Toxic Group Dynamics

Toxic Group Dynamics photo

Sometimes, people close to you mistreat you and take their feelings out on you. Their sudden disdain can be caused by jealousy or a misunderstanding. In some cases, these negative emotions may lead to acting out dramatically. Like a switch, their temperament towards you changes and blindsides you. Sometimes, the person will go to extreme measures and project their feelings. What someone holds against you may cause them to recruit others to gang up on you. Toxic group dynamics play a role in online bullying and other settings. If not on social media, you may encounter negative forces in the workplace or at public outings. One day, you may feel a shift when out at your child’s ballgame or a block party. Dr. Erin Leonard, a psychotherapist, specializes in relationships. She refers to this mistreatment as “Group Projective Identification.” Dr. Leonard writes about this toxic group dynamic in her book, Emotional Terrorism. In Chapter 11, she explains and gives tips on how to handle this situation.

The reason for a sudden mob mentality towards you may be challenging to pinpoint. Often, group toxicity and judgment are unfounded with no basis. Many people on the receiving end don’t foresee how bad things can get. A civil relationship shifts into a campaign of vengeance orchestrated against you.

Toxic group dynamics often have this timeline:

  • The “bully” identifies an unacceptable trait, view, or behavior.
  • Word starts to spread dramatically and dishonestly to anyone who will listen.
  • Part of the gossip includes insults and hateful language about the recipient.
  • The “bully” gets people to side with them and “fight” for their cause despite no rationality.
  • The conversations about the recipient are often held behind their back.

Dr. Leonard offers some tips if you’re on the receiving end of a toxic group on a witch hunt. You may see the people or deal with individuals online.

Here is what to do if you personally know the people who seem to be working against you:

  1. Distance yourself from those involved, which may be close friends or acquaintances. You may even have some family members engaging in the gossip. You need to begin disconnecting from the “bully” who started the problems. Don’t reach out and limit communications. Put an end to going above and beyond for someone who disrespects you. If you find yourself in a conversation, be respectful and cordial. If they ask why you’ve been distant, let them know you’ve been busy. You want to rise above them by not insulting them or getting stuck in the middle of the drama. When face to face with your “bully,” act confident and unbothered.
  2. If things don’t get better, you need to take a stand, but do it civilly yet assertively. Act calm, cool, and collected. Do everything in your power to not let your emotions get the better of you. Stay level-headed and avoid verbal attacks and colorful language. Call out your “bully’s” inappropriate behaviors and kindly ask them to stop. The troublemaker likely will get angry and amp up attacks to push your buttons. Don’t react to them because they want you to lose your composure. Remain as calm as you can be and remove yourself from the conversation. Their bad-mouthing will likely continue, but keep ignoring it. People will grow tired of hearing the same song and dance from the bully. Many sensible individuals see the toxicity of the instigator on display. You have to hope that the bully gets worn out as well. Over time, their degrading words enter an echo chamber where only they talk.
  3. Move past the person by focusing on the future and more meaningful things in life. People come and go, and it’s a cycle you must accept in order to grow. To move beyond the turmoil and bullying, invest and believe in yourself. Work on investing in your career, take on DIY arts and crafts, or interior design projects. Also, prove to yourself that the insults spoken are wrong. You don’t need to show others in the toxic group that the words spoken are untrue. At first, you may not find it easy to focus on the positives in life, but keep trying. By not giving up, you’ll gain more confidence and be able to push forward. Working on healing from the nasty remarks may take time, but you’ll end up on top.
  4. If you’re a victim of online attacks, disconnect from social media for some time. You can block the bullies and enhance privacy filters. Cutting down time online will give you time to clear your head. You also can connect with more profound things in life. Spend time with your children or other family members. Engage in past times that don’t require a cellphone or computer. Read books, spend time outdoors, exercise, and even take a mini-vacation to escape.

Emotional Terrorism covers toxic relationships in all areas of life. Dr. Leonard gives readers insight into the dynamics. She evaluates unhealthy romantic relationships, friendships, and family ties. Dr. Leonard also discusses bullying of all ages in different settings. She covers workplaces and schools. Emotional Terrorism also provides case studies of toxic relationships and tales of survivors.