Wrong things happen when you trust, and give too much attention to, the wrong people.
Do you have toxic people in your life? Do they influence you in detrimental ways? Do they leave you feeling manipulated or bad about yourself after every encounter? If so, you’re probably wondering how things got to be this way. Despite your positive attitude and approach to life, you find yourself unexpectedly surrounded by negativity.
It might not occur to you that some of your strongest positive attributes may actually be attracting toxic people. These people may subconsciously feel threatened by your strengths, or they may just see you as an easy target. Either way, they will attempt to undermine or control you by limiting your peace of mind, happiness or success.
It’s important to understand that every character strength has what is commonly called a “shadow side.” When used too liberally, our strengths can become weaknesses and also make us more susceptible to toxic people.
I’ve experienced this in my own life. One of my character strengths is that I am extremely sincere and compassionate. But when pushed to its limit, my sincerity and compassion can become people pleasing. I’ve realized that I sometimes quickly appease people who are pushy or rude just so they will like me. By doing so, I inadvertently allow these people to enter my life and subject me to their toxic behavior.
I eventually learned to find my boundaries and say no, without losing myself in the process. I became aware of how people may try to use my character strengths to their advantage. This awareness has helped me ward off many toxic relationships.
The key is not to suppress your positive character strengths, but to educate yourself so toxic people can’t use them against you. If you feel like these people are drawn to you, here are seven surprising reasons why this may be happening, and some actionable tips to help you address it:
1. You are a great listener.
Let’s face it. With technological distractions stealing our attention all the time, great listeners are often hard to find. When you find one, it’s hard not to take advantage of the rare opportunity to be heard.
Toxic people, however, take things to the next level. They’ll talk to you for hours when they can get away with it. They’ll ignore every body language and verbal cue you throw at them. They’ll share unsolicited, negative details about their life every time they see you. And they’re certainly not interested in what you have to say — because they’re only interested in seeing and hearing things their way.
If you’re great at active or empathetic listening, you may find yourself unwittingly becoming the target of a conversational bully or narcissist.
When entering into a conversation, decide how much time you can, or wish to, spend with the other person. Limit your conversations with toxic people to no more than a few minutes.
Think ahead of time about some exit lines you can use when the time is up or when a lull in the conversation develops. Here are a few examples: “It was great catching up with you…” or, “I’ll talk to you again soon, but right now I must…” or, “I’ve got to get back to work.”
The key to deploying this strategy well is to not send mixed messages. Let your body language and your words match. Of course, this will feel harsh and awkward sometimes, but it’s a necessity for your own well being.
2. You are incredibly generous with your time.
Most people would agree that being generous is a desirable character trait. But beware; toxic people can be drawn to overly generous people.
They will cling to you if you’re willing to drop everything for them, answer all their calls, reply promptly to their emails, and fulfill their requests and demands every minute of the day.
As they consolidate their power by demanding more and more of your precious time, you may find yourself becoming increasingly resentful.
Generosity without boundaries is a recipe for toxic relationships. To establish healthy and reasonable boundaries, start by becoming aware of your feelings and needs. Note the times and circumstances when you’re resentful of fulfilling someone else’s needs. Gradually build boundaries by saying no to gratuitous requests that are likely to cause resentfulness in you.
Again, this will be hard at first because it will feel selfish. But if you’ve ever flown on a plane, you know that flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before tending to others, even their own children. Why? Because you cannot help others if you’re incapacitated.
In the long-term, establishing and enforcing boundaries will be one of the most charitable things you can do for yourself and those you care about. They will preserve the best of you so you can share yourself with many wonderful people – not just the toxic ones who try to keep you tied up.