Dealing with Toxic People Using Mental Karate

· December 20, 2015

Earlier this year the psychologist and author Bernabé Tierno passed away. He was 75 years old and had been fighting against bone cancer and a metastasis to his lung with the same strength and wisdom that he conveyed in his works.

He left us more than 60 published books, in addition to all of the conferences and courses he had taught. For all that he has given me on a professional and personal level, today I write this article as a tribute to one of the most prestigious psychologists of Spain.

I remember Mental Karate as one of the books that has most influenced me. Therefore, it’s the one I’m going to talk to you about now. When I read it, I was surprised by the ability we human beings have to control our own minds, and consequently, to control our reactions and emotions. We believe that we’re at the mercy of the external world — of our romantic partners, our colleagues, our family, our boss — but in reality, we’re slaves to them simply because we decide to be.

karate kick girl

Bernabé teaches us in this work about the power of emotional intelligence, and specifically, the power of words when it comes time to change any problematic circumstance.

With a combination of wisdom and oriental philosophy, communicated with prudence, peace and patience, you can achieve many more victories than with force and aggression. His book also posits that love and positivism are the engines of change.

It has been scientifically proven that a toxic word, bad news or negative language can produce as much damage as a physical aggression. And on the contrary, positive words can act as a soothing balm. The problem is that within our society, everyday we’re more surrounded by toxic people, stress and pain, provoked mostly by ourselves. Therefore, it’s important that we practice mental karate.


Doing mental karate means learning to be like a rock. To be aware that the key to whether the toxicity affects us or not is within ourselves. Clearly we cant control the thoughts or actions of others, but we can of course control ourselves.

The key is to disarm the toxic person, that childish and immature person who wants to project onto us their problems and bitterness. Bernabé teaches us that we have a powerful antidote that can act on these impossible people: show them that they don’t have any power over us, that they won’t control our feelings or our life.

If, for example, my colleague wants to bother me every day and I show him that he has the power to do so, because I get angry, feel sad or upset due to his behavior towards me. What I’m doing is reinforcing that he act the same way with me again, because I’m giving him what he wants: bitter and toxic people need for others to also feel bad.

“The shine you generate upsets those who come from the darkness.”

Bernabé emphasizes emotional management as the key to personal growth. From tranquility, calmness and peace, you can achieve almost everything. And it’s stress and impulsivity that breaks down all projects, relationships with others and our own mental health. Let’s stop self-boycotting ourselves.

It’s, therefore, very important that we learn to be emotionally intelligent, that we abandon the visceral and primary forms that don’t solve anything. Instead, they cause even more problems. We should substitute them for empathy, comprehension and sweetness. With practice, nothing and no one will have the power to disturb you or make you angry. You’ll be your own boss, without depending on your adversary’s thoughts or words.

A concept we should be very clear on is “win-win.” It’s not about getting engrossed in imaginary competitions, or beating anybody. It’s about accepting another as a valid person who has their own convictions and beliefs, and that even though we don’t share them, we can understand that fact and negotiate.

If we’re confident about ourselves, we’ll know how to recognize when another person is right, we’ll know how to accept that we make mistakes. And this is not a problem, as it is the way to learning and knowing how to address each problem calmly and quietly, without ever losing control. Surprisingly, with this attitude, we’ll gain more love, empathy and understanding from others.

Conformity? None of that. A good mental karate fighter is very clear about what he wants and desires. They are firm in their convictions, but also know how to take the perspective of the other person. Practice the “law of the opposite,” that is, when faced with the fury and wrath of your adversary, apply the opposite: a serene face, correct manners and a firm look. Our peace is so important that we can’t lose it due to another person’s reactions, we can’t afford this!

If you want to be a good mental karate fighter and not be tormented by the bravado and childish reactions of others, you need to read this book and practice the ideas set forth therein. Perhaps with this philosophy you’ll start changing your life like it once changed mine.

Rest in peace, teacher.