Build character, ignore mean people – Part 1

“You teach people how to treat you.”
– Dr. Phil

Since Dr. Phil devoted Tuesday’s show to the topic of toxic people who bully and try to bring you down, I took it as a sign to blog about it. This piece has been brewing for a while – long before I had an outlet to share it. One thing he said on the show that I wrote down: “Winners deal with the truth.” Another noteworthy statement: “If he is criticizing you, there is something wrong with him.”

Mean people have been on my mind lately. Well, maybe I should expand that to bullies, liars, frenemies, fakers, naysayers and generally disingenuous, jealous, envious types who make covert and overt digs in an attempt to make them feel better and you feel bad. Dr. Phil has devoted his latest book “Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World” to dealing with the users, abusers and exploiters in the world. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it’s an insightful read and hope to soon.

According to Dr. Phil, these are the types of people who will suck your energy and life dry:

The Evil 8:
1. See the world through a lens of entitlement.
2. Lack of empathy.
3. Incapable of feeling remorse or guilt.
4. Self-destructive behavior.
5. Feed off drama and crises.
6. Try to brag and outsmart you.
7. Have short-lived relationships.
8. Have delusions.

These are ways to spot them:

The Nefarious 15:
1. They infiltrate your life with promises and flattery.
2. Define you as a conspiratorial confidant.
3. Are focused on getting your approval.
4. They gather data to build a file on you.
5. Misdirect and maintain a mystery about who they really are.
6. Constantly blame others when confronted.
7. They will lie to the point of destruction.
8. Tendency to cheat and steal.
9. Isolate their victims to foster dependency.
10. Abuse positions of power.
11. Know your hot buttons to gain leverage.
12. Selective memory.
13. Two-faced: Spread lies and gossip.
14. Paranoid.
15. Passive aggressive.


I know I shouldn’t give the above types any thought or attention. They obviously have serious issues or live miserable lives. But it seems for most of my life I have been a magnet for these energy vampires and toxic people who either want to push me around, put me down, or manipulate me to do what they want. I have dealt with them since age 9 or 10, starting with a relentless grade school bully who turned other girls I thought were my friends against me to further isolate and humiliate me. It happened just a couple of years ago on my study abroad trip to London, when I had to hang out with people 15 years younger. They thought it was fun to leave me places, spread rumors, and generally mock me behind my back. That made for fun group dynamics. So I just went off on my own.

Attempts at oppression and control have come on the familial, friend, romantic and workplace fronts, too. Honestly, other than in elementary school, I’ve never had such a hard time trying to make friends and not feeling like I fit in as I have the last eight years in West Michigan. It’s sad to say there are only a handful of people I would ever care to see again if I left. It’s also sad, but not surprising that people loved to call me and ask for a favor when I worked at the paper, but now that I need one, besides a few nice folks, they are nowhere to be found. But such is life.

Dr. Phil would probably tell me to buck up, toughen up and face life with a fierce determination to succeed, regardless of what other people say or think.


Still, the reflective, introspective side of me wonders what that says about me – why I attract users, abusers and narcissistic types and tolerate their bad behavior for far too long.

A former coworker, a person I consider a great friend, dearly admire and miss, and sat beside for more than three years at my last newspaper in Indiana, recently called me a “cool, heart-oriented soul.” Another lady I asked to be my mentor said: “You stand out in a crowd, Marla. I believe God gave you that gift for a reason. God/Universal Mother/Father God, also gave you the talent for writing along with a compassionate heart for others.”

Her encouragement has helped me feel brave enough to write from the heart and stand in my truth. I knew she was a kindred spirit when she sent me a career affirmation that has become my new mantra: “Just put it out there in the Universe and make it your intention to find the best place to work for your highest good, where you will love the people, money and environment and most importantly – love what you are doing! I believe we all have the ability to live our abundant life and accomplish so much more than we even know.”

Their kind words make me feel a little better, but it still sucks standing up to the meanies in the world. Maybe I too easily absorb other people’s energy and let their opinions knock me off center. I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I’m starting to wonder if that translates into wearing “come screw me over” on my forehead.

They say bullies target people they perceive as weak. I’m definitely not weak and, since turning 30 and learning to set better boundaries, I’m proud to say I have removed a long line of toxic men, friends and acquaintances from my life in the last seven years. I don’t have the energy to be phony, play the head games or dish it back. I have learned to cut ties and go on. Sensitive, emotional and intuitively oriented, a person who strives for harmony and wants to be liked, I try to live by the Golden Rule and treat others how I want to be treated. I’ve failed at times in my life, but in general, I try to think about other people and their feelings and don’t set out to deliberately hurt them. The fact a recent report determined my top strength to be empathy – the ability to sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations – further confirms I tend to think about others and their feelings, often at the expense of my own.

So let’s get to the real point of this post. As I embark on this journey to forge a freelance writing career, it’s stirred up a lot of feelings of fear and failure. I’m pretty sure they stem from childhood, magnified by the many jerks (male and female) I have had to deal with in my life. In hopes of finding comfort in the uncertain life of starving artists and free spirits, I dug out and actually read a book that somehow landed on my desk a dozen years ago and survived the move to Michigan. In a weird side note, I recently wrote the above mentioned coworker to tell him, and he said he had been looking for the very same book!


There is sage and quirky advice in this tiny little book, an easy and uplifting read filled with heartfelt honesty. Some of the opening chapters are a little heavy and depressing as the author, Susan Brackney, covers a long line of creative geniuses who have struggled with depression, procrastination and suicidal tendencies – including her. She is brave enough to admit that without antidepressants, she would have very likely joined the ranks of the intelligent, artistic misfits who gave up and chose to end their lives in some tragic way.

Later on in the book, she tackles “living in the world of meanies.” The night I read these pages I had been stewing and fretting about things beyond my control, concocting conspiracy theories in my head (or ones I will never be able to prove) and simply wasting energy on people who don’t deserve it. Her wisdom made the light bulb go on: “No matter what, remember this: you can only have enemies if you allow yourself to have them. If someone tries to engage you in some miserable, bilious conflict, don’t give such nonsense your time or energy. I realized that my life is too short to waste on my former coworker. You only have so long to offer your wonderful gifts to the people who deserve them, so don’t waste your time on bad people.”

She continues: “That sounds simple enough, but it’s very difficult to ignore those who want to hurt you. Still, you must. Here’s why: They need your attention in order to thrive. Don’t give it to them. Ignoring the meanies of the world gets easier with practice. It’s difficult but not impossible. And it builds character like nothing else I know.”

Profound words from someone who has contemplated suicide, but having walked in similar shoes, it’s easy to understand why. She rationalizes that they must be really miserable inside. My take is they must hate something about themselves that they want to project onto another.


Plain and simple: There are some really mean-spirited, vindictive people in the world. People who long to see you fail, may even attempt to sabotage you then call you paranoid and crazy, and will take great pleasure in any misgivings or misfortune that come your way. It’s a waste of energy to try and figure out why. Maybe they were abused or grew up in a competitive home. Maybe they are indeed jealous of your accomplishments. Maybe they really are just that miserable and want you to be, too.


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