Broken glass. Sharp. Razor-edged. Hurtful if you get too close to it. Even deadly if used a certain way. Shiny and sometimes attractive until you get too close to it.
Highly critical people live a tough existence. They are usually pretty smart and have a gift for seeing problems from all angles which can be very useful. The flip side is that if they have not done their personal growth work, when others don’t see what they see, they lash out. They criticize and take little responsibility for failure or even for their own perceptions. What they perceive is THE TRUTH without much room for other versions of the truth. They are usually unhappy.
THAT lashing out is extremely hard to be at the receiving end of. Unfortunately, we often are in workplaces and other life scenarios.
How do you deal with this?
Let’s break this down by looking at what glass is made of. Sand. Small grains of sand heated at incredibly high temperatures, becomes liquid that is then molded into the bottle or window you commonly come in contact with.
In terms of people, their “grains of sand” are the thousands of experiences that made them harden and become tough to deal with. If you focus on the infinitely small grains that make up the person and ignore the glass they cut you down with, you can temper your reaction as you monitor your own “grains of sand.” By looking through the hard exterior, hopefully you can lessen the damage and maneuver past the upset and get to real solutions with the toxic person.
Remember the old adage: we can’t change other people; we can only change ourselves, which in turn, will help us handle other people better. Not every scenario can become tenable, but hopefully you can transform the situation into one that works.
Believe it or not, finding compassion for the broken person, as hard as it is to do, is a way to lessen the damage to you. It may also help you to not take their behavior personally.
For example, back in my days waiting tables, there was a manager who was mean and vindictive. He had the power to affect your income and well-being by manipulating the staff schedule. He doled out the desirable, money-making shifts as well as the less desirable ones and had say over how many days he’d let you work (and earn). I was intimidated and angry when my schedule was not ideal.
One day, I saw him in my neighborhood walking his cute little dog. In that moment, I saw a loving “Teddy-Bear” side to him I had never even imagined possible before. I decided to see him through that lens moving forward. From that point on, I no longer had a strained relationship with him, and I rose through the ranks to become a valued employee. As I pursued my acting career, this job became my soft landing. I came and went as the acting jobs called, and thanks to my relationship with this manager, I never had a gap in my income. I always had a job whenever I needed one. All because of a shift in MY perspective.
I stopped reacting to his sharp edges. I had compassion for him, assuming he might just be a lonely person who only had his dog (I knew he did not have a life partner). It also allowed me to help other people who felt cut by his sharpness.
That doesn’t mean every toxic person will yield, so leaving the job is often the only way to go. That’s unfortunate, but understandable.
If you’re the broken glass – if you know you wield sharp edges, then you have work to do. Dulling the edges while still keeping your positive abilities requires major awareness and likely some therapy to get at the source of your anger and mistrust. No shame in that. Years of isolation and shame or some temporary pain to poke at the truth and find positive ways to grow? Your call.
Can the broken glass be made whole again? Maybe – with great care and precision. That’s THEIR work to do, not yours. In the meanwhile, soften their edges with your waves of understanding and compassion, and take away their ability to hurt you. If you can’t do that, get out of harm’s way.