There’s a type of person I categorize as a “Poison Person.” They may affect me mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, sensorially, or any combination of these. They will sap my coping and social skills until I am reduced to an anxious, exhausted blob. They may actually be wonderful people; they may even be people I desperately want to like. But they are like poison to me.
A Poison Person:
- demands eye contact
- implies dishonesty if little or no eye contact
- invades personal space, gets in my face
- may try to force hugs or kiss on the cheek
- consistently moves closer when I move away
- wears heavy perfume or scents, is a heavy smoker
- is impatient
- demands immediate responses and actions
- talks loudly or yells
- jumps topics frequently and rapidly
- speaks extremely quickly. Is a “hyper-speed” talker all the time
- jumps in to fill the silence when I’m trying to process something
- supplies what they think I might want to say or what I might be feeling
- derails my thought process, sometimes causing me to have to start all over again
- mocks or makes fun of me/others
- gossips constantly, makes me wonder what they say about me
- treats others as inferior
- is patronizing, condescending, infantilizing, or dismissive
- lies frequently
- cannot be trusted; breaks confidence
- is un-empathetic or uncaring
- has dry, abrasive humor and finds it funny when I can’t read it
A poison person may have more than one of these traits. Rarely, I meet someone who has ALL of these traits…and I run for cover.
In theory, I avoid a Poison Person at all costs, but unfortunately many PP’s can be fairly practiced at hiding these traits. Other times, it’s someone who is not easily avoided (example: Boss).
The effect that a Poison Person can have on me is best illustrated through a story:
I went on a shopping trip with two fellow expats while studying in Japan. One was a fairly familiar friend, the other a casual acquaintance. Normally I would avoid going anywhere with people I didn’t know well, but I was desperate to get to this particular store and had no way of getting there otherwise.
The car ride to the store was only twenty minutes, but it felt like an eternity in hell. We took the acquaintance’s car and she had air “fresheners” all over. Those things are like little migraine bombs for me. I could have handled that much, if she hadn’t been a Poison Person in disguise. As she drove, words just kept rocketing out of her mouth like verbal diarrhea.
There was no pause in the stream of words for the entirety of the car ride and I was right next to her in the passenger seat. My friend in the backseat did little to engage in conversation, and I became the sole target for the onslaught. She often spoke more quickly than I could hear (much less process), all but shouted her words, adopted high-pitched voices to imitate people, kept locking eyes with me in the rearview mirror, often grew impatient (and louder) if I didn’t fill the infinitesimally brief silences with an adequate response within her self-allotted timeframe….
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop when we reached the store; she kept it up throughout the entire hour-long shopping trip as well. I had difficulty thinking through what I needed to get while in the store–even with a list in hand. I became anxious and wanted to either sink to the floor and cry, or run out the door and into the night. At one point I excused myself to go find some random item I didn’t even want so that I could have two minutes of calm in which to breathe deeply.
By the time we got back to the car, I was at the end of my rope. During the twenty minutes of overpowering one-sided conversation returning home, I had to focus on breathing and not throwing up. I was nauseous and had a pounding headache. My thoughts were scattered and I struggled to say anything at all. I answered her in one-syllable words, hoping she might get the hint. I didn’t feel comfortable asking her to speak more softly (or not at all) because it was her car, her driving, and her kindness that got me to the store at all and I didn’t want to be rude or ungrateful.
Once I got home, I was completely nonverbal. I couldn’t force myself to speak. Instead, I sat on the couch and rocked. By the time I had calmed down, it was time for bed and I collapsed into bed in absolute exhaustion. My final thought that night was, “God, it must be exhausting to be her….”