How to Manage a Toxic Environment


Our experiences and conditioning during childhood will ultimately have an impact on the adults we become. 

There is a well known quote that some claim comes from Saint Ignatius Loyola however the idea later proclaimed by the Jesuits is very old – give us a child till he’s seven and we’ll have him for life.

Your subconscious mind is completely open from conception to approximately the age of seven. Children are essentially sponges during this time. It is during this time of our lives we are at our most vulnerable, we learn how to interact, respond and react to situations, show emotion and learn how to treat others, as well as so many other things. We create our values, beliefs and ultimately our 'book of rules' which govern how we live our lives during these ages. Now, why is that important? Well, 97% of our behaviour and perception is controlled by our subconscious mind so it is so important we understand what and where our conditioning comes from.

Our conditioning is not only influenced by our immediate environment (parents, guardians, family, friends) but also our religion, school environment, society, etc. All of these factors during that time will shape the people we become. 

Think about a toxic relationship, friendship, work environment or family/home environment, it isn't the place that makes you feel that way but more so the people you associate with that place. 

There are a few different types of people that can cause you to perceive situations as toxic and this can have a massive impact on you. I have listed a few types that I have noticed through my own experiences:

The Taker

Whether it is a partner, friend or colleague, we have all at some stage experienced the effects of a taker. A person in your life that continues to demand from you, whether it is your time, energy or emotions without giving anything back in return. I am not saying that you should expect something back but for a lot of us this tends to wear us out. These people take the approach of giving nothing while expecting something. Whether it is at work being asked to take on additional responsibilities without financial reward, having a friend/partner that constantly expects you to do things their way, perhaps even a family member that expects you to be at their beck and call, to babysit, to look after them, run errands, etc.

The Pessimist 

This is someone who is constantly in a negative state of mind. They like to often vocalise just how bad the situation is, gossip, spread rumours and focus on negative outcomes over positive ones. Being around someone like this on a consistent basis is likely to affect you negatively and their perceptions may start to rub off on you, so that you adopt the same behaviour. 

The Lazy One

The person that always says they will do something but rarely does, at work they don't pull their weight, you are constantly picking up the projects they should have finished, at home perhaps it is a partner or family member that doesn't help you with the chores or children and you are left feeling like you are doing everything or maybe you live with a friend who leaves the house in a state and while it doesn't seem to bother them you find yourself becoming a glorified maid.  

The Know It All

Someone who always knows better than the next person, they have experienced everything, done everything, been everywhere and are unwilling to listen to others, change their behaviour or try something new.  In my experience these people tend to be resistant to change and live within their comfort zone. In the words of William Shakespeare 'A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool'. 

For someone faced with this person on a consistent basis, you may have adopted a defeatist attitude because they continually get their own way, you have to put in too much energy and effort to achieve change or it has ended in conflict.

The Self Important One 

The person that expects you to put their needs above all others, that person at work who must have that project done for them now because it is their priority and should be yours too. The person in a relationship who unreasonably expects you to drop all obligations with friends/family in order to make them your only priority. 

The Flaky One 

A person that doesn't tend to show up for or do things when they say they will. They do so without warning or explanation. 

Experiencing any or all of these types of relationships on a consistent basis is sure to create resentment and frustrate you. It is important to know each of us is going to respond differently to these types of people depending on our conditioning. For example, if you don't like confrontation you are unlikely to pull people up on their behaviour and therefore will start to resent not only them but the situation. Whereas if you are by nature a more assertive character you might find yourself getting aggressive with people, handling the situation in the best way for yourself but not necessarily for the person you are trying to communicate and get the point across to. 

It is also important to mention that this is not only about your conditioning but the conditioning of the people around you. Your beliefs and values aren't theirs and therefore we should never expect people to have the same behaviour or react the same way to a situation. We all deal with situations differently and it is in understanding this that we start to understand one another. The key to all toxic environments (people) is good communication, understanding or empathising with why a person has adopted that behaviour and in better understanding ourselves. Why do we react to certain situations negatively? Perhaps it is because your boundaries have been overstepped, whether it is being expected to do more at work for no reward, someone being rude to you or experiencing aggression from others. We all have set emotional boundaries that when overstepped cause a negative response, like anger, fear, shame, hurt or sadness. 

So that brings us back to the question, just how do you manage a toxic environment/people? Well in short you learn to manage your response. You have no power or influence over others and try as you might you can't change their behaviour, trying to will only leave you in a state where you blame others for your situation. For example, if only my boss had given me a pay rise then I wouldn't mind doing the extra work, if only my partner hadn't been so moody when they came home then I wouldn't have reacted that way... Passing on the blame of the situation will only leave you powerless to change the situation. It is in understanding our own behaviour and changing it that will result in a change of behaviour from others. You need to ask yourself questions at a deeper level, if you get pushed around at work then what image are you portraying or if you fight with your partner what is the deeper underlying issue? It is in understanding ourselves, in understanding our conditioning or what limiting beliefs we have where the real answers lie, it is also where change comes from, change in how to manage your environment. 

CoachingKimberley Barnard