The Lion in the Cage:: Dealing with Toxic People

The Lion in the Cage:: Dealing with Toxic PeopleThe name of the class was “Bloom Yourself,” an intuitive painting workshop that promised “plunging into your own inner creative volcano.” This was absolutely in line with my Word of the Year plan, so I said YES and jumped right in.

We were led by a bubbly, bright ball of light, energy, and spirit, an artist who came here from Romania. She encouraged us to free our inhibitions, abandon formulas, and connect with our feelings; she even quoted Einstein.  We took turns making introductions and all was going well until she got to Ms. NO. When prompted to share, Ms. NO said, “I’ve been painting for 5 years and I am ready to get started.” Undaunted, our instructor replied, “Ah – You are like a lion in a cage.”

And she was absolutely right.  While our instructor drew us into her world, Ms. NO sat on a stool, scrolled on her phone, and impatiently waited it out.  Once we started painting, there was a twist, and we were directed to move one canvas to our left. Over the next hour, we went through different exercises, always moving one canvas over.  We painted with our non-dominant hands, with our eyes closed; we splattered and finger-painted and made a big, glorious mess.  It was intriguing to share that creative space with strangers and observe the results of our collaboration. Except for Ms. NO, who refused to finger paint, complained about the water getting muddy from the brushes, and questioned why there wasn’t enough hand soap.

During our lunch break, while I talked with an amazing still-life artist, one bench over, Ms. NO fussed about how much our teacher talked, how she wished she had read reviews of this class, and how it just wasn’t what she wanted to do. Back in the classroom, we returned to our original canvases, now rich with the perspectives of the other 11 people in the room.  Ninety-nine percent of us kept what was on our canvases and built upon them. One of us – bet you can guess who – painted over hers in white. She then stared at it, scrolled again on her phone, walked around the room looking at other people’s work, and then without a word, packed up and left.

The Lion in the Cage:: Dealing with Toxic PeopleWhat stands out most to me in this story is how much emotional energy I spent keeping an eye on Ms. NO, instead of drawing inspiration from the positive people around me. Turns out, the lion in the cage was me. I allowed one person’s toxicity to steal some of my sparkle. Toxic people miss out on so much because they have a need for control – but we can control how they make us feel. Healthy experiences, healthy relationships, and a healthier self; it’s all attainable when we learn how to block out the noise and ground ourselves in joy. But it’s hard work! One way is to arm yourself with affirmations – I found some good ones from Power of Positivity – here are my favorites:

  • I recognize the beauty around me, even when I am in the presence of toxic people.”
  • “Each time I hear something negative, I will replace it with a positive thought.”
  • “I am using this situation as a learning opportunity for what I do not want to be.”

 Don’t let anyone lock you in a cage! Let that lion free and find your inner volcano!