Stop! You’re Killing Me! –How to Deal with Toxic People

It’s a New Year. People are thinking about getting rid of bad habits and adopting new ones. But I wonder, has anyone made the resolution to get rid of the bad people that are in your life? You don’t have to say it, I know. You don’t have to raise your hand. But the truth is, some of the people in your life influence you in ways that are not conducive to your growth. Changing your life for the better may mean changing some of the people you spend time with, or changing the way you interact with them so they don’t harm you the way they do now, consciously or not. It’s all about establishing and enforcing boundaries. My goal is to give you the courage and the wisdom to identify, cope with, and phase toxic people from your lives.

Identifying Toxic People

We encounter difficult people in various situations of day-to-day life. People become toxic because of their own issues. Some of them are difficult to interact with because they are unhappy, jealous, insecure, have low self-esteem, or have been hurt deeply in their lives and just never coped with the repercussions of that hurt, so they lash out or take out their pain on others. Some toxic people feel entitled to gossip and talk about others so that they feel better about themselves, or,  they’re just lonely, and the only way they know how to try try to connect with another person is by talking about other people they may have in common.

Sometimes we find ourselves in toxic relationships that “sneak” up on us. We may have been healthy, but somehow we are drawn to, and become involved with, an unhealthy person. Maybe we just like helping people and we get carried away. Maybe we want to rescue that person. Maybe we fall in love with one or two good aspects of a person’s character, and downplay the rest. Maybe it’s a family member and we feel that we “owe” them, or that it’s our duty to put up with their behavior, no matter what.

OK, so what exact is a TOXIC person? Here are some characteristics:

  • Narcissitic, pessimistic, needy, inconsiderate, financially irresponsible, selfish, and abusive
  • Have a negative attitude most of the time. They are chronic complainers.
  • Always blame the things that are wrong with their lives, their work environments, their relationships on other people, not on them.
  • Do not assume responsibility for their actions, nor take the initiative to correct problems they have caused or contributed to.
  • Frequently ask you for favors, not caring whether it inconveniences you.
  • Feel a sense of entitlement “just because”… (I’m your cousin, I’m a female, etc.)
  • Drain your energy, leave you feeling depressed, angry and/or tired. You may have to spend a lot of time encouraging them, only to find them back in the same situation over and over again. They may not want help, they may just want to use your emotional energy and positivity. Beware.
  • Make you feel bad when you accomplish something positive in your life (or announce that you are beginning a project to accomplish a major goal).  Instead of rejoicing with you or supporting you, they belittle you or tell you that you can’t succeed.

Ridding Your Life of Toxic People

If you’re in a toxic friendship, let it die a natural death. Not all relationships are meant to last a lifetime. Set and stick to your boundaries. Don’t spend time with them, and limit your time talking to them. Become unavailable to them. If your friend confronts you, say that you are going in a new direction, and it does not include that person, in order to get to your goal.

If you’re in a toxic familial relationship, depending on how much interaction you have to have with the person, you could again limit the amount of time you spend talking with them. You could also try to get the person into therapy, which can uncover the underlying issues behind their negativity. If not, you need to train yourself to “tune out” (detach) when the negative behaviors start.

If you’re in a toxic romantic relationship, you have to put distance between you and that person. You need space to analyze and isolate the root of your problems. I recommend therapy for long-term relationships, and tangled relationships and messy ties. Avoid unhealthy dependency on any one person. If someone doesn’t respect clean lines, put distance between you and that person, and if responsibilities are not attended to, and amends are not made, you must cut them off, for your own sanity. You are no good to yourself or your kids with all that extra stress hanging over you.

At work, set your working terms (like setting your boundaries) and let colleagues know what isn’t acceptable. You don’t have to be the boss to do this.

We can limit our interactions with some, but not all of the toxic people in our lives. There are people in your life who you can let go of (optional or “recreational” relationships), and some toxic people who you may need to learn how to deal with (coworkers, and some family members).

Dealing with Toxic People

Do not absorb their negativity. Acknowledge their feelings or opinions, but say that you do not agree and leave it at that.

Do not “own” their feelings or take them on your own. To do so is the beginning of co-dependency. Be especially careful if you are hooked up to someone with mental issues, such as bipolar disorder. I was married to someone with bipolar disorder and I can tell you that you must stand your ground and keep your independent stance on any matter. Do not just go along to get along.

Do not be afraid to make them mad. Some people are like toddlers and don’t like the word No. But if you appease controlling people, you’re training them to react that way (attacking) to get what they want from you. You do not have to appease the toxic person and “rescue” them or do things for them that you don’t want to do, or can’t physically or financially handle. To do so is to enable them. Say No out of love for yourself, rather than Yes out of fear.

Taking Back Your Power

What are some ways we can decrease the impact of toxic relationships?

  1. Set and STICK to your boundaries.  A boundary is a healthy limit that you are comfortable with. Your boundaries never go against your beliefs or values. Decide what type of behavior you will and won’t tolerate from others, then stand up for yourself and make it known. I highly recommend the Boundaries book series by Dr. Henry Cloud.
  2. Limit the time you interact with the toxic person, whenever possible. Allow yourself to detach from him or her.
  3. Seek therapy if the toxic person is a close family member or a romantic partner.
  4. Change the way you react to their negative behavior—you can decide how to respond differently, or choose not to respond at all. This is a technique used by parents of young children who are prone to tantrums and other undesirable behaviors.
  5. Assert yourself and do loving things for yourself.
  6. Surround yourself with positive, constructive, supportive people who care about you as a person.

If you respect yourself, others will notice. But if you allow yourself to be your dumping ground for a toxic person, you will become polluted, and you put yourself in danger of becoming toxic!