All toxic people are repelled by the same thing — something you carry with you wherever you go…
No two toxic people are exactly alike, however, there is one thing that makes all toxic people think twice about making you their next chew toy — the right body language.
Most toxic people have traits of narcissistic, antisocial, histrionic or borderline personality disorders. These four disorders are considered to be the most “high-conflict” personalities in existence. (Narcissistic people want you to do everything their way, antisocial people – sociopaths – have no conscience, histrionic people create drama and feed off the negative emotional consequences, and borderline people’s emotions are unstable and intense.)
If you want to prevent yourself from getting caught in the middle of trouble or getting fed to the sharks, these are the people you have to avoid getting into it with at home, school, and work. Thankfully, while there are many different types of people who stand to make you miserable, they are usually all repelled or dissuaded by the very same thing — strong, unemotional, assertive energy – the calm and unshakable confidence of firm, low-key boundaries and quiet no-nonsense attitudes.
While nothing is 100% fool-proof, sending the right messages of strong and non-threatening unflappability to high-conflict toxic people is a tried and true best-bet strategy. Narcissists and sociopaths will often look for easier targets, and histrionic and borderline people will tend to make their waves where the pool is shallower and more responsive.
Studies conducted on the importance of body language vary in their conclusions about what percentage of human communication is actually non-verbal. But there is one thing they all agree on; the majority – not the minority – of human communication is non-verbal, with some study results showing numbers as high as a whopping 93%.
In other words, it’s not what you say, it’s what you show.
So, which body positions can you adopt to send cues of confident and non-resistant unemotionality, while inside, your every nerve is frayed and you feel like blowing your top at the maddening coworker, critical in-law or other insufferable crazy-maker you’re trying to cope with?
When you’re stuck at a staff meeting, group activity or dinner table and you have to interact with a toxic person:
1. Stay still — nervously fiddling with objects, tapping your feet, fidgeting, biting your lip, and other such movements signal nervousness indicate fear and insecurity, not calm confidence. Consciously tell yourself to move and speak more slowly than you feel like you’re about to. See just how still you can get yourself to be without appearing rigid, which communicates tension, not calm.
2. Keep your hands calm and unoccupied. Do not touch your face or hair. Do not put your hands in your pockets, which signifies feeling rejected and intimidated. Simply rest them beside you or loosely on a surface (not in front of you – placing objects or hands between you and the speaker makes you appear defensive. The best place for your hands is alongside you in a relaxed and open posture.
3. Maintain lots of good old eye contact. Low eye contact makes people think someone is uncertain or worried, so make sure you are looking straight at the problematic person. (Just be careful not to glare intensely into their eyes and make them feel threatened; that will have the wrong effect.) Instead, look straight at them flexibly and don’t break your gaze very often or for very long. This communicates a strong (but not threatening) presence.
4. Don’t slouch! If you are sitting, sit up straight (but again, not so straight that you look rigid and tense). Sitting or standing straight conveys a strong, confident and calm presence.
5. Open your body posture. Put your shoulders back and open your arms wider. Don’t bring your knees together. This will feel awkward and unnatural, because you’re feeling threatened or defensive when toxic people come at you. You likely won’t feel like doing this, but it’s important. If a toxic person can sense your fear and tension, you will be chosen more often to upset or to victimize. To send messages of calm, secure confidence, you shouldn’t appear defensive or scared, and unfortunately, closed body postures communicate just that. To prevent this, face the person directly, sitting back casually or standing upright and relaxed, even though you probably feel like doing the exact opposite.
6. Nod as you listen. You won’t want to nod, but make yourself nod — calmly. If you have trouble doing this, talk to yourself as you listen. Say things to yourself you find helpful, such as, “Nodding helps…I’m calm…” or “I’m a calm, patient person; they can talk all they want…” The more time you spend doing this, the more will actually start to believe it and feel less threatened. Toxic people seek either your complete agreement with their desires or a juicy dramatic conflict — simply nodding is a powerful way to communicate non-resistance without having to get involved.
7. BREATHE! When people feel threatened or anxious, their breathing becomes more shallow and restricted. This leads to a whole host of difficulties. Toxic people are highly attuned to people’s emotional reactions, and they do notice when someone is not breathing deeply, because this communicates fear or upset, which holds great importance for toxic people. When people feel relaxed and confident, they are breathing slowly and deeply, so breathe slowly and deeply when in the midst of toxic people. This will not only send the MESSAGE that you are unshakable, but it will also make you FEEL unshakable, so remember to breathe fully.
8. Keep physically distant wherever possible. The old saying about an ounce of prevention is good advice, and maintaining your distance from toxic people as much as possible is powerful prevention. Having people seated between you and the toxic person is helpful, as is choosing a seat alongside them instead of across from them. This will markedly limit the amount of time you spend having to interact with them (and see them) very naturally.
Finally… when you can, as soon as you can, gracefully leave, or at least include others in the discussion as soon as possible. Pull away tactfully, excuse yourself, or bring others into the conversation where this is reasonable. This helps deflect the negative energy off you and can help get you a chance to break free without appearing to flatly reject the toxic person. This is especially helpful, because all toxic people (except sociopaths) are hypersensitive to rejection.
If you can’t eliminate contact with a toxic person, combining the tips above with limiting your level of contact as much as possible with a toxic person is the best strategy. No contact is always the best option, followed by low contact. But if you find yourself in situations where you have no choice, remember — conveying calm, relaxed non-resistance is the best damage control plan there is.
Join us Wednesday — we’ll be discussing the traits and characteristics of toxic people.
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