The other day, I witnessed a noninjury hit-and-run car accident in a grocery store parking lot. While backing up his car, an older black man hit a parked car. He paused, looked at the car he had hit, then drove off. I should have shouted, “Hey you, stop,” But I was silent.
I hesitated to call him out for 2 reasons. If there was any potential for confrontation, the police might be called. A scenario like that could get ugly and even lead to someone being killed. The other reason is that there is a real probability that anyone in the general public could be carrying a firearm. That is another potential confrontation I did not want to face.
I confess that I live with this underlying fear. I would like to be the person who steps up, speaks up, and defend others when there is injustice. But fear keeps me from being myself.
There is one place, though, where I can be myself. Do you know where that is? Is at the airport after security. I feel safe there. People are not armed.
Once during a heavy snowstorm, I was stuck at Dulles International Airport for some very long hours. Travelers kept arriving, and no one was leaving. At the gates, there were more people than there were seats. Passengers wear sitting on the floor where ever they could find a spot. Assessing the situation, we could choose to be miserable or enjoy this downtime. Because I felt safe, I decided to go around and cheer people up.
This was an easy audience. Everyone was either from somewhere else or going somewhere else. This fact became an excellent introductory question, followed by asking how they were coping. We were all at the mercy of the weather but still warm and dry with access to food and restrooms. I met an Israeli whose company tracts our every move while we are surfing the web…good to know. Met quite a few pastors as there was a pastors conference in town. I met some people from Australia, some students, business people. A few elderly folks needed additional attention because our gates and departure times were frequently being changed, and they became confused. I felt like a friendly version of the Pied Piper leading a parade of elderly people through a chaotic airport to their proper gates.
This certainly made my layover a pleasant memory. Amazing how positive intentions can change the outcome of what could have been a miserable experience into something fun. I would not have been able to cheer up random strangers if there was a possibility that they could be armed and or cause me harm. I am no superhero.
Encounters with toxic people, especially relatives, is a complicated topic. You are invited to a party you want to attend, but the toxic person who is also going will provoke unnecessary anxiety. Social norms use to be to tolerate the abuse from them. Thanks to the Positive Psychology Movement, we are empowered to say enough is enough.
If you find yourself in this situation, here are some suggestions to empower you.
1. You decide not to go.
When the negatives outweigh the positives, it is fair enough not to attend. No need to feel any guilt. Spend some time on self-care: meditation and mindfulness practice, yoga (online classes or Apps are convenient esp in 2020 ), go for a walk or hike, listen to your favorite music, take a warm bath (with few drops of pure essential lavender oil and or Epsom salts), call a friend, go out with a friend (following local pandemic rules), read a book, watch a movie, journal, book a massage or acupuncture appointment to center your energy, schedule a hair or nail appointment, practice earthing and go hug a tree or walk on the beach. No self-pity. Also, realize if you don’t show up enough times, you might not get another invitation.
2. Pre-event preparation – Before you go
Do the above self-care in #1.
Find strength from the support of empathic and compassionate friends or therapist. Practice self-compassion and self-love.
MANTRA: Look yourself in the mirror and look directly into your own eyes and say out loud – I am beyond criticism, I am equal to all, I am fearless. By performing it exactly like this, it re-enforces your embodiment of it.
MANTRA: Look yourself in the mirror and look directly into your own eyes and say out loud – I am beyond criticism, I am equal to all, I am fearless.
Discuss with other invited kindred souls what is acceptable behavior. Enlist their support.
Ask them to support you, rescue you, or better yet vow to yourself to be your own hero, and come to your own rescue.
Have a backup, a safe place or person.
Have an exit plan.
Practice some come back lines (see During Event #3).
Breathe. You always have your breath.
For Zoom calls: Say a quick hello and greeting, then stay on the sidelines out of view or click “video” off or leave.
Be in the mindset of curiosity and be open to what might happen next. Avoid anticipation.
Be in the mindset of curiosity and be open to what might happen next.
3.During the Event
Different options depending on what you are comfortable with and what degree of toxicity exists.
-Turn off your ego.
-Repeat MANTRA from #2.
-The other person’s behavior is not about you and not your responsibility.
-Pretend you don’t hear any criticism, don’t engage – no reply is necessary; smile and walk away. Escape by going to the restroom; hanging out with a non threatening subgroup (kids, senior folks, etc); go to your rescue your person.
-Call it out for what it is – for example, directly say: that is rude; that is hurtful; that is inappropriate; sarcasm: you have a way of “cheering” up a room/person, mind your manners; you are crossing the line, etc. Make them statements. You are not looking for an answer.
-Limit it to a simple greeting, set boundaries, and no need to engage.
-Reply with kindness and compassion. It might throw them off: you looking nice/younger/healthy today; you look like you have been working out. I like your hair/lovely necklace/dress/jacket; you look younger every time I see you; this best dinner; what a great job you did. Sometimes you have to counteract with positive manipulations.
-Although they subconsciously try to pull you down to where they are, you can try to pull them up with kindness. That takes some centering and grounding on your part. See #1 and #2.
-Just smile and act confused by what just transpired.
-Give them a second chance to redeem themselves after an inappropriate statement: do you want to re-phrase that? Or can you apologize for that?
-Do a skillful misdirect – talk about a new planet or some professional sports teams or anything quirky. Practice switching the conversation to gain control. Feel free to bring up something controversial: religion, politics, guns, abortion, current events, etc. Maybe someone else will jump in and be loud and forceful. Then you can sideline out.
-The itch and scratch technique. Pretend you are itchy. Start scratching. People tend to find that very annoying. You could even add, I hope it is not contagious, maybe you should go wash your hands. This method takes acting skills, some premeditated dishonesty. But you are in survival mode. This phrase likely can only be used once with the same person.
-If you are cornered and accused of this or that: for example, “You don’t like me do you?”. Tell the truth about how you feel: “You are making me feel anxious/uncomfortable. Now excuse me, I got to go”. Then walk away.
-Show empathy and compassion – “I am sorry you feel this way”. If you feel comfortable enough suggest they get some professional help.
-Treat them like child because their emotional development is at the same level.
-If you see someone else being bullied, interject. It’s the best gift you can give.
-If you are sitting at the dinner table and cannot physically distance, be a witness to the whole scene. Likely the toxic person has a fragile ego and will insult you to protect themselves. Your best protection, since you cannot physically distance, is mentally distance. Do not give anything of yourself. The toxic person does not deserve it. Keep it simple. Just nod. Just agree. Respond with single words: Yes or Sure or OK or Interesting. Keep a flat affect. Be uninteresting and unresponsive.
-Be like a “Grey Rock”. Your objective is to make the toxic person lose interest in you. Don’t feed their needs for drama or attention.
-Gift them with some self-help books.
-Zero tolerance for racism. Call it out.
-Feel free to walk away – your body your right.
-Breathe. You always have your breath. Take a slow deep belly breath to calm and gather your wits.
-Don’t worry about offending toxic people. They likely will not recognize it.
-Remember your MANTRA from #2
-Keep up the slow deep breathing. Stay centered and grounded. The insult has already passed.
-Acceptance. It is not about you.
-Be honest with yourself – Is the enemy that I see myself just wearing different clothes? Their weaknesses are my weaknesses.
-Each insult helps you understand yourself at a deeper level. It enables you to grow stronger.
See yourself in the toxic person and send them love and compassion thru your prayers.
Remember to show yourself compassion and love. Be your own best friend.
3. Post-event recovery:
Wind down time.
Refer to #1
Aromatherapy with 100% essential oils – lavender calming, citrus cheering, and peppermint for headaches, cooling. You can put a few drops into bowl of dried flowers or potpourri.
Make a warm cup of herbal tea. Sit back and elevate your feet. Take a moment to relax.
Remember to be your own best friend. Practice self-compassion and self-love.
Let it go. People can only function at their level of consciousness.
C’est la vie.
Finally, live your life with kindness and grace. Be grateful for one another.
Wishing you a happy and sane holiday for 2020 and forevermore.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. —– Eleanor Roosevelt
DISCLAIMER: THIS INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL CARE. PLEASE CONSULT A HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR CASE. If this is a clinical emergency please contact emergency services.