Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

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


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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Hi Karen,

You have just explained my 18 month hostile divorce and the reason for the divorce in a way that I can now understand.

Thank you – you have helped me make sense of the thick fog.

Kind regards,

– Stuart


This is my husband I am truly trapped I’m drained and have no more to give . Hurts to know he will never be normal


My husband has never had boundaries with his very pushy and opinionated sisters. This will help show him he needs to have some for our marriage’s sake.
Thank you


Thank you so much for this. I’m struggling in my marriage. I feel as if I’m so weak and just drained. After reading this it gave me some strength to be strong and try to figure things out.


My older sister is like this. I can’t figure out why she hates me so much. Currently I’m living in her home due to divorce so I feel like I can’t challenge her when she slings mean comments towards me. I feel exhausted sometimes because I never know what mean thing she’s going to say next. She treats me as though I’m stupid, is self-absorbed about her looks (she’s 61), talks over me or completely ignores me when I do talk. She challenges everything I say or has some kind of flippant comment. Then she’ll want to go shopping or to the movies with me and I just don’t want to be around her. I’m unable to move to my own place right now. She has always treated me this way.


I am a toxic older sister.

I don’t know what I am. But I’ve always known I’m different.. in a bad way.

i hate seeing other people be better then me. It’s horrible because we have to deal with something that feels like death on the inside. And it’s obviously depressing but there’s NO WAY you can help. At all. Because if you try to love them, your too good to them. And they get jealous.

And if they see use in you to fix their problems. They will try to use you as a means of excape.

But that never works. And they end up making people feel miserable or negative and getting more depressed because of it.

We want to feel like angles. But we’re broken.

My heart is and always has been broken.

It hurts so much that I want it to break.

And I’ve had this before.

But no one can help me, no matter what they do.

Maybe we’re crazy demons. Can’t be taught how to love.

I wouldn’t trade anything for a toxic person because they can’t value your inner beauty.


Hi Ali,

I have been on receiving end of toxicity my whole life & I am fed up.

It is huge leap in right direction that you are admitting your problems.

I would suggest going back in your mind to every single memory you can remember that hurt you & stay there still & let pain go through you until it no longer hurts.

Also, it may be useful to go to your parents home((where original wounding took place) in your mind as grown up person that you are now& find little you there, let your grown up you lift up little you & take you out of your childhood home.

Grown up you must promise to look after little you
by always being kind, supportive & loving towards yourself.

I am a codependent but these did help me a lot.

Your heart is in shackles of pain, frozen. You need to free it to truly love yourself, feel peace & expereince happiness & one day love another human beings.


There are so many article out there to describe the toxic person, but very rare to find ways to deal with it in such details.
It is helping me tremendously, thank you.


After reading the article ,my suspicions seem to be correct,,my wife’s daughter is pretty much in every paragraph, and she is trying to drive a wedge between my wife and i,,she has been here this year for 3 weeks now,and thinks she is going to stay permanently,non stop drinking and whatever else,,does not work,,42 yrs old,,the funny thing is there is a pattern I’ve noticed,,,when she comes to “visit” my wife is actually sick from the time she gets here till she is asked to leave,,anymore I’m afraid to sleep,,,,she doesn’t sleep ,,I’m in a jam


Simple……kick her out and make her stay out. I.e. One visit is no more than 3 days and two nights. If your wife won’t get on board with you, she is 50% of the problem and your marriage is doomed. Face it and make your wife make a choice and “man up” to that turd 💩 of a grown female. Been there, done that and wish you well! Truly, the daughter is loving every moment of you and your wife’s strife she is causing.


All these things sound just like what I’m going through. He tries to control every situation, all the way to washing the clothes. Drama is almost an every day occurrence. We always talk about how we will approach a problem when it arises, but when something does come up, he blows up and over talks me and I can’t even get a word in to tell him how I feel. Everything is always my fault. I think I’m going to just stop arguing and walk away to get some space when something comes up, I haven’t tried that yet.


I wish I could’ve been aware of all this many yr. ago. To see it on paper now (along with lots of psych therapy, small but mighty support system and anti-depressants/anxiety meds), makes me happy. Hopefully, it helps educate, empower and ultimately gives PEACE to others caught in this hideous nightmare!
As the article mentions and I’ve reaffirmed that, I was and still am, someone with an open heart, emotional generosity, reasonable, compassionate and a humanitarian. I was an R.N.; smart, pretty, lots of friends etc. However, also naive, always believing in the best in humans. I’m in my 60s now, finally have what I deserve; again, PEACE. Life is now satisfying, happy; on an entirely “new planet”! Two fantastic sons, two sweet grandkids, that’s just the start.
Best of all, I no longer need to deal with the toxic little bitch that’s my ex-h. If I rarely have to, I now am well prepared .. Knowledge is empowering and completely deflates the bully narcissist. What a beautiful feeling, better late (in life) than never!?☺️☮️


Just read ur comment… I’m happy for you… My hub is a narc.. I’ve been separated from him now for a yr & 1/2… I finally have peace too… It’s wonderful… I’m 41 living with my parents wking at a hotel as a ️breakfast attendant … My life is richer, filled with more peace & happiness than it every was when I was with him… So anywho… I’m just glad we’re happy… You & I ☺️


A lot of what you have written hits home about my sister-in-law. I did not know her very well as she and my brother live abroad-so contact was mainly with my brother and her on the periphery however that all changed when my husband and I finally got the chance to go visit-and now the dynamics of the relationship have changed DRAMATICALLY! I rarely hear from my brother now but constantly hear from her to the point where I get the feeling she thinks I am her BFF (but in an unhealthy way when I view all that has happened up to now) so much so that my own time was being sucked up by her demands of what she wanted- eg. when I was unable to fulfill request(s) within “her established time limits”, the voice messages and phonecalls left for me, through my Husband, were bordering on “childlike patheticness”- she threw an almost a “crying tantrum” down the phone, [with a side order of “emotional blackmail”], because she did not get what she wanted when she wanted it-forget the fact I work for a living (which she does not) and that no promises of delivery by myself were made; It’s been a never ending list of demands and while I wanted to help my Brother out in whatever way I could, it got to a point where I was avoiding the phone(s)-screening the messages left-even unplugging the damned thing from the socket just to have some peace and then feeling guilty for doing so. It all came to a mini head when one of her demands ended up costing me money-not a vast amount but made me furious when she reneged on paying for the requested goods and then followed it up by another string of “requests” on my brother’s behalf of course (not!) Boundaries had to be set and they were done so in an email, politely worded but done so as no misunderstanding could be construed. Well the result was a 3 month wall of silence…from both…….sigh…until today…and I get the feeling she is “testing the water” so to speak. I am preparing myself for a change in tactics from her but with all the reading I have done regarding her personality type I am hopefully prepared and your article has been most beneficial. This time, if the lines of communication restart-“NO” is now my favourite word….thank you!


I have same problems with my brother’s wife (BW). She does everything possible to make my brother insult me. I’ve brought him up as he’s 11 years younger than I and both parents were working. He was very close to me, today he refuses to speak to me. They stay abroad which is good, God knows what hell she’d have created if they were living close by. However, I miss my brother a lot. He’s good at heart and just to compromise and adjust with her he does what she likes.
I sacrificed my career, never married and she doesn’t allow him to help me in any manner. She doesn’t allow him to gift me anything on my birthday nor allows him to speak to him. If I send him an email, she misuses her software qualification and spoofs the email. God knows what words she inserts in the email that my brother gets wild at me and insults me more and complaints to my mother against me.


I am so sad that I had to have no contact with my only sibling/brother. His wife is a narcissist and pushed a wedge between my brother and I. She fed him with lies and abused our mother! I had to get her out of my life in order to have peace in mine. It’s hard to believe how cruel some people can be.


My brother is a narcissist who has basically mentally and physically abused everybody in our family, my brothers, sisters and parents but they still try to get on with him by tip toeing around him. Me on the other hand I confront him as i can’t live like that and for this I am his main target of abuse, name calling, manipulation, blame! It’s non stop to the point I have decided to cut all contact with anyone who thinks I should put up with it. All the rest of our family get on perfectly fine together except for him. They all complain about him behind his back. He recently got married and now he has her support to which she is now abusing me too. The other day I confronted both of them asking why all the fighting and treating his family like dirt in front of the family to which she called me an evil cow, he said i’m a dirty filthy scumbag bitch and worse. before this our extended family had never seen him like that and were shocked. I was arguing too but in defending myself. Now he is probably going to do worse and the people I feel sorry for most is my family members as they are afraid of him.


Nice. About 10 to 20 percent of people are toxic people. They cheat me by their politeness and through their emotional drama. But I have a way to deal with them in the rest of my life through your guidelines.

Stuck in hell 99% of the time... How do I get out??!

This all makes so much sense.

I recently entered into a beautiful heaven on earth relationship for the first 2 months, then moved to another country for this person, and became trapped.

She’s good with others, calm patient and kind most of the time, but then all stress and frustration gets aimed at me, literally from the first words out of her mouth in the morning without even a “good morning” until the last words at night…

I entered into a professional relation with her too where we opened a center for science and spirituality and when’s she’s teaching yoga she’s amazing and an angel, but then the rest of the time the polar opposite.

Much time/energy/efforts/$$ has been invested into the space over the last 4 months, and now I feel I’m stuck for the bigger purpose that is the purpose of this place. I even had to borrow money from family so I can’t quit…

Whenever I see emotions flaring up and arguements on the edge (which is always 2 words away), I try and step out of the room to cool down, but always get followed and that mouth of hers never stops. It just keeps going until I lose my cool as I can’t walk away b/c she follows me and it’s just an flood of disrespectful and just down right cruel words sometimes.

We also live at our center in 1 of the rooms so it’s 24/7… Which can be hard on anyone + starting a business + a new relationship. I know we are both crazy for doing this this way, but it seems I have to handle my crazy and hers too.

How do I get her to leave me alone so fights don’t blow up? The only thing that has worked so far is leaving the house, but I’m in a new country and new city so I don’t know many people…

I’m tough, but this is nuts. How can I setup strong boundaries and get them to just even leave me alone to heal. Just be silent might be my next and only move…
Any thoughts?

Stuck in hell 99% of the time... How do I get out??!

And she doesn’t eat or sleep properly, sometimes going a whole day without food. And now she’s anemic…

I can’t help her anymore. How can I get help for her from a professional?


This article sums up my relationship with my mother and brother. I have taken the steps over the last few years to create my boundaries. Because of the abuse, I have spoken very little to my brother. This, I believe, makes him feel abandoned (he is BPD) and that makes me sad. Though I have told him I love him but don’t accept his behavior, he dismisses this. Because I have love for him, this makes me very sad but I know every time I try to connect, the controlling abusive behavior starts right up. I’m looking for help to deal with my feelings of guilt and sadness regarding how protecting myself may have caused him feelings of abandonment.


The hardest thing for me is to see the person is toxic. I have many narcissists ( persons who had light and tell out right untruths to create Drama ) and persons with personality disorders in my life. I take people at face value and find it hard to see the manipulation. The best advice I have seen on his is to use the BIFF formula — brief , informative , friendly and firm. Bill eddy has a book on this approach. It works well. I could use advice on recognizing them sooner.


Your articles on this subject are brilliant. This is my mother, my sister and now 3 of my five children. But all five of them blame me that I no longer have a realtionship with mother and sister. My other siblings have chosen my mother and sister’s side.
Thank you for these validating words. I lived with guilt long after deciding not to be caught up in their web.


Hi Karen, reading your articles makes me feel empowered. I am now able to see the relationship clearly for what it is. I was probably in denial before this. Once again, thank you. Ann


This describes perfectly someone I travelled with last year in India.She seemed friendly to start off with but as time went on it was obvious boundaries meant less than nothing to her as she nagged me to show her my Facebook page said behind my back I should be on a tour with “other mentally disabled people”made negative assertions about my relationships and spoke to me condescendingly over a very trivial matter.


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