenage years were a bucket full of lessons when it came to phony and mean teens. Nonetheless, to this day, I am still very grateful for the life lessons those experiences taught me; they showed me the kind of people I did not want to emulate.

Things become considerably more complicated when I had to switch classes during my last year in middle school. Basically, I started to attend school with a bunch of students who already knew each other for years. Luckily enough, I was able to find a couple of very cool kids who were kind and welcoming, making my school year very enjoyable despite other toxic classmates.

One thing life has taught me is that good friends are the people who really matter and should never be forgotten. They live forever in our hearts as a remembrance that there are great folks out there and are the ones who really matter; they are worthy of our time and energy. We also don’t want to forget those who came into our lives to teach us lessons; that should be the only role certain people should play in our lives—a reminder to not make the same mistakes again. Instead of hatred, we should feel peaceful within and gratitude for knowing we became more developed human beings thanks to the things they taught us by chance.

Middle school graduation

A couple of months after I started attending my new class, a very popular (and the wealthiest) girl from my grade threw a birthday party and didn't invite me to it. That was completely fine; it was her right, except for the fact that she made very clear—in front of all our classmates—that I was the only one she didn't invite.

Okay, then. Thanks for letting me know! I thought, turning back to my desk as she finished making her announcement.

As I got back to my schoolwork, I couldn't help but wonder what could possibly cross a person's mind to behave in such manner, just for the pleasure of trying to make someone feel unliked?! It wasn't hard to come to the conclusion that she was nothing but a lonely and sad person who, materialistically speaking, had everything she could possibly want, but didn't possess half of the self-respect I had for myself. Most likely, that bothered her. Meanwhile, she hid behind the superficiality of being affluent, knowing that resources could buy materialistic, fake friends but deep inside, she was a solitary person, regardless of the impression others had of her.

Ironically, the months following proved my theory. But, how could I have been so right on point? First, simply because I’ve learned that the people who need to be accepted surround themselves with peers to not have to deal with the fact that they can't bear their own company. Second, they try to put people down because they are just so unhappy with their lives. Making others feel the same way becomes a necessity; a desperate attempt to try to feel better about themselves. The same applies when it comes to gossipers who spend most of their time talking about others simply because looking within and dealing with their own issues is too painful. Instead, they project their own problems on others; it's easier than addressing their own dilemmas.

As time passed, this girl realized she had absolutely no power over me, and as a result, eventually invited me over to her house to discuss a class project that, somehow, we ended up having to do together. During a conversation there, she opened up to me; she didn't get along with her parents and felt pretty lonely. I was surprised, both by the fact that I had been right about her, and that she entrusted me with me such personal information. We never became close friends, but I certainly appreciated her effort.

One of the reasons we never became close was due to her conduct toward me in the past. I am a firm believer that people's actions speak louder than whatever they might say; it wasn't a matter of forgiveness, but a question of trust. At that point in my life, I had already encountered a handful of pretend friends who went around talking behind my back. Not that I cared much about what others thought of me, but I honestly preferred to avoid unnecessary drama, including having to deal with individuals who lacked personality and believed whatever they were told.

A couple of years later when I was already in high school, only seven students from my entire class spoke to me, since the majority chose to believe the tales of a former friend. Thankfully, time was able to tell who the real villain in the story was, at least for those who got to know me a little better. That’s why I believe there's no need to waste time trying to warn others about certain people; it's only a matter of time until their true colors emerge.

As a matter of fact, I plan to write a series talking about phriends—phony friends. I will share a little bit about the characters who have crossed my path and what I was able to learn from those experiences. Unfortunately, failed friendships weren't able to stop me from making the same mistakes again. Although life is a continuous learning voyage . . . My dad used to say that when we stop learning, one way or another, we are no longer alive.

But when it comes to having to handle virulent people's presence, the hardest part is, indeed, having to deal with their bad energy and negative environment. That is one thing I am still trying to figure out how to handle better. Currently, every time I sense negative energy toward me, I immediately pray to God that whatever harm was wished upon me will be deflected. What matters the most is that, at the end of the day, I do know God is with me and He will always protect me. He has proven it so many times in the past and part of it is by the amazing friends He has placed in my life along my way.

So here is my summary of how I have learned to deal with toxic people:

1. Most of the time we tend to focus more on others’ actions instead of our own. We expect them to change their bothersome characteristics, when the truth is, we can't do for them. Instead, we should learn to accept the reality of them, making better use of our time, take advantage of it to look within; to evaluate ourselves, how we are handling the situation and so forth. To use the experience to grow.

2. Understand and accept that I cannot change people. I need not worry about others because, at the end of the day, whatever I do, feel, or think won’t make a difference in their lives, but in my own. If people want to be toxic and choose to disseminate negativity, that’s on them. Just as it is my responsibility to not allow myself to be affected by their actions.

3. I’ve made the decision to not waste my time or energy on things or people that do not deserve it; if something doesn't add value to my life or is not going to help me to become a better person, it's just not worth it.

4. Whenever I feel a bad vibe coming toward me, I pray for protection. In fact, I pray for that daily. That extra prayer works as a backup. Just in case, you know?!

Nature is something that not only brings me peace, but makes me feel closer to God.

5. Last but not least, I always try to keep in mind that the best revenge against those who don't wish me well is to live my life plentifully, to the fullest. Do my own thing, focus on myself and on whatever makes me happy. The rest is unimportant!

Tah dah!

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