She embraces you with open arms, then sticks the knife in your back. She praises your guacamole, then hints to her precious son that you seem to be gaining weight. She questions the way you're potty training your kid, the hours you work away from home, and your choice of clothes and hair style -- all in that demeaning tone of voice. You dread every visit to her spotless home. You're sure she is deliberately driving a wedge between you and your husband.
She is the mother-in-law from hell.
She could also be your "frenemy" -- you know, the one you think slept with your boyfriend -- or that sleazeball co-worker who undermined you to the boss. It could be your ex who still shows up on your doorstep and wants to talk for hours, or your sister, the drama queen, who is always harping on how mom liked you best.
When you get caught up with any of these folks, it's hard for you to stay in balance. You get exhausted whenever you're with them. When they are gone, you're thrown off your game. You feel like you're coming down with a cold or the flu. You want to pull the blankets over your head and sleep till they disappear from the face of the earth.
To use a highly technical term from the world of energy medicine, you've been "slimed." You've picked up that person's low-level negative energy and you feel like you're covered in muck. You are. Bottom line, your own energy has been sucked out of you, and in return you've absorbed his or her negativity.
So what can you do?
1) Whenever possible, keep your distance. Use email or texting or phone calls when it's necessary to communicate. The less personal contact you have, the better. Avoidance is simply the best way to protect yourself.
2) If you have to be in the same physical location, protect your personal space by keeping something between the two of you, like the coffee table or kitchen counter. Stand on the other side of the car when it pulls into your driveway. Instinctively, you know you're safer if there's something between you so your personal energy field can't be invaded. There are cultural variations in how close you can be to someone else and still be comfortable, but it's never wise to be too close to anyone who affects you negatively.
3) Use the trick that every therapist and counselor knows: don't face someone head on when they are dumping their woes or toxic energy on you. Energy moves in a straight line, not on a curve, so if you're sitting or standing at an angle, their negative energy isn't as likely to invade you. Keep your body turned to a 90-degree angle away from the person.
4) In order to get rid of the slime, take a clearing bath. A pound of sea salt and a pound of baking soda in warm water for 20 minutes will clear you of low-level negative energy that others have dumped on you. Or spend 20 minutes in the ocean, or sit out in the sun in your shorts and halter top.
5) To retrieve your own energy and return theirs, check out the "Sweeping Breath," a shamanic technique that I teach in my new book, "Be Your Own Shaman." It turns back the clock, making you feel much younger and filled with vitality again!
Who knows? Even your mother-in-law may be nicer when you're more self-assured in her presence because you've learned how to protect yourself.