Six Thoughts for Dealing With Toxic Behavior

Six Thoughts for Dealing With Toxic Behavior

Preparing in advance to ward off toxic people is a way to protect yourself.

Posted by Rita Watson MPH on May 23, 2019

Six Thoughts for Dealing With Toxic Behavior

Whether in social situations or the workplace, we will encounter people who exhibit toxic behavior. Ironically, we know the signs, but even The Psychotherapist’s Guide to Neuropsychiatry: Diagnosis and Treatment Issues has no mention of such behavior in the table of contents.

What comes closest to defining the behavior, however, can be found under “The Anxious Cluster of Personality Disorders,” (p.353). With toxic behavior—whether stemming from tendencies that include obsessive-compulsive disorders or passive-aggression, for example—there are recognizable scenarios. People with toxic behavior will often be disrespectful of boundaries. They may speak critically of others or rudely to others. Some may frequently interrupt people who are in conversation. The worst will likely manipulate others to meet their own needs, or undercut colleagues or friends to their own advantage.

First, in her PT post, “8 Things the Most Toxic People in Your Life Have in Common,” Abigail Brenner, M.D., says:
“Toxic people are manipulative. Their modus operandi is to get people to do what they want them to do. It’s all about them. They use other people to accomplish whatever their goal happens to be. Forget what you want; this is not about equality in a relationship—far from it.”

How Toxic People Affect You

Dealing with toxic people at work can be a challenge, particularly in a workplace with a toxic boss. There have been major studies assessing the problems of toxic environments and what leaders can do to address the problem which—if it remains unchecked—leads to reduced workplace productivity (e.g., “An Empirical Study Analyzing Job Productivity in Toxic Workplace Environments”). 

For many years, women struggled in the workplace and often found themselves sabotaged, frequently by another woman. An all-too-familiar scenario occurred when someone cozied up to a co-worker, plied her for secrets, and then shared the secrets with others in the department. In Sisterhood Betrayed, there are many interviews with women who were undercut by colleagues. The stories portray women “who feel the need to take from another a hard-earned position or place, who feel that in order to succeed, it is necessary to manipulate rather than create, to take rather than earn” (p 198). Women who are victims of this should be aware that such behavior can be manipulated by men behind the scenes.

How can a toxic person be handled? Confront without being confrontational. Point out the facts to the person. Remain free of emotion. Then walk away.

Protecting Yourself From a Toxic Personality

From a social perspective involving family, friends, and neighbors, most people rely on their instincts or a careful decision-making strategy. When encountering toxic people, here are six suggestions for dealing with them before resorting to the ultimate solution—cutting them out of your life.

  1. Understand how the person affects you. In many cases, the person is intrusive and annoying and has no problem interrupting when you are speaking to someone else. Be aware of this and do your best to avoid the person.
  2. Confront without being confrontational. Privately take this person aside. State the behavior that you find disturbing. Firmly point out that there will be consequences if it continues. Then, walk away before getting into a harmful exchange. This is effective when you catch a person being rude to others. When you see this, call them on it. (But know that they will deny such behavior and even lie about it and manipulate the story.)
  3. Be prepared for their drama. People who are needy and toxic almost always have a family drama to report and a list of ailments or perceived slights that they use as a way of evoking your sympathy. When they come into your space, put an immediate stop to the situation. Kindly but emphatically say, “I wish I had time to talk to you right now, but I don’t. Maybe we can catch up another time.” 
  4. Make it a point to avoid toxic people. When the conversation is unavoidable, keep it short and then walk away. (You often will not need to engage in conversation, because toxic people prefer to hear themselves talk and are not really interested in what you have to say. However, when caught in a situation meant to tear at your heartstrings, offer sympathy and move on. )
  5. Set up firm boundaries. Remind people to call you before visiting. And when they disrespect your wishes, you may have to open the door and say, “I’m sorry. This is not a good time for me.”
  6. Build a wall around yourself to stay safe. If you wish to remain in the friendship (or it’s a working relationship and you have no choice), be prepared for frustrations. You may feel sorry for the person and want to help, but this is rarely possible.  
Keep in mind that people with toxic personalities will not take “no” for an answer. They will quietly harass you until they get what they want from you: your friendship, time, or information. Sometimes such a person will just want to get enough information about you so as to use that information to gossip to others about you, as a way of pretending or imagining that you are “close friends.” 
In one of my books, I wrote: “If you see yourself in any of these scenarios, you probably should not admit to it.” That said, the toxic person will not admit to seeing themselves as others do. There are many theories about toxic people and those who have a wish to help them. But according to Dr. Brenner: “There is a general sense that they have no interest in therapy or change. In fact, they often see themselves as innocent and frequently play the victim” (e.g., “Toxic People III”).
Copyright 2019 Rita Watson


Ellison, J., et al, (1994) The Psychotherapist’s Guide to Neuropsychiatry: Diagnostic and Treatment Issues 1st Edition,  Washington, DC, and London, England, American Psychiatric Press. 1994

Anjum, A et al, (2018) An Empirical Study Analyzing Job Productivity in Toxic Workplace Environments,  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2018 May; 15(5): 1035

Barber, J.,  Watson, R. Sisterhood Betrayed: Women in the Workplace and the All About Eve Complex,  St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1991.


The 5 Types of Self-Talk Your Brain Likes Best

The 5 Types of Self-Talk Your Brain Likes Best

Thrive talk instead of survive talk creates greater resilience.
Posted by Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D. on Jun 11, 2020

One night I got caught in a harrowing blizzard in a remote area of the North Carolina Mountains without snow tires or four-wheel drive. I couldn’t stop or pull off the road, and my car was skidding on ice. Clutching the steering wheel, I had to drive another 30 miles straight up steep treacherous mountain curves. At first, I heard my judgment’s reprimands, I hope you’re satisfied, dummy. You’ve done it now. Before the harshness escalated, I was aware that my judgment had tangled up with me like a ball of yarn. I took a deep breath, moved into coaching myself with kindness, Okay Bryan, easy does it. You’ve got this. You’re going to be just fine. Just breathe. That’s right, Bryan, just keep it on the road. Awesome job!

There was a time when people who talked to themselves were considered “crazy.” Now, experts consider self-talk to be one of the most effective therapeutic tools available. Obviously, I made it home safely because I’m here to tell the story. I believe I survived because of the way I spoke to myself. The science of self-talk has shown time and again that how we use self-talk makes a big difference. Negative, survive talk can lead to anxiety and depression. Positive, thrive talk can mitigate dysfunctional mental states and cultivate healthier states of mind.



Research shows silently referring to ourselves by name instead as “I,” gives us psychological distance from the primitive parts of our brain. It allows us to talk to ourselves the way we might speak to someone else. The survive mind’s story isn’t the only story. And the thrive mind has a chance to shed a different light on the scenario. The language of separation allows you to process an internal event as if it happened to someone else. First-name self-talk or referring to yourself as “you,” shifts focus away from your primitive brain’s inherent egocentricism. Studies show this practice lowers anxiety, gives us self-control, cultivates wisdom over time and puts the brakes on the negative voices that restrict possibilities.

University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross conducted research into the value of first-name self-talk as a way to disable social anxiety before and after a stressful event when people often ruminate about their performance. Kross gave 89 participants five minutes to prepare a speech. Half were told to use only pronouns to refer to themselves while the other half were told to use their names. The pronoun group had greater anxiety with such comments as, “There’s no way I can prepare a speech in five minutes,” while the name group had less anxiety and expressed confidence using self-talk such as, “Bryan, you can do this.” The name group was also rated higher in performance by independent evaluators and were less likely to ruminate after the speech. Other studies also show that first-name self-talk is more likely to empower you and increase the likelihood that, compared to someone using first-person pronoun self-talk, you see a challenge (thrive mind) instead of a threat (survive mind).


Like the zoom lens of a camera, Mother Nature hardwired your survival brain for tunnel vision to target a threat. Your heart races, eyes dilate, and breathing escalates to enable you to fight or flee. As your brain zeroes in, your self-talk makes life-or-death judgments that constrict your ability to see possibilities. Your focus is narrow like the zoom lens of a camera, clouding out the big picture. And over time you build blind spots of negativity without realizing it. Self-talk through your wide-angle lens allows you to step back from a challenge, look at the big picture, and brainstorm a wide range of possibilities, solutions, opportunities and choices.

In a study conducted by Dr. Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina, researchers assigned 104 people to one of three groups: Group 1 experienced positive feelings (amusement or serenity), Group 2 negative feelings (anger or fear), and Group 3 no special feelings (neutrality). Then the researchers said, “Given how you’re feeling, make a list of what you want to do right now.” The positive group had the longest list of possibilities compared to the negative and neutral groups because the positive perspective showcased a range of possibilities. You have agency to broaden and build your survival brain’s constrictive “zoom lens” into a “wide-angle lens,” creating a perspective that broadens your range of vision to take in more information and free you from your mind’s limitations. 


During the 1990s, comedians mocked the notion of self-affirmations with tongue-in-cheek phrases such as, “I’m smart enough” or “I’m good enough.” Al Franken created and performed the fictional character Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live in a mock self-help show called Daily Affirmations—a psychotherapist’s nightmare. Years since, otherwise willing clients have steered away from the off-putting idea of self-kindness and positive affirmations. The comedic antics of the 1990s stigmatized the practice with shame and embarrassment, which led the public to disavow the practice.

In 2014, enter Clayton Critcher and David Dunning at the University of California at Berkeley. The psychologists conducted a series of studies showing that positive affirmations function as “cognitive expanders,” bringing a wider perspective to diffuse the brain’s tunnel vision of self-threats. Their findings show that affirmations help us transcend the zoom-lens mode by engaging the wide-angle lens of the mind. Self-affirmations helped research participants cultivate a long-distance relationship with their judgment voice and see themselves more fully in a broader self-view, bolstering their self-worth.

Relationships With Your ‘Parts’

When you notice you’re in an unpleasant emotional state—such as worry, anger, or frustration—holding these parts of you at arm’s length and observing them impartially as a separate aspect of you, activates your thrive talk (clarity, compassion, calm). Thinking of them much as you might observe a blemish on your hand allows you to be curious about where they came from. Instead of pushing away, ignoring, or steamrolling over the unpleasant parts, the key is to acknowledge them with something like, “Hello frustration, I see you’re active today.” This simple acknowledgment relaxes the parts so you can face the real hardship—whatever triggered them in the first place. This psychological distance flips the switches in your survive brain and thrive brain at which point you are calm, clear-minded, compassionate, perform competently, and have more confidence and courage.



There is a direct link between self-compassion and happiness, well-being, and success. The more self-compassion you have, the greater your emotional arsenal. Studies from the University of Wisconsin show that meditation cultivates compassion and kindness, affecting brain regions that make you more empathetic to other people. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers discovered that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be developed in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The imaging revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive practice in compassion meditation.

Other studies show that the expression of empathy has far-reaching effects in your personal and professional lives. Employers who express empathy are more likely to retain employees, amp up productivity, reduce turnover, and create a sense of belonging in the company. If you cultivate the habit of speaking with loving-kindness, you change the way your brain fires in the moment. Studies show when abrasive, survive self-talk attacks you, it reduces your chances of rebounding and ultimately success. Instead of coming down hard on yourself, loving-kindness helps you bounce back quicker. Forgiving yourself for previous slip-ups such as procrastination, for example, offsets further procrastination. A survey of 119 Carleton University students who forgave themselves after procrastinating on the first midterm exam were less likely to delay studying for the second one.

When we talk ourselves off the ledge (as I did in the snowstorm) using self-distancing, compassion, and positive self-talk, we perform better at tasks and recover more quickly from defeat or setbacks—regardless of how dire the circumstances.


Critcher, C. R., & Dunning, D. (2015). Self-affirmations provide a broader perspective on self-threat. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(1), 3–18.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Discover the upward spiral that will change your life. New York: Crown.

Kross, E. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106 304-324.


Your Personality Isn’t Permanent, It Can Change For The Better Over A Lifetime

Your Personality Isn’t Permanent, It Can Change For The Better Over A Lifetime

If you think of your personality as flexible, you will do much better in life

Posted by Jennifer Thomas Oppong
on Jun 1, 2020

People can and do change for better (or worse). If you are not happy about certain character traits, you can do something about them.

The good news is, your personality — the combination of traits, thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make you unique can be shaped into who you want to become.

Your personality is not permanent.

I have always thought of myself as a “work in progress.” Always transforming. And I have become a much better person because of that mindset. I’m constantly learning about new models, perspectives and principles that can make me a better human every day. I’m not who I was a decade ago in thoughts, behaviours and emotional patterns.

Your own theories about who you are have a great influence your actions. And those perceptions dictate your experiences, which are literally rearranging your brain’s wiring.

Many people view their habits, traits, and characteristics as permanent.

If you view your personality as mutable instead of permanent, you’re inclined to work on it and improve in your life and career.
Stanford psychologist Lee Ross says, “People’s inflated belief in the importance of personality traits and dispositions, together with their failure to recognise the importance of situational factors in affecting behaviour, has been termed the ‘fundamental attribution error.”

In his new book, Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free from Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story, Psychologist and bestselling author Benjamin Hardy, PhD draws on psychological research to debunk the popular misconception that personality — your consistent attitudes and behaviours are permanent.

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology once said, “The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?”

The myths we choose to believe are life-changing. They have surprising impact on on our lives and careers. When you believe the myths world tells you about your identity, you’ll always tend to act out who you think you are.

Hardy’s key research-backed argument is that you’re not stuck with the personality you’ve got. He explains why personality tests such as Myers-Briggs and Enneagram are psychologically destructive.

His case for the transformational capacity of the human mind is a good addition to Carol S. Dweck’s research that human endeavour can be influenced by how we think about our capabilities.

“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life,” says Dweck.


In the book, Hardy guides you to decide for yourself the life you want to live, regardless of how different it is from your past or present. He provides evidence, case studies and true stories of intentional self-transformation to support his ideas.

“You are not a single and narrow “type” of person. In different situations and around different people, you are different. Your personality is dynamic, flexible, and contextual. Moreover, your personality changes throughout your life, far more than you can presently imagine,” writes Hardy.

People who transform themselves and their lives have a different, open, and flexible view of their own future. They refuse to be defined by the past.

“The most successful people in the world base their identity and internal narrative on their future, not their past,” he argues.

What you believe to be the only truth affects what you achieve

Steve Maraboli, a Behavioural Scientist said, “Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.”

People with established mindsets from the past stop looking forward. They stop integrating new and better experiences in — they’re still living in the past.

They have a very difficult time fully embracing new mindsets, mental models, and life principles. It’s also hard for them to allow present healthy experiences to continue shaping their personality.

Past experiences and traumas can trap you in unhealthy attitudes and behaviours, but there’s always a way out — if you’re ready to learn more about yourself and are open to improving beyond your current circumstances.

Dr. Hardy shows you why changing how you view your past is fundamental to upgrading your identity and future. He goes a step further and provides life-changing ideas to shift your story and reframe your current story.

“The meaning you place on past events determines who you are and what your future is. Changing how you view your past is fundamental to upgrading your identity and future. Fundamental to changing your identity is also changing your story. A new future creates a new past,” he writes.

A shift in how you perceive yourself changes everything. There’s more flexibility to who we are than we might assume.

You’re not trapped by your own character traits. When you think of yourself as evolving, you’ll open yourself up to new and better experiences that can create normal, healthy memories.

If your past experience has altered your authentic self, it’s not too late. You can override your past fixed memory about who you are and experience a positive and significant personality change.

“Life is a classroom. You’re here to grow. You’re here to live by faith and design. You’re here. You’re here to choose. The choice is yours. Who will you be?” — Benjamin Hardy, PhD

You can change your internal narrative, override past behaviours, and adopt an open mindset that can help you make the personality change you want.

Never stop evolving.


The Relationship with Yourself

The Relationship with Yourself

Notes on self-confidence and authenticity.

Posted by Jennifer Guttman Psy.D. on Jun 27, 2019

In my over 20 years in private practice, I’ve witnessed an alarming rate of low self- esteem among my clients which is linked to a critical self-concept. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 85% of people worldwide (adults and adolescents) have low self-esteem. Low self-esteem has been linked to violent behavior, school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, suicide, and low academic achievement. The World Health Organization (WHO) in reports that more deaths are caused by suicide every year than homicide or war.

Understanding How Self-Concept Affects You

Self-concept was described by Baumeister in 1999 as a person’s understanding or belief about their personal attributes. These beliefs affect how they interact with the outside world. A person’s self-confidence, as well as other attributes such as self-worth, self-love and self-respect, are impacted by how intact our self-concept is. An impaired self-concept adversely interferes with a person’s ability to find happiness, and over 80% of my clients are struggling with feeling some level of unhappiness in their lives. Taken together, the relationship we have with our self-concept can invariably prevent our ability to achieve our overall desired level of satisfaction and happiness in our lives.

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, places self-actualization at the pinnacle of emotional adaptive achievement in his hierarchy of needs. He includes “esteem” needs within the hierarchy. In his view, “esteem” needs include the need and aptitude for self-confidence to continue on a path towards self-actualization. He notes that when self-confidence is driven by notoriety from outside sources it will be fragile. However, when the feeling is cultivated from within, it will feel more deserving, and thus, be regarded by the “self” as of higher value.

How Childhood Influences Our Self-Confidence

Self-confidence, or lack thereof, develops in childhood and adolescence through a variety of channels. Children who are listened to and whose accomplishments and mistakes are both recognized and accepted, tend to evolve into more confident adults. If children are indoctrinated and experience “perfect” child syndrome for their accomplishments or harsh criticism for the mistakes, they will most likely lack self-esteem as adults. Of course, there is also the co-occurring impact of school success or failure as well as positive or negative social experiences that can adversely hinder self-confidence during childhood and adolescence. These positive or negative academic and social experiences may bring about self-doubt or conversely boost positive self-image. For example, by age 17, 78% of girls are unhappy with their bodies, and more than 90% admit to feeling pressure to look a certain way or would change something about how they look if they could. 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating. This compares to 25% of girls with high self-esteem. 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online, and a similar share says it’s a major problem for people their age. Among high school students, 44% of girls and 15% of guys are attempting to lose weight.

Identifying the Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem

The first step in dealing with low self-esteem and self-confidence is to critically assess symptoms and behavioral patterns that feel abnormal to you and may indicate you’re suffering from low self-confidence:

– Have you started to notice or have been told that you’re sensitive to criticism?

–  Do you feel socially avoidant and have developed a pattern of isolating yourself in social situations?

–  Are you consistently having negative thoughts about yourself or your abilities?

– Do you find it difficult to challenge and assert yourself?

– Do you have trouble with eye contact or a confident posture

Taking Action to Raise Your Self-Concept

If you feel any of the above are accurate assessments and applicable to you, here are some suggested actions you can take as a change agent to improve your self-esteem:

– Practice verbally asserting yourself in ways that don’t feel too intimidating with friends, family members or co-workers

– Take an inventory of your strengths and write them down

– Try to do something new or challenging either daily or weekly 

– Actively self-praise daily 

– Be honest about realistic goals so you reduce the risk of disappointing yourself

– Practice confident posture: good eye contact, smiling and standing straight

– Think of one thing you’re proud of each day to improve and emphasize positivity

– Stop comparing or contrasting yourself to others; focus on self-improvement, not on being better than someone else. Self-confidence comes from within, not from being “ahead” of another person or receiving respect from someone else.

Try these strategies to improve your self-confidence and improve your relationship with yourself. I have found them to be helpful both with adults and adolescents who have self-esteem challenges as well as parents who are dealing with pre-teens who have low self-esteem.  However, if you’re still struggling after consistently trying these for a few months, then seek professional mental health services as a next step.