Just as there are those who bring out your best version, there are also people who bring out the worst in you. There are those who help us grow and find our barycenter, while others generate stress and alter our balance. They are true specialists in getting us mad, stretching the rope until it breaks or making us feel as if we weren’t capable of achieving anything. When these people are part of our inner circle and we are exposed to their behaviors day after day, we have a great chance of our emotional stability slipping.
Stuck in a toxic loop
In an idyllic world, our relationships would be symbiotic, that is, we would help and benefit each other. Each one would respect the limits of the others and try to help them to the best of their ability so that they can develop their potential and reach their best version.
In the real world, relationships are far from idyllic. In fact, the family, work or even social environment adds elements of tension and discomfort to our lives. However, there are people who go a step further and manage to bring out the worst in you.
Those people have the ability to make you lose patience easily. It is possible that their mere presence generates tension in you. They make your blood boil until you can’t take it anymore and you unleash your anger. They goad you until you end up saying things you later regret. Or they sink your self-esteem to the ground making you believe that you are worthless.
Regardless of the strategy they use, the result is the same: you lose control and show your worst face only to later feel guilty for that outburst. You firmly intend that next time it won’t happen, but when you meet them again, you fall into their trap again. So you end up in a loop, increasingly cranky, irritable, and confused. What happens?
Understanding emotional triggers
Just as there is the Michelangelo effect, whereby both partners sculpt themselves to bring out the best version of the other, there is also the Blueberry phenomenon, whereby the relationship brings out the other’s most negative characteristics.
Without a doubt, we all have shadows and lights. A balanced person is not one who has gotten rid of their shadows, but is capable of knowing and managing them, compensating for them with their areas of light. We can all get angry, irritated, and respond badly in certain circumstances.
This means that, although it can be very tempting to talk about toxic people that we should avoid at all costs, in reality the matter is much more complex and if you want to regain control to prevent some people from bringing out the worst in you, you should do an introspection exercise.
We must accept that the problem is not exclusively the other. The problem is also your reaction and, above all, the meaning you give to the situation. If someone makes you angry, irritated or anxious, it is because that anger, irritation or anxiety was already part of you. People who bring out the worst in you are only taking advantage of your emotional baggage. They push your red buttons, or what in psychological terms are known as emotional triggers.
Emotional triggers are experiences that trigger a particularly intense emotional and/or physical reaction, because they remind us of a traumatic event or threaten areas of our “self” that we consider vital to the image we have formed of ourselves. Those triggers can form from a traumatic experience. For example, if we suffered verbal violence in childhood, it is likely that one word out of place is enough to make us react disproportionately.
However, triggers can also come from attitudes and beliefs of our parents that we have unconsciously assumed. Sometimes, family traumas settle in the subconscious and trigger very intense emotional reactions without us understanding the reason very well.
Other times those triggers originate from an overly rigid self-image. If we identify as a deeply religious person, anything that goes against our beliefs, no matter how small, will cause us to react. However, emotional triggers can also originate from emotions, thoughts and beliefs that we do not want to accept. If we find it hard to accept that we would also be capable of lying, it is likely that when someone lies to us, even if it is a white lie, we overreact.
How do you deal with people who bring out the worst in you?
Above all, you should be aware that the people who bring out the worst in you are actually digging into your insecurities. They are activating an emotional reaction pattern that you learned at some point in your life, whether it was due to a traumatic event, some habits here dice or a psychological content that you do not wish to acknowledge.
Whatever the cause, that person who brings out the worst in you is actually giving you an opportunity to look within and heal that wound. It is not pleasant, but it is necessary to lighten your emotional baggage. As an adult, you have “The last of human freedoms, the choice of the personal attitude in a given set of circumstances to decide your own path”, as Viktor Frankl wrote.
1. Identify what bothers you. When that person approaches or talks to you, pay attention to your reactions. Do you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or find it difficult to calm down? In some cases, sometimes the person’s mere presence triggers those reactions, in other cases it’s a topic of conversation or just an attitude. Identifying exactly what is bothering you will help you understand what is happening to you. Also, turning your attention back to yourself, instead of focusing exclusively on the situation, will help you stay calm.
2. Take a deep breath. When you feel like you’re losing control, it’s usually not a good idea to respond right away. Take a few minutes to process what is happening so that you can respond rather than just react. You can take a deep breath or, if you need to, end the conversation and call a timeout. If that’s not possible, you can ask the person to clarify what they just said. Rephrasing it will lessen the emotional intensity of the conversation and give you time to regain control and reflect on your response. Perhaps their clarification will help you understand that you are overreacting.
3. Listen to your inner dialogue. It is not always easy to identify what bothers us. That is why you should pay more attention to your inner dialogue. What are you telling yourself? How are you responding mentally? Are you responding to that person’s words or the emotions they generated? Are you reacting to what that person has done or to accumulated stress? What do you keep thinking about when the situation comes to an end? You might find that you are overreacting because that person has activated one of your emotional triggers.
4. Understand your feelings. Reacting with anger or rage is not pleasant, but running away from those feelings is not healthy. Ultimately, all emotions convey a message to you. Try to understand the origin of that anger or discomfort, not blaming the person in front of you but diving much deeper. If you’re not sure what your triggers are, it can be helpful to keep a journal that allows you to identify certain emotional patterns of reaction.
5. Learn to let go. In order for a person to bring out the worst in you, you first have to allow them to. We must be aware that we cannot always choose those around us nor can we get them to change, so sometimes we have no choice but to learn to live with it. It is not about allowing them to cross your red lines, but about consciously deciding that these people are not going to condition your response or alter your mental balance. It is not a show of weakness but an incredible exercise of inner strength. The moment you decide to let go, you take away the power they have over you.
There may be people who go around the world rummaging in the shadows of others, but remember that you always have the last word. Let go of everything that affects you. And if it comes back, let it go again. And so on until you have freed yourself from it. Commit to yourself, to your growth and emotional stability. Just because there are people who want to cast their shadows on you doesn’t mean you should let them dim your light.