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.

[bctt tweet=”Personal power is everything to do with what you believe – and nothing to do with what they think.”]

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.

    [irp posts=”1086″ name=”Teaching Kids How To Set & Protect Their Boundaries (And Keep Toxic People Out)”]

  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.

    [irp posts=”793″ name=”Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them”]

     

  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.

    [irp posts=”1021″ name=”The Rules for Being Human”]

     

  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.

495 Comments

Rajesh

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.

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Lizzy

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.

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Ruth

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.

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Aradhya

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.

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Bethany

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!

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Pam

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!?☺️☮️

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Tators

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 ☺️

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Nikki

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.

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Mike

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

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Elaine

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.

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Adele

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.

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Helen

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.

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Ali

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.

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Ella

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.

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k

Thank you, Ali for being honest and recognizing that you are a toxic person. My whole immediate family has been toxic to me for years. They don’t care about my feelings, they do not consult me on family matters and ignore my feelings when I do not agree. My mother tells me that “I exaggerate everything.” The more nicer I am to my sister, the meaner she treats me. My brother is a passive-aggressive narcissist who believes the world revolves around him and enjoys making degrading, sarcastic “jokes”at my expense and never ever has attempted to apologize for anything. My family covers for each other playing favorites against me. Nothing I say is ever right. I am wrong all the time and I am treated like the one causing trouble even when the actual trouble-maker is doing it right in their faces, but somehow it ends up being my fault (even when I wasn’t home).

I am learning that you cannot change these people because they do not want to change themselves. They know what they are doing but they feel that their behaviors are acceptable–because as long as it is acceptable to them–nothing else matters.

I have tried for over 30 years to try to fix my relationship with my mother. All of it has been in vain. I am going to print out these articles and talk about how we are going down the cycle of abuse and give it one more FINAL try. If this does not wake her up, I will no longer try to fix anything because I am 30 years too late. I am going to print this article for myself and work on not allowing them to manipulate me any longer. I have to stop

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Bee

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.

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Tania

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

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Christina

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

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Stuart

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

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sudu

My father in law is toxic. He has one daughter & 2 sons. I have married his younger son. The toxic person is lived with us. When I complaining his nature to his son, he blamed me and get his father’s side. It is unfortunate with my 7 month old baby and please help me how to deal with this toxic father and son.

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Jason C.

Sudu…you sounds as if you feel trapped and few options to turn to for support. Undoubtedly made more difficult by the fact you have a young child involved. Ultimately, this is between you an your husband. Hopefully this “teaming up” against you was a one time deal and doesn’t presage a pattern. Either way, you will need to have that conversation with him and based on that outcome…determine how to handle this together. If no acceptable resolution is feasible, then you may have to decide whether you will remove yourself from the situation. Hopefully you’ve got some good friends who know more about the dynamic of the relationship and can provide clear advice…in times like this when you don’t know what to do…trust the advice of those people that genuinely love you and have your best interest at heart.

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Disgusted

What do you do when you have had to distance yourself from a toxic family member who has been lying about you – smear campaign – and is now using people in their church to set you up? This person knows that I have always been a polite person and they are counting on me not making a scene. If I do, it just reinforces the lies he is telling about me to these people. My parents and I are ready to move somewhere else if we have to put up with this. Their manipulation of other people is disgusting – and I am angry with these people for being so easily played. It’s like you are between a rock and a hard place – and I hate to be treated like this.

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Jason C

It would help to understand the context of the “smear campaign” and why this person has chosen this passive-aggressive way of undermining you. Jealousy? Perceived slight? Some long standing grudge? You will have to be objective to step back and dissect the “why” he’s doing what he’s doing.

The obvious answer is to address the “why” if known. Perhaps you can smooth things over and go forward without the drama. On the other hand, most family grudges aren’t as easily extinguished…petty disagreements can last generations.

Confront the individual directly to let them know you are aware of their comments, that you don’t appreciate it and you expect better of them. This doesn’t have to involve cursing or names….just a matter of fact statement. After, take the high road and don’t get dragged into an ugly and bitter spat nor get involved in a counter-propaganda campaign. …nobody wins in those scenarios. Chances are, if this person is doing it you…he’s doing it to other people as well and most people will pick up on it. Make this a reflection on him and not on you.

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Orlando

Thank you for such a great article. Found the post image on Pinterest and let my visitors know about it. Knowing the pattern of toxic people is vital. Couldn’t agree more.

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Lotus

Hi, I feel miserable when my sister who has had so good relationship with one day just accused me of trying to be smarter with her husband on phone when she was on trying to settle in another country and her husband was completing some formalities over here. One kid was living with my sister and one with her husband. I found it natural to give a call once in some weeks at least to enquire about my nephew and exchange some polite gretings and news with my bro in law. I would informed my sis that I phoned my bro to take news.I knew my sis was a bit jealous about other women getting closer to her husband but i was completely shocked that she put me in that category. She avoids me and never volunteered to give an explanation or receive it. Now that she is here after three long years where we have not interact, I don’t know how to be happy to meet her in xmas party at my mum place. Should I go or not…I’m afraid to spoil the party for me or others…Pls advise. Thanks.

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Whether you go or not can only be your decision. You know the detail of your relationship better than anyone. I completely understand what a difficult decision this must be for you. If you are worried about spoiling the party, try speak to the people involved to get a better understanding of how they feel. I wish you the best with your decision.

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Lotus

I’ve decided to attend as I’m not at fault. It was a shock and painful to understand that at time blood relations too nurture jeolousy and hatred for us. But I will be brave and polite with all. My husb and children understand that I’m not wrong and this is great support to me. Thanks a lot for your comment.

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Jason C

You can’t control the actions of others, but you can control how you react. I recommend putting on a smile and going to spend time with the family. While I wouldn’t snub the sister and her husband, I wouldn’t go out of my way to engage with them either. Either way, be polite and present in your family event. Don’t let someone else’s issues cloud your holiday.

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Lotus

Thanks..I really should be making an effort…Iwas depressed since some days about this and now I’ll follow your advice. Thanks lot for being here. Merry xmas!

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MONICA STRINGER

I divorced years ago. My Mother & I lived in a rough area of town. I met my ex-husband & his parents. I could of sworn the living room went dark Six months together my Ex was being mentally abusive towards me. I told him it was over but he kept coming around. If the relationship starts to be abusive you have 2 choices RUN OR LIVE IN HELL Always listen to your intuition it is never wrong.

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Pam

I feel I need to add a bit to this article and bear with me because I”m not an expert in this field by any means. When I met my husband it felt like I had met the man of my dreams, he was kind, thoughtful and very sweet and he treated me like an angel. He was thoughtful and attentive and we could sit and discuss the world for hours, it was wonderful. He was every womans dream and I felt like finally my life would be what I wanted it to be. That was the way it was for about the first three months. And then things started to change. I saw a few signs that bothered me but I figured we were all human and not always perfect, and most of the time it was okay. But gradually it started turning into something else, and he would get very quiet, and hard to read. And of course my first thoughts were, “I wonder what i did wrong?” I would start to think back in any of our conversations, wondering if I said something that upset him. And finally I would ask him if he was mad at me for some reason. And he would answer that with a noncommittal no, but offer nothing more, leaving me to continue wondering. And after a day or so of this, very little words spoken and not able to read him, I would confront him again, a little upset now because i was used to him being so open and seemingly honest with me. I figured he just had something on his mind and it would help him to talk about it. So, from the beginning of this episode I went from thinking it was my fault, to digging through the different conversations we had had and what my actions might have meant to him and continually wondering what could possibly cause this silence and then onto feeling okay that it wasn’t me, back to wondering if was me after all, and feeling so off balance, just wanting him to come back to where we were. And finally he just let me have it, how I wasn’t treating him respectfully, that I only thought about myself and that he had to do all the giving, and the rant went on and on, me arguing and trying to explain to him how wrong he was and racking my brain trying to see where he could have gotten that idea. And onto into me apologizing for making him feel so bad, and trying to tell him he should have said something when it first started so it wouldn’t have to go so far. Assuring him that if I did seem to disrespect him it sure wasn’t intentional, and onto almost begging him to forgive me. Now, to get to my point, you tell me who was the sickest person in that room? Was it him because he was trying to manipulate me for whatever reason? Or was it me, immediately feeling that it was something I did to cause his reaction, and then even apologizing to him, still without knowing or remembering anything that would made him think that way? And really, who was being the abuser there? And don’t t get me wrong, I am certainly not excusing what he was doing, it was very wrong. But wasn’t it also wrong of me to blame myself? Was I not contributing to his manipulation? I can see now how I was harder on myself truly, than he was. I let myself fall right into his tactics because I had no respect for myself, I just assumed it had to be me.
My point is that almost every article states that toxic people pick us because we are all very empathic and very nice, gentle and basically good people. And that part is true, we are all of those things, to everyone but ourselves. And that is the root of the whole problem in my mind. We care so much for everyone else, so why do we not care for ourselves in the same way. Let me put it this way, if we saw someone doing those very same toxic tactics to someone we love and care about, would we not try to show them they aren’t the problem? If this was happening to your child, would you not do everything in your power to get them away from this kind of thing? So in reality, that toxic person isn’t looking for the kindness inside of us to exploit, instead they are looking at how we feel about ourselves, our own self-worth. And the less loving we are to ourselves the better target we make to them. I went for 16 years with that toxic person, with the whole gamut of his tactics and always always always I came away with the knowledge that if i had been a better person or if I could just change certain things about myself, he could be happier and in turn I could be happier too. And it never occurred to me that it couldn’t be somehow my fault. Until of course, it got meaner and meaner and I started to see that some of the things he accused me of were just extreme to the point of absurd, and then when I started seeing that sort of thing and told him about it, it started to escalate and instead of only the silent treatment and the emotional tactics, he started getting scarier to the point that when he was pounding on the table with his litany of all my wrongs I realized that at any moment the pounding on the table would turn into pounding on my face. That”s when I finally realized that he had a problem. And even then, the only reason I said something to him about maybe we weren’t good for each other was because i thought I was toxic to him! I thought I had caused him to get more desperate because I couldn’t be the person he demanded I be. And it’s only been since he finally told me that he didn’t love me anymore, and when pressed about him ever loving me, he said merely, “Well, I tried.” And that was when it hit me that it was time to divorce. Because I didn’t want him to be miserable with someone he didn’t want to be with. Now, truly folks, who was the sick one? I believe it was me. I had the choice all along to stop the abuse, but i was convinced by my own self-loathing that it was my fault. And really, it wasn’t until I started studying and trying to understand what had happened, that I realized that yes, he was not a good person and certainly not the dream I thought at first, but I allowed it to happen and continued to let it happen for all those years. Now I am learning to take care of that little girl inside that has been hurt all her life and never was taught that she had any value whatsoever. That life was normal if she was being manipulated to please someone else. And I am slowly teaching that little girl that she is safe with me now, that I am not going to let anything like that happen to her again, and that she is love beyond measure, just the way she is. And slowly she is learning that she can trust me now, that she is never alone and she can relax now and just go play outside when she wants to. She doesn’t have to listen to someone telling her how wrong she is and how bad she is, she knows that she isn’t bad and never was bad. It was others that were bad to her. And I am there now, to give her the nourishment she needs to live a normal, happy and true to herself life. It’s a learning experience, it is freedom, and there is hope and joy and peace to discover, and being able to contribute to this world in a good way. It’s like coming out of the dungeon into the clear sweet mountain air. You can all do this, it’s the right to live life in joy that we were all born for. And we can control it now, not the damaged people that want to only use us and then discard us so easily.

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Sarah

This is a great article but what about when the toxic person/people are your in-laws who have kids (your nieces/nephews)? How do you treat the kids and try to have a relationship with the kids if the parents are completely impossible to please? For example, why bother sending Christmas gifts and birthday gifts when they all go completely unacknowledged?! It’s very difficult to try to have a relationship with children when the parents are constantly causing unnecessary drama and making you feel that you’re going to have diarrhea all the time. Any insights or opinions would be greatly appreciated.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Unfortunately, this is part of the fallout that comes with toxic people. They have enormous capacity to undermine other relationships too, not just the ones they are directly involved with, particularly when there are children involved. All you can do is keep trying to have the relationship with your nieces and nephews, regardless of what their parents are doing. I know how difficult this is. One day your nieces and nephews will be old enough to have a relationship with you independently of their parents. In the meantime, keep sending gifts and making the effort, and remember that the lack of response or gratitude is coming from their parents, not them.

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Monae

I have been with my spouse for 20 plus years and we have kids. He is very controlling and a verbal abuser. He drinks beer and liquor but when he drinks he turns into someone else. He always try to make me think I am the problem no matter what. He will get drunk and then come to me for argument just waiting on me to say anything he won’t like so he can keep me up all night. He thinks he is always right. He thinks he should make all decisions. I f you do different he has a problem. He comes at me for argument but if I don’t argue with him he goes to the kids and I always stop that. His mother is very controlling and he acts just like her. He is very close to his mother and tells her stuff that he should be telling me. No matter what I do it’s never good enough. For the longest I have let a lot of stuff slide or just went with what he said because I wanted to avoid conflict. My kids are so tired of all this and I am on Anxiety meds now because he drives me crazy. Sometimes just to hear his voice irritates me. He is very jealous and always complaining about other people. He will call people just to find out what’s going on in their life and then complain about it. He hates that the kids are closer to my family than his and he hates how close my family is with me. I read on this and he is definitely TOXIC!!!

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Jason C

Monae…have you decided on what to do to change the dynamic? I had to make the difficult call to end a relationship because I realized it wasn’t going to change…and was likely to get worse if anything. Don’t envy you…sounds like you may be backed into a corner. Good luck!

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Shey 36

This article is exactly what I needed! Thank you so much. I am the oldest of 3 girls. My youngest sis is pretty laid back like me. My middle sister however… You’d think she was raised in a different household with different parents. She has always marched to her own beat. (Nothing wrong with that) The issue is she is an alcoholic. She has 2 DUIs, reckless, and can’t function without being intoxicated. I recently found out she is taking pills too. She is very aggressive, rude, and uses self harming phrases often. She is refusing professional help, but call on my sis and I when ever she is in a bind. I have decided I no longer want any part of this especially since I’m 5 months pregnant and don’t need the stress. I am not allowing her in my home and maintaining little phone contact. She is trying so hard to get back in good graces but I know its all a front because as soon as things don’t go her way, she calls us every name in the book. This is so hard for me because its my sister. I’m learning I can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to help themselves. Its just taking a toll on me and my family because we are just watching her go down when she has so much potential to be great. She needs help but I can’t be her person… And I feel guilty about it.

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Jason C

I appreciated the article…I recently left a toxic marriage that lasted 7 years…about 6.5 years too long based on how quickly things changed. It was classic…she isolated me from my family by feigning warmth and then finding fault in them to force me to choose her or them. She did the same with my children from a former marriage. Having been divorced before, I didn’t want to “fail” again so I stayed. I knew she was dealing with depression and anger issues…often lashing out at those closest too her. I read books on “emotionally unplugged” and did everything I could to unlock the secret to making the relationship work. Seems like the more I tried…the more it annoyed her and eventually we devolved to little more than roommates…hardly communicating at all. The tension was often so think you could cut it with a knife. I doubted myself…I stopped doing things I enjoyed and spent more and more time hiking alone in the mountains to escape my own growing depression (something I never dealt with before). Eventually, after she cursed out my mother, I finally decided enough was enough…though it took a few months to really let that germinate. So I finally left…it was ugly. It was brutal…I was cursed and drug through the mud…alternating between appealing for me to come back and attacking me. It was tough…but I held firm. But the ordeal left a lot of damage. A part of me still feels bad that I “broke” but the other part of me realizes the dynamic would have never changed. It was the right choice…but a lot of scar tissue. As a result, I occasionally peruse articles on toxic people to validate what I went through…that it wasn’t just me superimposing an excuse to bail. Each and every time I come away stronger…knowing it was the right call. Your article was spot on, thank you.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Jason. I’m pleased the article was helpful. This is NOT a failure and leaving does not mean that you broke. It sounds as though you fought hard for this relationship and opened your heart and your mind to doing what it took to get things back on track. It takes a lot of strength and courage to let go of a relationship that isn’t working. It’s never easy. You have acted with great wisdom and clarity and you have left this relationship braver, stronger, wiser, more insightful than when you came into it. No experience is ever wasted. Even though this relationship was hurtful and difficult, it has given you everything you need to move you closer to the relationship that will be life-giving for you.

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Jason C

Thank you…in my mind there weren’t any “evil” people in that relationship although the dynamic was definitely toxic. It was just sad that we weren’t able to bridge the gap in communication and actually connect. I can only hope that she will reflect on it as well and find success in her future relationships. But as for me…life is much better now.

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Sara

Jason – I am so sorry to hear what you went through. My brother married someone toxic. I always say that “he married my mother” because she has now isolated him from his family just as my mom isolated my father from his family. It is so sad, and I truly hope one day he will realize this and come knocking on our door to reconnect. I would love nothing more. My brother and I were best friends for 25+ years until she began to run his life, and as you commented, found faults in us for no reason. I am glad you found the strength to get out and leave it behind you. It will be hard, very very hard, but be proud of yourself and work on yourself every single day. Build yourself up with positive reinforcement in your own mind. Not many people have the strength to do what you did. I hope you continue to find peace and healing.

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Jason C

I am doing much better thank you. From time to time I catch myself wondering if I should have stuck it out. Obviously there’s “something” you saw in the person that you liked or admired at some point. But I always circle back and realize leaving was the only option. Any spouse who isolates a partner from the rest of that partner’s support network does not have that partner’s best interest at hear. Classic control technique is to knock the support out from under a person to make them dependent upon the controlling spouse. Hopefully the wool will fall from your brother’s eyes and realize he has been led astray. He’ll find his way home eventually.

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Marissa

I needed this article today. But it still leaves me not knowing what to do.

What do you do when your toxic sister in law wants to cut you out and say horrible things about you but is sweet as a peach to your husband and child? How do you let her know that we are a family, a united family, you can’t cut just me out of your life and still expect a relationship with my husband and child? How do I deal with this without completely cutting her out and none of us communicating or welcoming her into our home?

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Lauren

Thank you for your article. My family has been dealing with my toxic grandmother for many years and her behavior has escalated in the last few months. I’ve been relatively unscathed but lately, my grandmother has been trying to use my sister and I as pawns, in the hopes of turning us against our own mother. She does this because she knows that the best way to hurt my mother is through her daughters. It’s terrible. We have repeatedly told my grandmother that we do not want to hear it, we do not want to be involved, and will end the conversation if she insists on speaking ill or gossiping about our mother or any other family members of ours (she is at odds with almost everyone at this point). This is met with comments about how “disappointed” she is with us for not taking her side, and further accusations hurled at my mother for turning us against her. It’s exhausting. My sister and I are working on establishing firm boundaries. For example, I have limited my communication with her to text messages only so that I can better control the conversation. However, my mother still struggles with this. One day she says she will not answer my grandmother’s calls anymore, then the next day she is back at it again, getting sucked into yet another crisis. We are trying to support her as best we can through this and I will keep these strategies in mind when she asks for advice.

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Jeanne

I have read several of your posts and found them to be remarkably helpful. We (my husband and I) have another issue which I hope can be addressed: My husband’s toxic parents have no qualms about turning other family members away from us if we are not “towing the line” (meaning we have attempted to establish acceptable boundaries).

My husband said he would break all ties with his parents if it wouldn’t sabotage his relationship with his aunts, uncles, and cousins.

We have lived through this smear campaign before and his heart breaks when his relatives take his parents’ words as truth. My husband does not want to open up to his extended family about his toxic parental relationship because he doesn’t want to cause damage between his parents and their siblings. We don’t know how to manage this situation.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Jeanne I completely understand why this situation is hurting you. Letting go of toxic people can be difficult when they also have relationships with other people who are close to you, mainly because of the toxic person’s lack of integrity and their willingness to act on that. See if this article helps https://www.heysigmund.com/toxic-people-when-someone-you-love-toxic/. It explains how you can let go of the influence of a toxic relationship with love and grace, without having to break the ties for good. The truth is that there is no easy way to do this, and if other family members are unwilling to hear your point of view, there isn’t much you can do about this. The important part is to make it clear about the exact behaviours you are not prepared to tolerate. Be as specific as you can – toxic people generally have trouble with subtleties if those subtleties don’t suit their story. Then let them know, and everyone else, that the door to you is open when the specific hurtful behaviours stop – and you have to be specific (perhaps just choose 1 or 2 to start).

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mary

thank you for the inspirational words.i loved a boy very sincerely.but past 4 months suddenly i noticed a change in his behaviour.not speaking with me properly.whenever i asked he used to say personal problems.i bared his behavior for almost 3 months.one day im not able to bare his behaviour.got angry on him and i told how much im feeling bad and lonely without him, shouted at him but i really didnt mean to hurt him,but looking at my messages he misunderstood that i insulted and hurted him.its been one month im trying to explain reason behind my angry and said sorry for many times but no use.even now he is thinking the same.he completely stopped speaking with me not even replying for my calls and messages.when we love someone so much do we dont have right to shout at him because of their wrong behaviour?im not understanding what to do.please help me.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Mary, nobody has the right to ‘shout’ at anybody, but all of us will likely shout at the people we love from time to time. one of us are perfect, but in a healthy, respectful, loving relationship there is also forgiveness and room for all of us to get it wrong sometimes. It sounds as though your partner was hurt by what you did, but your partner is not responding in a loving, caring way by giving you the silent treatment. It is for you to decide whether this is the sort of treatment you want from a prospective partner.

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Sunshine

Thank you for sharing this article. I have this voice lingering within that keeps saying “what do I do?”. I believe I have tried to be a good person and be understanding. Being with someone you love who cellar exhibits toxic behavior has drained me. How do you even make them see that their behavior is not on and unacceptable. I have resorted to hanging up on calls and simply ignoring him when he starts acting out, that’s if I’ve not gotten to a “heated” level whereby I just want to burst into emotions.

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Separation anxiety can come with a tail whip - not only does it swipe at kids, but it will so often feel brutal for their important adults too.

If your child struggle to separate at school, or if bedtimes tougher than you’d like them to be, or if ‘goodbye’ often come with tears or pleas to stay, or the ‘fun’ from activities or play dates get lost in the anxiety of being away from you, I hear you.

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Access to the recording will be available for 30 days from the date of purchase.

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The more we treat anxiety as a problem, or as something to be avoided, the more we inadvertently turn them away from the safe, growthful, brave things that drive it. 

On the other hand, when we make space for anxiety, let it in, welcome it, be with it, the more we make way for them to recognise that anxiety isn’t something they need to avoid. They can feel anxious and do brave. 

As long as they are safe, let them know this. Let them see you believing them that this feels big, and believing in them, that they can handle the big. 

‘Yes this feels scary. Of course it does - you’re doing something important/ new/ hard. I know you can do this. How can I help you feel brave?’♥️
I’ve loved working with @sccrcentre over the last 10 years. They do profoundly important work with families - keeping connections, reducing clinflict, building relationships - and they do it so incredibly well. @sccrcentre thank you for everything you do, and for letting me be a part of it. I love what you do and what you stand for. Your work over the last decade has been life-changing for so many. I know the next decade will be even more so.♥️

In their words …
Posted @withregram • @sccrcentre Over the next fortnight, as we prepare to mark our 10th anniversary (28 March), we want to re-share the great partners we’ve worked with over the past decade. We start today with Karen Young of Hey Sigmund.

Back in 2021, when we were still struggling with covid and lockdowns, Karen spoke as part of our online conference on ‘Strengthening the relationship between you & your teen’. It was a great talk and I’m delighted that you can still listen to it via the link in the bio.

Karen also blogged about our work for the Hey Sigmund website in 2018. ‘How to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Children and Teens by Understanding Their Unique Brain Chemistry (by SCCR)’, which is still available to read - see link in bio.

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I often go into schools to talk to kids and teens about anxiety and big feelings. 

I always ask, ‘Who’s tried breathing through big feels and thinks it’s a load of rubbish?’ Most of them put their hand up. I put my hand up too, ‘Me too,’ I tell them, ‘I used to think the same as you. But now I know why it didn’t work, and what I needed to do to give me this powerful tool (and it’s so powerful!) that can calm anxiety, anger - all big feelings.’

The thing is though, all powertools need a little instruction and practice to use them well. Breathing is no different. Even though we’ve been breathing since we were born, we haven’t been strong breathing through big feelings. 

When the ‘feeling brain’ is upset, it drives short shallow breathing. This is instinctive. In the same ways we have to teach our bodies how to walk, ride a bike, talk, we also have to teach our brains how to breathe during big feelings. We do this by practising slow, strong breathing when we’re calm. 

We also have to make the ‘why’ clear. I talk about the ‘why’ for strong breathing in Hey Warrior, Dear You Love From Your Brain, and Ups and Downs. Our kids are hungry for the science, and they deserve the information that will make this all make sense. Breathing is like a lullaby for the amygdala - but only when it’s practised lots during calm.♥️
When it’s time to do brave, we can’t always be beside them, and we don’t need to be. What we can do is see them and help them feel us holding on, even in absence, while we also believe in their brave.♥️

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