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Toxic People: 16 Practical, Powerful Ways to Deal With Them

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Toxic People: 16 Practical, Powerful Ways to Deal With Them

Even if toxic people came with a warning tattooed on their skin, they might still be difficult to avoid. We can always decide who we allow close to us but it’s not always that easy to cut out the toxics from other parts of our lives. They might be colleagues, bosses, in-laws, step-someones, family, co-parents … and the list goes on.

We live our lives in groups and unless we’re willing to go it alone – work alone, live alone, be alone (which is sometimes tempting, but comes with its own costs) – we’re going to cross paths with those we would rather cross out.

With any discussion of toxic people, it’s important to understand that you can’t change anybody, so it’s best to stop trying. Save your energy for something easier, like world peace. Or landing on a star. The thing is though, when you do something differently, things can’t help but change for you. If it’s not the people in your radar, it will be their impact on you.

Personal power is everything to do with what you believe - and nothing to do with what they think. Click To Tweet

Co-existing with toxics means going around them to set your own rules, then accepting that you don’t need them to respect those rules to claim your power. Here are some powerful, practical ways to do that:

  1. Be empowered by your motives.

    Sometimes toxic people will trap you like a hunted thing – you know you don’t have to give in to them but you also know that there will be consequences if you don’t. The secret is to make your decision from a position of power, rather than feeling controlled. In the same way there is something they want from you, there will always be something you want from them (even if it is to avoid more of their toxicity). Decide that you’re doing what you’re doing to control them and their behaviour – not because you’re a victim of their manipulation. Personal power is everything to do with what you believe and nothing to do with what they think.

  2. Understand why they’re seeing what they see in you.

    Toxic people will always see in others what they don’t want to acknowledge about themselves. It’s called projection. You could be the kindest, most generous, hardest working person on the planet and toxic people will turn themselves inside out trying to convince you that you’re a liar, unfair, nasty or a slacker. See it for what it is. You know the truth, even if they never will.

  3. They might get worse before they leave you alone.

    Think of it like this. Take a little human who is throwing a tantrum. When you stand strong and don’t give in, they’ll go harder for a while. We all have a tendency to do that – when something we’re doing stops working, we’ll do it more before we stop. Toxic people are no different. If they’ve found a way to control and manipulate you and it stops working, they’ll do more of whatever used to work before they back off and find themselves another target. Don’t take their escalation as a stop sign. Take it as a sign that what you’re doing is teaching them that they’re old behaviour won’t work anymore. Keep going and give them time to be convinced that you’re not going around on that decision you’ve made to shut them down.

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  4.  Be clear about your boundaries.

    You can’t please everyone, but toxic people will have you believing that you can’t please anyone – so you try harder, work harder, compromise more. It’s exhausting. Toxic people will have your boundary torn down and buried before you even realise you had one there. By knowing exactly what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t – and why – you can decide how far you’re willing to let someone encroach on your boundaries before it’s just not worth it any more.  Be ready to listen to that voice inside you that lets you know when something isn’t right. It’s powerful and rarely wrong (if ever). Whether someone else thinks it’s right or wrong doesn’t matter. What matters is whether it’s right or wrong for you. Let that guide your response and when you can, who’s in and who’s out.

  5. You don’t have to help them through every crisis.

    The reason that toxic people are often in crisis is because they are masterful at creating them. It’s what they do – draw breath and create drama. You’ll be called on at any sign of a crisis for sympathy, attention and support, but you don’t have to run to their side. Teach them that you won’t be a part of the pity party by being unemotional, inattentive, and indifferent to the crisis. Don’t ask questions and don’t offer help. It might feel bad because it’s not your normal way, but remember that you’re not dealing with a normal person.

  6. You don’t need to explain.

    No is a complete sentence and one of the most powerful words in any language. You don’t need to explain, justify or make excuses. ‘No’ is the guardian at your front gate that makes sure the contamination from toxic people doesn’t get through to you. 

  7. Don’t judge.

    Be understanding, compassionate, kind and respectful – but be all of them to yourself first. You can reject behaviour, requests and people without turning yourself into someone you wouldn’t like to be with. Strength and compassion can exist beautifully together at the edge of your boundaries. It will be always easier to feel okay about putting up a boundary if you haven’t hurt someone else in the process.

  8. Own your strengths and your weaknesses.

    We are all a messy, beautiful, brilliant work in progress. Once you are aware of your flaws, nobody can use them against you. Toxic people will work hard to play up your flaws and play down your strengths – it’s how they get their power. If you’re able to own your strengths and weaknesses, what they think won’t matter – because you’ll know that your strengths are more than enough to make your flaws not matter, or at the very least, to make them yesterday’s news.

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  9. Don’t expect change.

    You can’t reason with toxic people – you just can’t. That’s one of the things that makes them toxic. Decide where you stand, and then stand strong. You don’t need to do any more than that. They will try to make you bend, flex and break at the seams. Because you have an open heart, the thought that someone might misunderstand you, disapprove of you or dislike you might get to you, but remember that you’re not dealing with someone who is motivated by what’s good for you or your relationship. It’s always about them and it always will be. Decide that sometimes you’re going to make it about you. It’s what you deserve.

  10. Choose your battles wisely.

    Dealing with toxic people takes an enormous amount of energy. You don’t have to step up to every battle you’re called to. For many toxic people, conflict is the only way they can connect. It’s the way they feel alive, noticed and important. Save your energy for the people who matter.

  11. Don’t be the victim.

    People can be a pity sometimes, but you’re not one of those. Decide that you won’t be anyone’s victim. Instead, be the one with the boundaries, the strength, the smarts and the power to make the decisions that will help you to thrive. Even if they’re decisions you’d rather not be making, own that it’s a move you’ve made to get what you want, rather than to bend to someone else’s will. You’re amazing, you’re strong and you’re powerful – which is why you’re nobody’s victim. Nobody’s.

  12. Focus on the solution rather than the problem.

    Toxic people will have you bending over backwards and tied with a barbed wire ribbon to keep you there. What will keep you stuck is playing over and over in your head the vastness of their screwed up behaviour. It will keep you angry, sad and disempowered. If you have to make a decision that you’d rather not make, focus on the mess that’s it’s cleaning up, not the person who is making your life hell. Don’t focus on their negative behaviour – there’s just too much there to focus on and it will never make sense to you anyway.

  13. Surround yourself with people who will give as much as you do.

    You might not have as much freedom in certain parts of your life to decide who’s in and who’s out but when it comes to the ones you open your heart to, you absolutely have the choice. Choose wisely and don’t be afraid to let them know what they mean to you. 

  14. Forgive – but don’t forget.

    Forgiveness is about letting go of expecting things to be different. You’ll never be able to control the past but you can control how much power it has to impact your future. Forgiveness doesn’t mean accepting the behaviour or approving of it – it means that you’re not going to be controlled by it any more. It’s something done in strength and with an abundance of self-love. Don’t forget the way people treat you – for better or worse – and use that to help you live with clarity and resolve.

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  15. Understand the cycle.

    There is a pattern many toxic people follow. First they’re charming. This is when they’ll get you. They’ll be attentive, loving and impressive – but all of it will be to get you into position. Next, when they have your trust you’ll start to see the cracks. There will be mounting demands and a rising pull on your emotional resources. Then there will be the crisis – the test. You’ll feel stuck – whether or not you give them what they want, you’ll feel compromised. Finally, you’ll do what they want – because you don’t want to be ‘unreasonable’ or cause more drama – and then they’re back to charming you and giving you just enough of what you need to make you stay. The problem is that this never lasts for long and always comes at a cost. Be aware of the cycle and use it to build your boundaries on an even more solid foundation. If you can’t get out of the relationship, know that you’re not staying because you’ve allowed yourself to be fooled or blindsided, but because you have your eyes on something bigger that you need.

  16. You don’t need their approval. You really don’t.

    Don’t look for their approval or their appreciation – you won’t get it unless it comes with conditions, all of which will dampen you. You’ll constantly feel drained because they’ll draw on your open heart, your emotional generosity, your reasonableness, your compassion and your humanity – and they will give absolutely nothing back. Give what you need to, but don’t give any more than that in the hope of getting something back. There will never be any more than minimal, and even that will come with conditions. Whatever you do, know why you’re doing what you’re doing and make sure the reasons are good enough.

The world is full of people whose behaviour is breathtakingly damaging. That doesn’t mean that we have to open ourselves up to the damage. The secret to living well means living deliberately. Knowing the signs of toxic behaviour and responding deliberately and in full clarity to toxic people will reduce their impact and allow you to keep yourself whole and empowered – and you’ll always deserve that.

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231 Comments

PD

Wow. This is not the first time i have searched out how to love a sibling bully, but many of the responses have been helping to validate my choice to block social media, texts…omg the Texts! I have cried, been physically ill, given up, let her back in just to have the cycle repeat…year after year.
There is a tremendous amount of guilt I feel from this. She has always given her opinion and told me how i should handle any given situation, told me what is wrong with my kids, our parents, brother, me.
The reaction i normally employed was to try and explain what she misconstrued. Usually small sentences about normal everyday events. I have given up on that route…mostly. She does not apologize, EVER! I rue the day she mastered texting!
I am Not perfect, but I have slowly come to realize it is NOT okay to abuse me and other family. I do Not owe her my life. And i do not know how to help her. I am a bit afraid of her, but still love her. Suggesting she get real help or be evaluated for a disorder would send her off the charts. It will never end, but I can try to insulate my family as much as possible from the hurt. If it is directed at me, fine. Do Not spew the awfulness to my kids!

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Asmaa

I have a teenage sister who’s toxic. Everyone walks on eggshells because of her behavior but I can’t sit and watch her emotionally abuse our little sister. I know it’s her low self-esteem that causes her to relish in breaking others, but I can’t stand it anymore. I stay at home as a college student to help out my family, but sometimes I want to move out so I don’t have to deal with this negative energy. I don’t know what to do because I can’t “cut” her from my life as she’s here everyday.

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Angela

Omg this is my sibling sister youngest one! I’ve been ill with stress through her behaviour just on me an not other sisters as I’m the Weak one that she’s always manipulated so now after a disastrous five day holiday with her an my two other lovely sisters ! I’ve gave up an blocked off media an phone an feel much better but dread family gatherings😳😞

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Therese

It is all so difficult when the person is your child. My adult son is manipulative, nasty, evil and more. He apologises but doesn’t mean it, repeats the behaviour and hurts oh boy does it hurt.
As a mother, I feel that society expects me to stay the distance but this journey has caused me chronic nausea, pain tears and guilt.
My counsellor has helped me to see that it is a form of familial violence, psychological torture and that I need to withdraw. For those of you living with this daily, you have my understanding. You need to get away, stay away, get on with your life, not theirs. Anyone that takes up more than 20% of your thinking space is toxic to you being.

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Charlotte

I understand what you’re talking about. Mine is 14 and I am her target. I have been abused physically, emotionally for 8 years. Sometimes I count the days until she is 18. Horrible to say about my child I know. Broken bones are healing but will my heart. She’s been diagnosed with conduct disorder. I don’t know if it will ever get better. She may kill me first. She has it planned. I am legally responsible for someone who abuses me. I have no way out.

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Boots

Charlotte
I had a child like that. He abused his twin sister, too and she stuck up for him. It eas them against me. They became emancipated at 16 and took the survivor benefits we were surviving on, leaving me homeless til I could get back on.my feet again.

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Debra

Call the police if she does this oh heck no don’t put up with it also check with school counsel and get help to help you and she will be helped, have the police take her to where she can be controlled your the parent and with school counsel they can help you also call 211 and they could help with which way you could go also stick to your guns don’t let her rule put your foot down with out side forces could save your life and put her in a place a way from you so she can get the help she needs I really am preying for you please your important and don’t let know one hurt you she needs help

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Louie

Amazing post! I believe too that it is all about believing in yourself and have the strength to isolate the toxic people in your life and even remove them. It can be so hard at times but honestly, toxic people are only going to keep you from becoming better and happier!

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Amy

A toxic person – that is precisely who my sister in law is. She’s been going through a tough time the last couple of years with a physical injury that just isn’t coming right, however the way she treats her family is atrocious. Some of it I believe is true mental illness (stress or depression perhaps) but I’ve also seen her turn her behavior ‘on and off’ at a moments notice depending on who else walks into the room. I interpret this as a high degree of manipulation, her parents however are just relieved she’s not embarrassing them with her outbursts in front of this other person (this time). The number of times she has had her mother and grandmother in tears with the way she speaks to them and words she uses, it breaks my heart. It’s not uncommon for her to verbally abuse her parents or partner who is hanging in there for some unknown reason despite being the person she treats the worst. Most certainly a case of tearing people down so they feel as bad as the toxic person feels about herself – classic bullying tactic. Her family has done a lot for her, including helping her into her own business and all they get in return is abuse for it and blame for the tough days. I have to admit however that I also believe her family enables this behavior. Instead of pulling her up on how she was acting and treating people right from they start, they instead shied away in embarrassment and simply hoped no one else witnessed it. They walk on eggshells so as not to set her off again and create a scene. Perhaps what irks me the most is that she says that no one is there for her or tries to understand what she’s going through but whenever anyone tries they are informed that its too little too late. She’ll mention anything she can from the past to prove that we’ve never cared, never once thinking that past decisions to include or exclude her from things was due to her behavior and the distress she causes. To me it seems that she doesn’t truly want anyone to understand or will allow them to support her because then she can’t hold it over everyone’s heads. Her brother and I are currently expecting what will be her first niece or nephew and she fails to recognize that I will not allow her to bring this type of toxicity anywhere near my child. If she wants a relationship with her niece/nephew she needs to first start treating her current family members with the respect they deserve.

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Tara

I could have written that myself Amy. Just make sure you and your hubby are on the same page, as your sister in law will try to come between you and use your parenting to make comments. Having a baby is a massive transition for any couple – so you dont need her crap making it harder. New motherhood makes you extra emotional, so somewhat more vulnerable too. My sister in law is so toxic and narcissistic – I’ve dealt with her for over a decade and recently I’ve just had enough, so I no longer have anything to do with her and just avoid her.

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Linda

Sometimes a parent is the toxic person as is my Mother..Never apologizes for anything, EVER! Has caused a lot of pain, tears, and guilt. It’s her way or no way, always critical of everyone. She is so wrapped up in herself, demanding & demeaning, leaves no room for anyone else. It’s all about self entitlement, know-it-all and does no wrong. Toxic people will tear down your boundary and bury it before you realize you even had one. Always looking for sympathy and attention.

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Valentina

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this great article! It’s really helpful, I’m going to read it everyday until I absorb every last bit of advice.

I stopped letting my toxic older sister get to me some time ago but now I have a child and just recently she and her teenage daughter have started being nasty toward my little 3yr old daughter.

Anyway this article has made it easier and helped me see I’m not a bad person now I’ve decided to keep them at a good distance. It’s one thing trying it with me, I don’t care (thanks to her I’ve got a thick skin), but I won’t let them do it to my innocent little daughter. No chance.

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Jay

Wow .I have lived with a toxic sibling all my life and only just woke up to it .My husband and family are always put down in public for no reason. Hers are always perfect !It is incredible as it comes from no where and when you look back you think ‘what was all that about ‘.You then feel the need to defend yourself but really for what !.It ends up a futile situation and it just leaves you so drained and sad .Both our parents have just passed away close to each other and without any discussion she has behind my back purchased a very pretty cottage they rented for 40 years obtaining a large discount. She took great pleasure in having to ‘come round and she my face ‘to tell me .I didn’t know how I felt to begin with .After mulling it over I discovered that I don’t actually feel angry or sad re the purchase I just feel that it would have been polite and respectful to pass it by me .I that is my true feelings .This final act has made me realise that our parents kept us together and now it is time to part .Sad but true .My family are lovely and they are where my joy comes from .You are worth more in life don’t let people destroy you

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Liz

Thank you for this very useful – and for me, timely – article.

My question is what to do about the toxic people who are in positions of power over me. In my current situation, it is a jealous/toxic sister-in-law who is also my landlady. In the past, it has been a boss. A person like this bringing fear for the loss of your home or work security can be very psychologically damaging and the only out seems to be to find another place or job ASAP.

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Liz

I wanted to add that toxic people, in my experience, are selectively toxic. They may be very pleasant charming or charismatic to other people but then turn on the venom or chill with the turn of their head in my direction. That is if they include me enough to turn their head in my direction. It’s very strange and feels diminishing, confusing, and destabilizing.

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Boots

I had a landlord..very controlling. I ended up having to move.
Also a temporary but powerful boss..That was scary because I love the work and believed she could have ruined me for it.
There was NOTHING I could do right in her eyes. She projected on me so badly. Gaslighted. She was classic, I could see it but nonetheless was terribly stressed. Fortunately, it was over in four months. She gave me a bad review but I did not lose my job. The next supervisor loved me.

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Pippa

So very very true – which is partly why it feels as bad as it does to be on the receiving end – as if you are making a fuss about nothing…after all , how could someone who is so “nice”, “friendly” “helpful” etc be anything but. These people are very scary. I have only come across two in my life – my sister and my sister in law but I would avoid both like the plague now and would struggle to explain why to anyone who has never experienced this kind of thing .

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Jay

Oh yes ,so true ,you can’t explain how these people are to others and their behaviour is so haunting it can seriously and deeply affect you .In my experience there is no excuse for them .Step away from them .Look around you and if are like me you will see kind and caring friends keep theses close to your heart and the toxic ones well away .You will never make a toxic person be worth knowing.

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Jeremiah

I’ve been diagnosed with toxic sister in law.
After reading this page I widely opened my eyes.
You don’t save my life, you save my village.
Thank you so much!

Reply

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