September 30, 2018

“What you hear repeatedly, you will eventually believe.” – Mike Murdock

This week’s topic is not one I relish dealing with at all.  But it is necessary sometimes to address the dark side of life and how to deal with it,  to enable yourself to reap the rewards of living with integrity, optimism and expectation of good things coming to you.

I often take my cues for blog topics from a pattern I notice throughout the week in my own experiences and the experiences of my clients. This week, the theme was pretty hard to miss.  Not only did several of my clients have to deal with it, I had a jarring personal experience of it, and the whole nation got a ringside seat to it via the televised Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Thursday.  The yelling and finger pointing, vitriol and personal attacks on display among the elected “leaders” who are supposed to represent us were jaw-dropping to behold. But I am not here to talk about politicians.  I want to talk about toxic energy and what we can do to protect ourselves from it in our OWN everyday lives.

What is “toxic energy”?  Your “energy” (or some people call it your “vibration”) is made up of your thoughts PLUS your emotions“Toxic,” according to the dictionary, means something that is “poisonous” and perhaps “infectious” — to the point of “causing serious harm or death.”

At some point, we all cross paths with someone who exudes “toxic energy.”  A specific promise I ask all my clients to state aloud every day is: “I avoid toxic people and surround myself with Winners who inspire me and help me to reach my Dreams.” That is a worthy goal, but as I learned for myself this week, it’s easier said than done.  So I want to share with you some insights and tips I used to help my clients and me to shield ourselves from the toxic energy we encountered from others.

First, my own story: For the past couple of years, I have been a long-distance “friend” to someone I have never met face to face.  We corresponded via email, text and Facebook and at  first, I enjoyed our interactions. He seemed like a truly good person, who talked a lot about the people around him who were lonely and needed something to cheer them up.  He found ways to do that, some of which required money (like throwing modest parties for them). In his own life, he faced serious financial challenges, being older and living on a fixed income, which he supplemented a little bit with a sporadic sideline gig.

I was inspired by the way he seemed to maintain a positive attitude in the face of all the challenges in his own life.  He was (all too) eager to share personal information with me, including that his wife had divorced him several years ago and moved to the other side of the country, and neither of his grown children had seen or spoken to him in years.  In short, he garnered my sympathy with his vulnerable candor and seemingly selfless caring for others.

I began to send him small sums of money from time to time, to help with his parties and his own dire needs (such as car problems and having his internet and cell phone shut off, and at one time, the imminent shut off of his utilities).  Each time, he protested that he had not told me about his problems to solicit money from me, but then he always accepted it with lavish thanks.

Mind you, I am not an easy mark.  I really do have a pretty good sense of when someone is lying to me, and I don’t think he was lying about the facts.  I believe he IS broke. But looking back, I can see that he never seemed to try to change his financial circumstances, other than lament them.  Being a coach, I’m hard-wired to give suggestions to help my clients solve daily problems, but every time I offered him a suggestion, he would deflect it, explaining why that wasn’t feasible. I thought maybe there just weren’t any part-time jobs available for someone his age in his area. I felt growing frustration, but ignored what my gut was telling me for a long time.

Over time, his messages focused more and more on complaints about how others treated him unfairly and “woe is me” tales of all the things that were going wrong for him, one after another.  I was the only person he had to confide in, who could understand, he said. His energy became more toxic so gradually, I didn’t consciously recognize it for a long time.  I just knew that it was beginning to wear on me emotionally, like trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose.

I think what finally opened my eyes is that last Sunday I watched on YouTube a sermon by my favorite positive-thought minister, Joel Osteen, in which he talked about planting our “seeds” in good soil.  He cited a familiar parable from the Bible about how three different farmers sowed their seeds in rocky soil, weedy soil and good soil.  Those seeds planted in the rocky and weedy soil died out, while those planted in the good soil flourished and became a rich harvest.

Joel said the parable means we have to carefully CHOOSE the people we hang out with because they are the “soil” in our lives.  If we plant our own “seeds” – our special gifts and dreams that can blossom with the right nurturing – in a toxic environment filled with poor role models and those who do not support us, we are bound to have a meager harvest.

Later that day, I saw a Facebook post by Mr. Woe is Me with a big photo of his sad-eyed four-footed friend who, he said, clearly needed to go to the vet.  He said he was calculating how to get the money and whether cutting himself back to one meal a day would help. Soon, he began to get comments from several of his many Facebook friends offering to send a donation.  He replied, “Thank you, but I’ll be all right.”

I commented, “What if these kind offers are God’s HOW to help you get your dog taken care of?”  He replied “What if they aren’t?”  Then he immediately switched to private messaging, saying “I love you” and anxiously asking if I was mad at him or something was wrong.

I wrote back that he seemed to be acting like a “professional victim” by telling everyone about his dog’s plight and then refusing offers of help. I suspected some of his friends were planning to send him money anyway, despite his protestations, as I would have done in the past. He said that he hadn’t intended for his post to come across as a plea for money and immediately took it down. Then he messaged me again, saying, “Why are you doing this to me – making me feel like crap?”

In that instant, I knew it was time to permanently disengage from his toxic energy that was now on full display, so I wrote back, “I am done. Please don’t write me anymore.  I truly wish you and your dog the best.  I won’t read your posts or comment ever again. Goodbye.”

Afterward, I felt somewhat shaken at the unexpected abruptness of my recognition of and disengagement from his specific form of toxic energy (emotional manipulation masquerading as selflessness suffering). At the same time, I recognized that I instantly felt happier and lighter to be free of it.

Just before I blocked him, he sent me a long, vitriolic diatribe about everything he felt was wrong with me, including that I was trying to “control” him with my money.  The nicest thing he said was “You are NOT a godly woman.”  (I don’t remember every claiming to be one.)  His final salvo was this: “You will now answer to god for this.  I’m sure. I’m wealthy hear me roar.  I’m praying to god I never become you.  I’d really kill myself…If you don’t cause it tonight.”

Well, I am glad I climbed off that crazy train.  I am grateful that my God-given inner wisdom was right and that I instinctively followed it. Because I had blinded myself to the truth over a long period, I now realize how easy it is to do with the people in our own lives. And I see that someone’s toxic energy involves more than just chronic complaining, negativity, damaging gossip or constantly undermining your self-worth. Toxic energy comes in many forms and some of them are well-disguised as something positive.

OK, so Rule Number One in protecting yourself from toxic energy is to always remember Maya Angelou’s wonderful quote, “People will show you who they are and you’d best believe them.” Give everyone a chance to prove themselves to you, but as soon as your intuition starts to notice red flags about someone, don’t ignore those warning signs!

Rule Number Two: Don’t hang out with people whose energy provides “poor soil” for your gifts, character, habits and dreams.  If you hang out with them long enough, your own Seeds of Greatness will die and you will become like them.  Instead, seek out friends and mentors who will support you, nurture you and inspire you – people you want to emulate. Joel Osteen recommends disengaging from the poor soil gradually by just spending less and less time with them over a period of time.  If they notice, you can just say that you are busy with lots of good stuff and you don’t have as much time to hang out as you used to.

NEXT WEEK: Unfortunately, with some people who exude toxic energy, you do not have the option to just walk away. They are your boss, Team member, close relative — maybe even your spouse (or the co-parent of your children). Next time, we will discuss how to deal with others’ toxic energy when you can’t leave. Stay tuned!

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