Is everyone else the problem or is it you?
Posted July 12
In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares questions you can ask yourself to see if you might be the problem in your relationship.
I loved your article on toxic people, but I do have a follow-up question. Toxic people believe they are the ones surrounded by toxic people and that they themselves are not the toxic one. Is there a test or a question we can ask ourselves to determine who is actually the toxic one?
You are absolutely right, many toxic (difficult) people cannot see their part in the "people problems" around them. They are often overly focused on the faults and flaws in other people so they won’t have to look at their own. They usually suffer from a huge fear of failure, which means they can’t handle seeing their bad behavior — it would hurt too much if they did. Instead, they practice psychological projection.
Projection is a subconscious defense mechanism to protect us from pain, and we all do it to some degree. There are three types of projection we want you to understand:
- Thinking other people can do what you can do. So if I’m good at remembering names, I can’t understand why others can’t do it too. They should be able to do that, it’s not that hard.
- Thinking other people feel the same way you feel about things. I’m upset by this or that, so I assume other people should be too. It’s obvious it is the right way to feel and something is wrong with you if you can’t see it.
- Seeing the thinking, actions and behaviors that you don’t like about yourself in other people. We call this “you spot it, you got it” and it means you notice and judge others for doing the very things you do and don’t like about yourself.
Or a wife who is really bothered when her husband texts while driving, but she does the same thing. She knows she shouldn’t do it and feels guilty about it, though, so it bothers her a great deal when he does it.
We all have a subconscious tendency to project our bad behavior, thoughts and feelings onto others (missing our own issues completely). So how can we ever be sure we aren’t the difficult person? How can we become aware of our real behavior?
First, you might want to ask for candid feedback from the people who know you best. This takes courage, though, because your fear of failure will be triggered by their answers. If you remember you have the same value as everyone else and that can’t change no matter what you do, it is easier to handle though. You may also have to reassure the person you ask and convince them you are really open and can handle the truth because you want to learn and improve. If you really want to be a better person, you may want to ask the people closest to you to share one thing you could do to improve and show up for them better and do this on a regular basis.
If the thought of doing that scares you to death, you may want to work with a coach or counselor to build up your self-esteem first. They may also be a safer place to get feedback from because you don’t have a close relationship (like you do with friends or family).
An objective third-party person can often tell you things a family member or friend would be too scared to say. If you are resistant to both the idea of asking for feedback and working with a coach or counselor because both scare you, you definitely need to get some professional help to change your beliefs around your value and what it means to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s a sign of maturity and strength.
We also believe that no one is broken, bad, wrong or worse than anyone else. We are all just totally different and in a unique classroom journey, which no other person can really understand, and we have the exact same intrinsic value. We all have strength and weaknesses, good behavior and bad behavior, and being vulnerable enough to see yours and ask for help to become better means you are accurate, strong, out of your ego and humble enough to be teachable and ready to grow.
Here are some questions you might also ask yourself to determine if you are the problem or a toxic person:
- Do you gossip and find fault with others often?
- When someone tells you about their bad day, is your response about you and your day, or is it about them? Do you make almost every conversation about you?
- Do you have a victim story and tell if often, or use it to excuse bad behavior?
- Do you dominate conversations and struggle to care enough to really listen to others?
- Do you give unsolicited advice because you think you are trying to help? Is there any chance it feels like an insult to others?
- Have you ever been told you are controlling?
- Have you had lots of personal relationships but they never last?
- Do you have a hard time forgiving and letting go of the past? Do you bring up wrongs from the past in current fights?
- Do you see the glass as half empty and have a tendency to see what’s wrong before what’s right with everything?
- If you listed out all your current problems and who is responsible for them being in your life, the list would not have your name on it?
- Do you have a hard time finding friends who want to do things with you?
- Have you had feedback from others about your difficult behavior before?
- Do you find out about activities you weren’t invited to?
- Do you think everyone around you is an idiot, including your boss, co-workers and relatives? That is a good sign you are the problem.
Don’t have any shame around this. Just own that you may need some life skills you haven’t had the opportunity to learn thus far in your life. It does not make you less valuable than anyone else; it just means it’s time to upgrade your people, healthy thinking and life skills.
It’s time to find a professional you feel safe with to help you change the underlying fears that drive your dramatic, selfish, protective or toxic behavior. You are not a bad person, though. You are just a scared, insecure, worried person, who needs to learn another way to process life and what happens to you.
You can do this, and it’s easier than you think.
To my reader who asked this question: Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that the toxic people in your life would even read this article nor answer the questions honestly. They would feel too vulnerable and their ego would really resist going there. Again, this is just their fears at work. You would have to really reassure them of their value to you and your belief in them to make them feel safe enough to be open to looking in this mirror.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.