“Toxic” has become a buzzword in the last couple of decades, and we are continually encouraged to rid ourselves and self-protect from toxic people, situations and relationships. That may be good advice, but it isn’t always practical. Why? Because sometimes, it isn’t that easy to leave a job or relationship, and people with negative energy are all around us no matter how much positive energy we exude; they are part of the landscape. So unless we self-isolate, we’re going to be exposed to people with a certain amount of negative vibes, and yes, even toxicity.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who haven’t learned strategies for living a positive life, managing stress or overcoming their past trauma. Sometimes, they don’t behave as nice people. Avoid toxicity when possible, but when you happen to be in a negative environment with negative people, you can try and reap the benefits.

As with everything else seemingly negative (and G‑d doesn’t really do anything negative in the grand scheme of things, though we aren’t always in a position to understand this), there are benefits to toxic interactions.

Here are some that you can consider:

1. Learning a lesson. Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this?” Sometimes, it’s patience, sometimes compassion and sometimes how to rectify the same quality in ourselves.

The Baal Shem Tov, speaks of how a fault we see in another should serve as a mirror in which we should seek the same fault—perhaps in a more subtle guise—in ourselves. Otherwise, we would not have perceived it in another.1

Ask yourself what the lesson is and how you can apply it. It’s the theater of life, and the Director is putting you in an improvisation. Try to respond the way you would if you had an audience watching you. And you usually do. Everyone watches to see how others deal with difficult people. If we learn from one another how to do this, we might have fewer difficult people.

2. Giving of yourself. Try to discover what you can teach/give the other person? Challenge yourself to find something you can share with the other person that will make them better or happier.

Difficult people are often expressing a surfeit of pain and bitterness. Try and sweeten their life a little bit by understanding their pain, where it comes from and what you can do about it.

3. Embrace gratitude. It’s important sometimes to be exposed to the negativity in the world in order to appreciate and value the good in our own lives. Thank G‑d, our situation has not created in us such toxicity, and that we are not that grouchy, dismal person.

4. Create more good in the world. Another benefit is that although exposure to toxic people can be stressful, it acts as a stimulus to make you more positive almost in self-defense. It’s sort of like an oyster secreting more pearl over the irritant that has entered its shell.

You may find that you are trying to cancel out the other person’s negativity with your own positivity, generating more positivity. Sometimes, you may even succeed in rubbing off on them.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said: The loftier the soul, the greater the challenges and darkness surrounding it, like the most valuable pearl which is set in the largest encasement.

5. Uncover the good. Sometimes, people are very negative because they’re projecting their own feelings of low self-worth out into the world. If you can find something good about the person and reflect it back to them, that will soothe and temper their irascibility.

You can always find something nice to say about a person if you play detective and look good and hard.

6. Spark creativity. Although you can’t always take a hiatus from someone, you can often restrict the time you spend with them. If you take the initiative to find strategies to spend less time with them, it may ease the situation. So what’s the benefit of this? It calls on you to be creative and sensitive, and take initiative. Think of it sort of like a game.

7. Learn to protect your boundaries and shine your sunshine. There is a very important service that toxic people perform for you. They teach you to understand your limitations and protect your borders. They reinforce the idea that we have to be kind to ourselves in order to help others. And once we give ourselves the self-love that we need, we are more flexible about being able to give it to others, even difficult people.

So accept the fact that someone you know might bother you or bring you down. But having taken steps to protect yourself from their negative influence with kindness, you will then be able to open yourself up a little bit and give them some of your own light.

As a people, we are exhorted to be a light among the nations (Isaiah 42:6). As individuals, we can be a light to one another.