One of the biggest struggles of modern life for maintaining mental wellness is escaping toxic people. We’ve all seen them: people who choose to elevate themselves by cutting others down. These types are particularly prominent on social media. Some of them even post as part of this campaign. Their sympathy for themselves never extends to others. Instead, they choose to target others for various reasons: mostly because someone disagrees with them or represents some group they object to. Their comments and attacks can be cruel and are mostly unwarranted and rarely based on truth. It can be very hard to ignore these people, and impossible to avoid them. But what you can control is engagement.
When I first encountered them, I thought I had to defend myself. But over time I’ve come to realize that defense is unnecessary. For one thing, mounting any defense lends credence to their slander. If you ignore it, it will go away faster and your silence tends to discredit it in most people’s eyes. Defending yourself, on the other hand, not only risks further slanderous attacks and expends negative energy that can be stressful but it gives ammo to these people to say what they said was true or why else would you bother defending yourself?
Toxic People are really cowards. They are insecure and wounded and feel they can appear strong by putting themselves above others. Borrowing from an old sermon, these people are like rotting meat looking for a place to stink. There’s something rotten inside and they just can’t wait to find a place to let it stink. But just because you can smell it, doesn’t mean you have to savor the smell. And you certainly don’t have to stink yourself. Whether motivated by hatred, jealousy, or some other combination thereof, Toxic People are a road hazard of modern life. But they are also speed bumps as opposed to barriers. If you let their words pass unchallenged and just continue focusing on putting out positive energy and contributions into the world, they will fade away. Yes, a few may believe what they say and continue attempting to perpetuate it, but these people ultimately appear small for attacking someone who rises above the fray and contributes positively to the community. The toxic person has nothing to offer but poison and negativity, but you are offering goodness and opportunities to learn or experience joy. In the end, people value the latter far more, and your time, stress level, and positive outlook will benefit greatly by ignoring the Toxic People and doing your thing.
If you’re like me and worked hard to get where you are, and did so by trying to help people and create opportunities alongside you, then you especially shouldn’t waste time giving them the satisfaction of responding. People can say what they want, but you can choose to not let it define you. Words are words, but actions are truth. After all, we’ve all been victims of bullies or gossipers from very early ages typically, and most of those people fade away with time and disappear into the nothingness from which they came. So too will the toxic people if you don’t empower them with engagement. Let them ramble. Let them poison. Be the antidote by being positive and a source of light. No one can extinguish your light if you hold onto it and nurture and cherish it, after all. And I’d rather be light in the world than dark any day, wouldn’t you?
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a Hugo-nominated bestselling author and editor of 13 anthologies and hundreds of novels including The Martian by Andy Weir and books by Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Angie Fox, and more. His anthologies have been published by St. Martin’s Press, Baen Books, Titan Books and IDW and include official entries in The X-Files and Predator as well as Decipher’s Wars. His original anthologies include Infinite Stars, Galactic Games, and Mission: Tomorrow amongst others. His short stories and novels include Simon Says and The Saga of Davi Rhii trilogy.