How to Deal w/ Toxic People As An Empath
My story: growing up with a narcissist parent
The past year, my biggest challenge has been finding my way to deal with judgemental, critical and inconsiderate people. For years I could be so reactive and feel hurt when someone was mean to me for no reason.
You see, I grew up with narcissist parents and these experiences have had an impact on the way I developed as a child and throughout my adolescence. I became a high achiever + people pleaser, as this was what I learnt to be the safest way to protect myself from getting hurt.
As I've grown over the years though, and I've become more conscious of the impact my childhood experiences have had on my development and behaviour patterns, I realized this people-pleasing mentality was not helping me anymore. On the contrary, it was becoming a mental prison.
For months I came home from work feeling drained and exhausted. All those hours spent being vigilant, overthinking and working through my emotions... Quite tiring!⠀
And so over the past year, I made it a priority to work through this habit. Every morning on my way to work, I journaled, listened to inspirational podcasts, but most importantly: I actively worked on changing my thoughts, my actions, and my behaviour.
This is the key to making real lasting change: it is to implement what you learn, to turn inspiration into action.
I feel very different now when I interact with negative-minded people — I feel more calm and confident about my boundaries, and I'm even receptive and compassionate towards the other person. (Except when they’re just straightforward insulting — no thanks and walk awaaaay.)⠀
I know how difficult it can be to deal with toxic people, especially when you’re an empath and you’re still working on healing your own emotional trauma.
If this sounds like you, please know that you're not in this alone.
I hope this article inspires you to make better decisions for yourself and set healthy boundaries, confidently.
I love you and I support you,
How I overcame emotional trauma from adverse childhood experiences
Roughly, here's the 5 steps of recovery I've taken over the years to go from having no boundaries, being a people pleaser and over-achiever, to setting healthy boundaries confidently and putting my own needs first. This allows me to stay connected with my own energy and not feel like a sinking ship all the time.
1. BECOMING AWARE
Getting to know myself — who am I beneath the protective armour that I have constructed over the years? My self-defense mechanisms have served me well and were crucial to help me survive the most challenging situations in the past, but I now acknowledge that this armour isn't protecting me anymore. On the contrary, it has become a restrictive mindset, and it's time to break loose.
Learning to accept myself & appreciate myself for still being here and putting in all the work & being strong despite all the challenges. I really took my time here. It took me a while to fully realize and embody self-acceptance, but this has been a major life-changer for me.
When you accept yourself and appreciate yourself for everything that you already are, you can take it one step further, and learn to love yourself unconditionally.
When you love yourself, instead of being defensive about your boundaries, or worse, having no boundaries at all, you’ll feel more connected to yourself and your needs and desires. You know your boundaries, and you protect your boundaries from a place of love — not from a place of fear. This is something I've been actively working on over the past year and it has made the biggest difference in my energy levels, and I notice how people interact with me differently too.
Even when you learn to love yourself, you will still meet negative, judgemental, critical and narcissistic people. For me, it really helped to educate myself about sociopathic behaviour by listening to podcasts every morning on my way to work. This helped me to set the day right and provide me with the tools and inspiration to adjust my mindset in difficult situations.
From my experience, it takes a different approach to deal with people who are just in a negative mindset vs. people who judge & criticize you (openly or covertly) and make it intentionally personal (like the narcissist).
How to deal with negative people
We all meet people every day who are having a bad day or for some reason are stuck in a negative mindset. They may complain, act from a place of lack, are inconsiderate towards others, and/ or are needy of attention.
Here are 5 ways to get better at dealing with any type of negative person (including the narcissist), by strengthening your boundaries, staying connected with your own energy and not giving away your power:
1. PRIORITIZE SELF-CARE
Infuse your body with plenty of fresh fruits & vegetables so that it has all the nutrients available to be strong & healthy and deal with stress effectively
Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of fresh spring water, herbal infusions, and eat raw fruits & vegetables (deep cellular hydration)
Prioritize rest & sleep
Make time every day to do something that brings you joy. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes!
Being healthy and feeling good in your skin will help you make better decisions for yourself and act more in alignment with your intentions.
2. KNOW & SET YOUR BOUNDARIES⠀
Here’s an exercise to bring more awareness around your boundaries (adapted from Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr Joe Dispanza):
What kind of person are you?
What type of person do you present to the world?
Who do you feel like you are deep inside?
Is there a feeling you experience or even struggle with over and over again, every day?
What frustrates or irritates you?
What makes you angry?
When do you feel overwhelmed?
What is one thing you can do to improve the circumstances that makes you feel frustrated, irritable, angry, and overwhelmed?
What boundaries do you need to strengthen to feel less frustrated, irritable, angry, and overwhelmed?
I encourage you to take your time and write down your answers. It’s like a free therapy session :)
3. ACTIVE LEARNING
When you're dealing with toxic people on a daily basis, for example at work, it can be extremely helpful to listen to inspiring speeches, audiobooks or podcasts when you're on your way to work. This helps you stay inspired and motivated to keep taking action until you feel like you own the situation. The key here is to implement what you learn every day. It is only through implementing what you learn, that things will start to shift.
My best tips:
Meredith Miller’s Inner Integration Podcast
Lewis Howes' The School of Greatness Podcast
Don Miguel Ruiz — The Four Agreements
Dr. Joe Dispenza — Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself
Gary Chapman — The 5 Love Languages
Eckhart Tolle — The Power of Now
Eckhart Tolle — A New Earth
Brene Brown — The Gifts of Imperfection
Leo Babauta — Zen Habits (blog & newsletter)
You can check out all my self-development related video, book, podcast and website recommendations here.
4. DON'T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONAL
'Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.' (from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz)
Bam. Truth. (Get your copy of this life-changing booklet here.)
5. PRACTISE PRESENCE
Whenever you find yourself getting sucked in by other person’s negative vibe, or to protect yourself from getting sucked in, practise presence. Especially when confronted with negativity, ground yourself by standing firm on the ground and adapting an open posture, and focus on your breathing. If it’s possible to go for a walk after a confrontation, do it.
You can get better at practising presence in difficult situations by practising presence daily in a calm and safe space, for example:
Get into your body with yoga, meditation or sports
Journal: check in with your feelings every morning & make an intention for that day
Connect with nature
Practise gratitude — focus on what you love: keep a gratitude journal, or go for an appreciation walk
How to deal with judgemental & critical people?
When someone is critical and judgemental towards you, how do you react?
When I was having a hard time dealing with negative (ie. non-constructive) criticism, a friend sent me this video from Marisa Peer and it changed everything for me. In the end, it’s all about knowing that when other people are critical and judgemental, it really says more about them and their distorted world view than it says about you. Check out the video for a fresh perspective!
Marisa was also on the Lewis Howes podcast recently and I found their conversation super inspiring.
How to deal with a narcissist?
Now, dealing with a narcissist requires a different approach. Because narcissists are often manipulative and rely on your emotional response for their fuel, showing compassion or any other emotional involvement will probably be in your disadvantage.
My life-changing mantra: observe don't engage, respond don't react.
The difference between someone with a negative mindset & a narcissist
Someone who's in a negative mindset may temporarily be acting from a place of lack and ride the low vibe train because of something that happened to them that put them into victim mode (like abuse, illness, or stress). This may cause them to act defensively, say mean words, or lash out for no reason. They are reactive because of something that happened to them that they haven't processed yet.
In contrast, the narcissist is well aware of what they are doing. They know that by knowing your weaknesses they are able to manipulate you so that you value their attention and approval and you will do your best to avoid their disapproval or disappointment.
It's a dangerous situation to be in, because it drains you of your energy and you give away your power by letting them cross your boundaries in the form of emotional or physical abuse. You may do everything to please them, because it is only then that they'll give you the false impression that they love or appreciate you. But be aware that this love is false because it is highly conditional — the narcissist will only 'love' you for what you do for them (or for their cause) and they will manipulate you so that you will desire their love and approval. This is often what happens in abusive relationships, or with children with a narcissist parent, or when you’re a people pleaser working with a narcissist boss or co-worker.
Methods to protect your energy & deal with the narcissist
When you find yourself involved in a narcissistic relationship, the only way to protect yourself is to cut connections & walk away. As opposed to ending relationships with other people, with the narcissist you'll want to end the relationship in an emotionally neutral way, without explaining or defending your decision further than a neutral statement. Why? Because as I explained, narcissists rely on your emotional reaction to keep them going. If you don't give them that fuel, they won't be able to keep interacting with you and eventually (although this may take a while) they’ll give up on you.
There's 2 things that can make ending the relationship with a narcissist a challenge:
1. You have been in a close relationship with the narcissist for a while, so they know you well, which gives them all kinds of arguments and methods to 'suck you back in' and make you think you can give it another try, that they will change, or even worse, that you were wrong. It's very likely that this will happen. To protect yourself and be prepared for this situation, watch this Inner Integration video on Hoovering — How Narcissists Try To Suck You Back In
2. You're working with a narcissistic boss or co-worker, or you're co-parenting with a narcissist. Cutting connections isn't always an option in these cases, so finding your best way to deal with the narcissist here is necessary to protect your energy. I am currently in this very position, and here's how I'm dealing with confrontations with the narcissist:
I zoom out and try to see the confrontation from a bird’s eye view. This helps me to disengage with the narcissists emotions, words, and anything they use to try to manipulate me. My mantra: observe don't engage.
I maintain emotional neutrality. Whenever the narcissist tries to get me engaged with their reality, emotions or gossip, I stay emotionally neutral and respond minimalistically. My mantra: respond don't react.
Yes, as an empath, it feels counterintuitive to do this, because you may feel the desire to understand where they’re coming from, or you may feel the need to explain or defend yourself.
But in this situation the #1 thing you need to do is protect yourself and your energy by setting your boundaries & not let them in.
These episodes of the Inner Integration podcast have been extremely helpful for me:
Boundaries: Setting Limits With Manipulative People
No Contact: Taking Your Power Back and Protecting Your Peace
Leaving the Narcissist
The 4 Pillars of Recovery After Narcissistic Abuse
Unsubscribing From the Narcissist's Reality & Owning Your Reality
The Covert Narcissist
Remember, you are worthy of living a life free from emotional manipulation. You are enough and you are loved, even when you’re not feeling it right now — it’s waiting for you to be discovered.