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Gilded Serpent presents...
It’s Not Me; it’s You:
Toxic People and What to do About Them
by Taaj

Every profession and hobby attracts toxic people (people who are harmful to those around them) but sometimes Belly dance, from my point of view, seems to have more than its share.

The problem is, sometimes it’s hard for a reasonable person to tell if she or he is under attack by a toxic person who intends harm.

Reasonable people ask themselves if they are being fair to others. They may bend over backward to accommodate the other person.  For the most part, they take the high road and don’t return the hostility they think that they perceive. In the meantime, they are leaving themselves exposed to negativity that drains their energy and motivation, which, at times, can physically make one sick.

If you are one of the people asking yourself, “Am I the one at fault?” Ask no more! Here are two ways to identify toxic people.

If the person with whom you are dealing shows any of the following characteristics, she is probably toxic. It may be that you are dealing with a personality that affects you adversely:

  1. The Victim- This person has a knack for making you feel sorry for him or her. There will be some drama going on in the victim’s life at all times, such as a divorce, a tragic childhood, or financial problems that are nothing more than a call for pity.
    Example: “Samra” sets the performance schedule for a restaurant. She has left “Nadira” off of the schedule for three weeks. Nadira asks Samra if there is some reason for the oversight. Samra tells her that she will put her on the schedule, but for whatever excuse, she does not follow through with her promise.  When Nadira decides to go work for another restaurant, Samra complains to others that she taught Nadira everything she knows and now Nadira is abandoning her, not saying directly, but implying that Nadira is ungrateful and disloyal.
  2. The Helper- A helper may put herself in the spotlight by creating situations from which she “rescues” you or may take advantage of naturally occurring problems in order to have her actions seen as helpful to you. She uses such situations to create feelings of indebtedness
    Example: “Leila” books gigs for her group. She gets two calls in the same night for gigs that are 35 miles apart. “Khaleela” agrees to take them both since no one else is available, but afterward, Khaleela complains that Leila has taken advantage of her and asks Leila for excessive or unwarranted favors—while reminding Leila of how she “bailed her out.”
  3.  The Distorter- A person who distorts will twist stories just enough to make it look confusing so that she/he can do what she/he wants, look good, be liked, and always have “an out.”
    Example: Your troupe has a set dress code, but “Zeina” wears clothing that does not follow the guidelines. When troupe members call her on this, she says that she “just misunderstood.” However, at the next performance, she either does the same thing or violates the troupe’s rules in another way.
    Another example: “Jamilla” speaks with positive words. She says she believes Belly dance empowers women and is a sisterhood. Nonetheless, she advises her students to avoid “Bahia” because Bahia is not a nice person, dances in a style that they aren’t interested in learning, is motivated only by personal profit, and her events are not worth the price of the ticket.

Identifying a toxic person by these characteristics can give you some peace of mind though the realization that it is the other person, not you, who is creating the problem!  However, always remember that it takes two to Tango; you must ask yourself how you feed into the toxic person’s scenario and perhaps, become an enabler for such behavior.  Probably the most important way to single them out is by asking yourself how you feel when you are around them.

  • Do you feel like they are sapping all of your energy?
  • Do you give more to them than you get back?
  • Is everything a struggle?
  • Are you always trying to be specific so that you are not misunderstood?
  • Do you spend a lot of time reality checking with others?
  • Do you find yourself defending or explaining your actions to avoid misinterpretations? Do you find yourself doing things that you didn’t want to do?
  • Does your mood change from good to bad when you are around this person?
  • Do you wonder if what you heard was a compliment or insult?

If you believe that you have a toxic person in your life, what do you do about it? First, be certain that you are, in fact, dealing with a toxic person, and not a misunderstanding, by trying the reasonable approach. Point out what you perceive as negative, hurtful actions or and how you feel about them. Listen to the response you receive. Offer a solution and see if the other person agrees and follows through.

“Hi, “Sohier. You showed up for the show wearing costuming that is not a part of our dress code. We’ve talked about it before, but I am beginning to feel like you don’t care about being a team player.”

Carefully listen to the response because it will help you form your next suggestion.  You may want to say, “Since we’re having trouble communicating what the dress code is, would a written list help?”

If the person listened, and participated in the discussion—even if it was done in a demanding or whiny way—and followed through with your suggestion, you are probably dealing with a difficult person. Difficult people find it easy or expedient to complain. Sometimes, they seem to see everything as either black or white; however, one can reason with them!

If you have attempted to go through some reasoning process without positive results, you might justify concluding that you’re dealing with a toxic person.

Here’s what to do next:

  • Let go of the desire to change this person. You can’t change anyone, especially someone who doesn’t want to change.
  • Set boundaries and limits. While it’s good to be flexible in most cases, this is not one of them. Toxic people take advantage of flexibility.
  • Be specific. Toxic people can easily manipulate ambiguity.
  • Put it in writing if you can.  Spoken words are easier to manipulate than written ones.
  • Don’t argue or debate because you will lose. They are better at this game than you are.
  • If you find yourself losing your cool, leave the situation for another time.
  • Look for some sort of win/win solution.
  • Praise them when they do well. It may entice them to repeat positive behavior.
  • Don’t drag others into the conflict. It just fuels the fire.
  • Vent and reality check with supportive, reasonable people or with someone who does not have a relationship with the other party. This will not help resolve anything, but it will help you keep your sanity.
  • Limit your time with them. If you don’t have to deal with them, don’t. This includes cutting them out of your life completely.

Many good dancers and teachers leave Belly dance because of toxic people. Such a choice is understandable, but the information and suggestions above may keep others from unnecessarily abandoning our beautiful field of dance. 


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