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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.

  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.

     

  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.

     

  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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389 Comments

JJ

Great article…succinct and supportive. I’m over 65 dealing with a clingy older sister that’s really angry about life…and so am I (very dysfunctional childhood with a lot of loss, molestation and weekly abuses). My input here is to say that this junk can follow you straight to your deathbed unless you decide to proactively wrangle these ‘monsters’ (memories, toxic relationships that you think you can control, etc) to a place where you FEEL the separation from these individuals. Every little separation has a sensation of freedom that’s very is refreshing…and you won’t miss it. Also, every little step you take (per the suggestions in the article, as they happen for you) is a step toward that freedom. Family dysfunction runs very deep in emotions and over past decades, so give it time; it will NOT be something you can do in a short period of time.

Reply
carol

Hi JJ, your story sounds like mine. Grew up with childhood molestation, and lots of family dysfunction that has lingered for years. I’m dealing with a very damaged and toxic sister who also drinks more than she should; which triggers her toxic behavior. She’s 61. I’m trying to cut off the communication with her, hopefully to redraw boundaries, but I know now the only way to do this, is to cut off communication for months, if not a couple of years. It’s really hard to explain the behavior of a toxic personality, but sounds like you know it well. But I agree, all you can do is walk away from a toxic person. They don’t ever change.

Reply
Joy

Hi Jacqueline, I am sorry to hear your story, my situation has been similar for many years. I am only now understanding that my family may choose to judge me, but that is because they don’t know me and will never take the time to actually get to know me. It is ok to have your own life. It may take time for you to be strong enough for their judgement not to hurt you, but remind yourself of all your good qualities and spend less time in contact with them if communicating with them upsets you. Set good boundaries with them, its ok to say no, not to take their call, not to visit, or tell them you would rather not talk about whatever it is they bring up that upsets you. Keep reminding yourself you are good and meet people that have nothing to do with them so you can have new conversations and interests. You deserve a life and life to the full. You don’t have to prove anything to them – just be yourself, live your life, and distance yourself from them if they upset you. Hope this helps a little.

Reply
Carol

Well said. I’m practicing what you said about trying to set new boundaries and it’s ok to not take their calls, etc. In my case I’m not allowing text messages or emails to come thru.

Reply
Gigi

MY fiancé and I just got done fighting about what my sister in-law did to me a year ago. She was getting married and she didn’t want me to come to her wedding because she didn’t want a “stranger” to her wedding although her brother and I have been living together. She lied to me saying they were only inviting immediate families and no friends. My fiancé didn’t want to go but I forced him to go because he told me deep down he wanted to go hurt so he won’t be bombarded by guilt his sisters would throw at him in the future. So he went. When he got there, he saw lotsss of empty seats and children and friends of the groom. He was livid! He was grumpy the entire time and the sister made a comment about why show up if you’re going to be grumpy. Anyways, here we are 2020 and my fiancé still communicate with them knowing it hurts my feelings. It makes me angry because she never apologize because according to her she was not in the wrong. And everyone we ask, they always say that was the nastiest thing to do. And they won’t even do that to a co-worker or a stranger even. My question is, should I stop expecting an apology and move on, even when my fiancé is now going back to normalcy with his relationship with her? How can I ignore that fact that every time he does this, it’s an insult and a slap on my face? Please help.

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Jaqueline d

Hey guys!sometimes being with some family members is really discouraging,am passing through psychological torture ,my family members are giving me a hard time.i lost my precious dad some few months ago and since then everything has changed ,my external family members,keeps on bringing up different stories up about me.i have an aunt who has been pretending that she loves me whereas she says terrible and annoying lies about me,am confuse right now I have thoughts of killing myself ,I hate my family members I feel like they hate me and I don’t like them either,I pray I make it in life and prove to them that am not worthless

Reply
Tina

The shift I think I has to change within you and how you view yourself. I know this because I have suffered and struggled with the exact same problem my whole life. I have been in the exact same shoes as you and I still deal with it, the only thing that changed is how I allow these people to make me feel now… I don’t. I couldn’t understand why I felt so worthless when all I do is kind and caring things. The problem was that I constantly seek validation from toxic selfish family members that benefited more from putting me down so I could feel low enough about myself to want to please them 24/7. That was the problem. As the kind logical person that you are, you simply can’t expect these toxic people to see how much you are worth .. because the truth is they most definitely already do. which is why they feel so threatened by you that they can’t ever compliment you, they have to put you down to feel better about their horrible selves and so you won’t think as horribly about THEM. YOU CAN’T LET THEM WIN. I have strived to prove to my family my entire life when all they have done is talk bad about me. Even with my many successes and accomplishments that far exceeded theirs, I never got the validation I desperately craved. I’m realizing that I never will and now I simply don’t care for it because they are toxic people and it’s just not in them. Please do not harm yourself in the hopes that they will finally care for you because then they win, when they shouldn’t. We can’t let toxic manipulative family members win, it’s simply not fair to you or society. PLEASE stay strong and find your worth from within. Seek good people in your life and surround yourself with people that don’t find you a threat and see your worth already, without you having to convince them.

Reply
Italo

Dear you are special. I hope you find inner peace and love and find a way to enjoy your life and not let those petty people get to you.

Reply
Jennifer

My daughter is in a toxic relationship that has ruined our household as he is staying with us. She has gone from a loving happy well groomed girl to a fat uncepet person that is always tired and not willing to talk. I am a stranger in my own house due to him with no friends or family visiting because he has burned all form of decency and respect towards any one. He listens to my conversations then twists it around and jab my daughter to the point that I am told to please be in my room when they or he wants to be in the kitchen or bathroom so he does not have to face me, in the meantime I am footing all the bills in the house and I live of a pension and he works for himself and earns well. Cannot deal with this anymore.But thankyou I now understand him.

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Jens

Oh my… both need to get evicted, immediately. As in yesterday. Things will only worsen. It is YOUR home… not theirs. What is with all the ungrateful, disrespectful people these days?

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Shanno G

I am in a very toxic family right now since I was born. There’s not a day that my mother and father wouldn’t fight. I also think that my father has mental issues just because of the way he reasons out and ofcourse from his background his family was always war. In our country even if you’re 19 years old you can’t be fully independent if you don’t finish your studies. Even if I wanted to get away from them I can’t do anything. I have nowhere else to go. I feel like this family is slowly making me crazy I am very worried ABOUT my brother. I really hope someone will help me.

Reply
Lillian

Wow Jennifer, 😭
I didn’t know that anyone is going through similar events. It’s my sister, whom I love but now despise her presence in my space. Why, because she is very vulgar when speaking to me, do not help , playing the “ghosting” game of silence from sunrise to sunset. Just a 48 year old with her face buried towards social media screen, can’t ask anything, now I’m hiding in a closed room in my apartment, to get away from the stress. The pandemic has put me into a whirlwind of financial distress, but I have to share food, take the trash out alone, clean alone, and deal with eviction cause I’m still waiting on state funds. Dear God, help us in this decrepit life.

Reply
Mae

So sorry these things happen to kind people but toxic people take advantage of easy trustful people and usually only care about themselves and what they need they don’t care if you have shoes or food and are getting smarter more better at it. L sometimes they appear as angels at first but are devils in sheep clothing! I found out listen to your BB heart something is wrong don’t wait till it happens say something and don’t ignore or put up with these lieing hurtful people to hurt you more , make up excuses like headache, feel sick and don’t go around th when you have a bad feeling. Sometimes other women who seeem to be nice are the toxic ones who make you seem CB like the vilivan and the are!! Even fooling their husbands and friends and in laws!! That is why I don’t believe what people say about others !! If they are c nice to me I will be nice but please tell me snyway I will be more careful and it could save me from being hurt!! Family can be the most cruel when it comes to inheritance, land money do not trust anyone!! Be sure and you will feel better listen to your wife husband !! If someone asks you to sign a paper something is not yours or never was Do not sign any paper about land oil leases it is a trick!! If you need to sign not yours to a lawyer that means it is yours!! A trick must people don’t realize the lawyer is working for their lieing greedy client not Youyou!! And when diving up property be ther when server diving up property land, etc they will do what a greedy person wants so be there to make sure is fair and never allow a sibling or relative to be only executor over will most when they become executor can steal all the money!! And get away with it!!
Need to have 2 or more to watch everything is fair when one siblings says I will handle the affairs don’t trust that greedy person most likely. And even after all that the family in-laws can still try to break up marriages tell lies to try and be nice to one party and turn husbands CB or CB wives against each other to get your land house. And the will usually be too nice to the one who they think they can turn against you! And give you gifts to encourage you to believe them.

Reply

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








Hey Sigmund on Instagram

There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.

There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.
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