I have a dementor at work. She sucks life out of air. She turns positivity into dust. She takes happiness away. Nothing can hide the ugliness she has, the black heart, the smirk, the snide glances, or the nasty tongue that gnashes at others. One day, her mask will fall, and her darkness won’t hide anymore.

Dementors, if you don’t know that already, are fictional creatures from the Harry Potter books. They can take happiness away literally, leaving characters to dwell on sad memories and misery. In real life, they stand for toxic people.

Little did I know when I started a new job a couple of years ago that the most important lesson I would learn from that job would be about toxic people. Before I started that job, I did not know anything about toxic people. Now, thanks to my toxic colleague, I know what the word “toxic” means, the tell-tale signs of toxic behavior, and the damage toxic people are capable of inflicting. She has made me an expert.

You know what is tricky about toxic people. They do not have the word “toxic” written all over their faces, and it could take a while before you identify one. I shared an office with this toxic colleague, and I had all the time I needed to notice her behavior. Luckily for me, or maybe I should say “unluckily.” But you know what. I wouldn’t have written this article without the experience. So, it is luckily, after all.

My toxic tormentor was charismatic. Saying that she was the life of the party would be an understatement. She was a fun person to be around. She had a lovely sense of humor, and she was great with people. You see the problem with toxic people is that they can hide so well.

Also, you wouldn’t suspect a helpful person to be toxic. When I first joined, she would tell me to watch out from this person and that. I believed her. I thought she really wanted to help. After all, she was like a “sister” to me.

First, she manipulated me to do more work. She would ask for help and fake ignorance just so someone would help, and I would. She would disappear from the office. So, I would hold the fort. And I did. So far, it simply looks like I met a lazy co-worker. That was not the case. Before going any further, I have to say that for vampires to flourish, they need victims. Toxic relationships are a two-way street: a predator and a victim. I am a hard worker and I enjoy helping others. That was exactly how I ended up doing more work. I am not actually saying helping others is a flaw. All I’m saying is toxic people tend to misuse your kindness. So, the advice here is to identify personal weak spots because your weak spots are their strength.

Somehow, she filled the office with negativity. I simply hated her presence. It was just a feeling that I could not explain to others or even to myself. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. The one trait that revealed her personality to me was gossip. It did not need an expert to tell that she was a gossip queen. She spent hours every day talking about others and not in a good way as you may have already guessed. The office was transformed into a bee-hive swarming with people who wanted to know what was going on about everyone else. No one was spared the poison of her tongue. I saw it. I was there.

I thought she had some friends. People she would never ever badmouth. I was wrong. She would gossip about you and then gossip with you about someone else. She would act lovely to all those she badmouthed. Suddenly, I started to see her for what she was: a two-faced person. She acted like she was everybody’s friend but she was merely an opportunist. She was going to help you and joke with you only if she thought you were of some use to her. If you were of no use to her, then she would treat you badly. She was a kiss up kick down.

As I came to notice her behavior more, I remembered her advice to me about watching out from some people, and I knew that was not a good advice. It was only her smart plan to damage the credibility of others.  

I was confused in the beginning, so I spent a long time on the internet trying to figure out her character, and the internet was quite helpful. I found many articles covering toxic people and she met all criteria.

I understood why I felt so bad around her. I understood why she disgusted me with her laughter. I understood why despite her sense of humor, she was no longer funny. I understood what I was up against, and I made a decision to protect myself from her by doing little things: wearing headphones, setting boundaries, documenting my work, etc. I made another decision. After work relationship is over, I will cut all ties. And I did.   

I do not like her. But do I regret meeting her? Of course not.  I would say meeting her was one of the best things that happened to me. Trying to figure out her personality has led me to find more about toxic behavior, to identify the tell-tale signs, to know if someone is manipulating me, and most importantly to know how to protect myself.

What I also realized that while some people are too toxic to tolerate, all of us can be toxic in little amounts. Awareness is the first step to your well-being and to that of others. It is all about the little things. Here are some of the lessons I learnt: people don’t owe you anything. Respect their boundaries. If someone is uncomfortable doing something, do not push them. Don’t be nosy. If others don’t want to share something with you, respect that. Don’t gossip. Don’t interrupt people while they are talking. Do not belittle others’ problems just because you do not feel their pain.

As for taking care of yourself, you need to set boundaries, to watch out for those who suck your energy, and to protect your time. No one should ever make you feel guilty about something that you don’t want to do. Don’t let the toxic people drown you in their negative comments or pull you into their dramas.

Fun Tip: To protect yourself from dementors, you could use the Patronus Charm from Harry Potter. I’ve tried it. It helps.  I wrote “expecto patronum” on a sticky note at work to remind myself about the boundaries I should set to ward off toxic people.