Rest Stop (Fri) … 5 tips for knowing when to unfollow someone

The intensely heated political season in the US is leading people to unfollow others from their social media sites. It’s not just strangers they are unfollowing, either. I know of friends of mine who are unfollowing long-term friends, and, in one case, unfollowed a family member due to the political postings and comments they make on social media. Social media allows for a sense of anonymity, or, at least, a physical distance from the person with whom you are communicating, allowing people to feel more open and safe to engage in interactions which eventually lead others to unfollow them.

emotions contagiousBut what about in “real” life, as opposed to social media? There are people with whom we interact, whether it be at work, school, social circles, or even family members, whom we need to “unfollow” for our own mental well being. In a Forbes article (10 Toxic People You Should Avoid At All Costs) author Travis Bradberry writes: “Recent research from Friedrich Schiller University in Germany shows just how serious toxic people are. They found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions—the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with toxic people—caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response.” A toxic person is that person in our life who seems to suck the life out of us. Through their behaviors they create or live in constant drama, are needy, don’t respect boundaries, are critical of others, manipulative and judgemental. It’s important to note that I am not saying that the person themself is toxic, but that their behaviors are toxic. This is an important distinction as I am not labelling a person.

In my clinical practice I find that toxic people tend to suffer from at least one personality disorder. A personality disorder is defined as “long-term patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy and inflexible. The behaviors cause serious problems with relationships and work.” Personality disorders begin in childhood continuing into adulthood. They are treatable with psychological intervention and behavior change work, as long as the person is willing to do the work needed to change their thoughts and behaviors to those which are healthy.

Albeit unfortunate that a person may suffer from a personality disorder which manifests as toxic behaviors, as the research indicates, we need to either learn how to protect ourselves or to know when to unfollow them in life. Here are my tips for knowing when it’s time to walk away from a toxic person:

 

  • Set limits. Maintain a healthy boundary by limiting your time with a toxic person as well as limiting your energy. You may choose to listen to what they are saying, but you don’t have to engage in their rant. Limit the amount of interaction you have with them, telling them what you are doing and what the limits are. If they can’t or won’t respect you, you need to unfollow them.
  • Be aware of your own emotions. Other’s emotions can be contagious, so be aware of your emotions when interacting with toxic people. If they are in a negative rant, check to ensure you too aren’t getting into those negative emotions. If you are, you need to politely leave the situation to refresh yourself. If the toxic person follows you or continues the rant after you’ve asked them to stop, you may need to unfollow them for your own emotional health.
  • Be solution-focused. We all have choices, and we can either go through life being problem-focused, only looking at the problem and becoming discouraged, or we can be solution-focused; proactive and focused on action. If a toxic person brings you down, act, either by leaving the situation, or focusing on the positive qualities of the toxic person. We all have positive qualities if we look deep enough. Focus on their positives, and if possible, use their positives skills to your advantage or to the advantage of the job. If this is not possible, you may need to unfollow the toxic person.
  • Be aware of your stress level. If you find yourself being stressed prior to encountering a toxic person, have self-understanding to avoid that person at this time. When we are stressed or anxious our defenses are down, therefore our ability to cope in a healthy way with a toxic person is diminished.
  • Don’t go it alone. I’m sure there are others who also are affected by the toxic person. Enlist their help, not in a negative way focused against the toxic person, but rather in a positive way to keep a check on yourself. You may be too close to the situation to always realize when you need to get away from the person. Utilize healthy people in your life to help you stay on top of your emotional health.

 

Coping with toxic people is not easy, but if we understand that they are most likely emotionally suffering, and that their outward toxic behavior is a result of that suffering, then possibly we can learn to approach them with a bit of compassion. Your compassion, though, should not stand in the way of your emotional health. In life, as in social media, sometimes we need to unfollow people.

References:

University of Colorado Denver. (2014, April 22). Impact of Facebook unfriending analyzed by researchers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 14, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140422130936.htm

Bradberry, T. (2015, November 10). 10 Toxic People You Should Avoid At All Costs. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2015/11/10/10-toxic-people-you-should-avoid-at-all-costs/

Personality Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/personalitydisorders.html

{This article was originally published at Your Tango by this author. Reprinted with permission.}

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