In my work as a writer and speaker, I connect with some very big names in this country and beyond – authors, motivational and personal development experts, media personalities and celebrities – many of whom have throngs of followers and adoring friends, fans and supporters.
As I’ve interacted with more and more of these folks at the top of the media food chain, I’ve experienced an interesting phenomenon – occasionally I’ll get a very uncomfortable feeling that something about this person is off, and I should beware, or better yet, walk away fast.
When this happens, I always stop and ask myself, “Is it possible that this negative feeling I’m experiencing is more about me than about this person?” Meaning, perhaps I am envious of their success or feeling competitive, or my ego is bruised when they act as if their time is far more valuable than mine and that I should be grateful to feature them.
While I hate to admit it, occasionally my ego and sense of self-esteem have been agitated by the phenomenal success of the individual. But I can say with all honesty and open-heartedness that more often, the negativity I feel is from a vibe the individual is putting out in the world.
I’m a trained therapist and have done some work in energy healing (I trained as a REIKI master), and this has heightened my sensitivity to people’s energy. When you’re attuned to energy, it’s amazing what you can feel, sense, and perceive about an individual, even from a very brief interaction. I’ve learned to honor what I sense, even though it may fly in the face of what many others are saying about the person. But you don’t have to be a REIKI master to know “toxic” when you experience it.
What should you do when you have this nagging feeling that a seemingly well-regarded individual feels “off” and even toxic to you?
Here are four questions to ask yourself to determine if the bad feeling you’re having is more about your personal situation and feelings that would be helpful to address, or if you should simply walk away and never look back?
What are the feelings this person evokes in you, specifically?
If it feels to you as if the person doesn’t respect or appreciate you, or is threatened by you, you may be right. Some people (even nationally celebrated ones) need to feel they have the upper hand, and have all the power, in all interactions. Or, you might be sensing their need to put you down or put you “in your place.” If you feel insecure and vulnerable, or unsafe with this individual, try to understand what might be impinging on your boundaries. Figure out exactly what you’re experiencing emotionally, and determine if this is a common reaction you have had to people, or something specific to this person.
What part may you playing in this negativity?
Look at the part you’re playing in the dynamic. Are you pushing their buttons by not giving them the respect and appreciation they desire? Are you looking for validation in a way that’s off-putting? Often, what’s coming at us from others is reflective of what we’re putting out in the world. (The world is our mirror). Try to evaluate what’s going on from both sides of the situation.
Is your competitiveness in the way?
In my world, as a women’s leadership trainer, coach, writer and speaker, I see many women out there playing in the same space. While we’re all doing it our own way with our own special filters, skills and talents, of course there’s some overlap – it’s unavoidable. Some colleagues I’ve met act out of a “scarcity mentality” – behaving as if there’s not enough success and money (and recognition) to go around, and trying to downplay others’ gifts and hoard all the business for themselves. This is the complete wrong way to approach your work. There IS enough to go around for everyone. Trying to keep your competitors down or thwarting their success only undermines your own. A healthy dose of competition can be a very motivating thing, but your over-competitiveness only exhausts and defeats you, not your colleagues.
Finally, can you walk away without burning a bridge?
If you determine that the person is someone you don’t want dealings with, can you part ways with compassion and grace? If not, what has triggered you to feel off-balance or a bit out of control? I’ve seen people irrevocably burn bridges, and years later, recall it with huge regret. If you’re feeling so angered or annoyed that you want to slap the person down (publicly or otherwise), think again and make sure you’ll be satisfied with your behavior for years to come (because you willhave to live with it).
In the end, trust yourself and your instincts. If an individual feels “off” or uncomfortable to you, honor that, make yourself right not wrong, and do what you can to protect yourself in a healthy, balanced way. Just because others seem to like or admire this person, doesn’t mean you have to, or that something’s wrong with you if you don’t. Be your own boss, your own judge – lead an authentic life with your own values, beliefs and instincts to guide you.
But also, all along the way, do the necessary inner and outer work to clear yourself of any emotional trauma and baggage that might be keeping you from forming healthy, positive and mutually-beneficial alliances that you’ll consider great assets in the future.
Is there someone in your life that you’re wondering about today? What will you do?
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.