How to deal with Toxic People

“Toxic relationships not only make us unhappy; they corrupt our attitudes and dispositions in ways that undermine healthier relationships and prevent us from realizing how much better things can be.” — Michael Josephson

What is a toxic relationship? It’s one that diminishes you, that erodes you, that defeats you.

We all experience conflicts, disagreements and difficulties in our interactions with others. That’s a normal part of relationships, and one of the things that helps us to grow, learn patience, acceptance and better communication skills.

Sometimes relationships cause us to feel bad because we have hurt someone, or let them down. Sometimes we just can’t see eye-to-eye on something. That’s normal too.

What’s not normal or healthy are the sort of relationships that are poisonous to you – the ones that inevitably leave you feeling upset, angry, unloved, despairing, stressed or drained. The ones that leave you doubting yourself, giving up on your dreams, feeling stupid and unworthy and changing or limiting yourself because of someone else.That’s a toxic relationship.

How do you recognise a toxic person? A good yardstick is to simply use your own feelings. But here are some personalities you may recognise:

  • Look at ME, Look at ME, Look at ME. These people are self-absorbed.  They thrive on drama and being the centre of attention. They have an ability to turn everything back to being about them. You could be telling them your husband has just been diagnosed with cancer and they’ll say, “Oh my God, how terrible. You know, I knew a woman once who was diagnosed with…” and suddenly your important sharing is lost as this person plays one-upmanship, offering no true compassion or empathy. Sometimes they suck you in with pleas of needing help, but you’ll find that they are never really interested in taking action on their problems.
  • Manipulators.  These people are usually narcissists.  They are skilled at using a combination of flattery or friendliness followed by anger, judgement and put-downs if they don’t get their own way.  They see themselves as better than/superior to you.  They are Masters of emotional blackmail. They disempower you with insidious put-downs (often in front of others), insults, belittling, shaming and embarrassing. They may threaten certain consequences or behaviours if you don’t conform to a certain way of behaving yourself. At the extreme end of the scale they may suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and you may get trapped thinking it’s your problem, and that there’s something wrong with YOU, when actually it’s them with the issues.
  • Criticisers and Comparers. These people assure you that they love you, and then they try and ‘fix’ you.  You are never good enough, and they always know how you should be doing it. They have a fixed idea of who you should be and how you should behave and it will make you feel devalued and misunderstood. No matter how you try to explain yourself they can’t accept your position or choices in life. They may be know-it-alls or bullies.
  • Perpetual Downers.  These people suck the joy out of life. They are often angry at the world and down on everything. They believe that the world is against them and they have a victim mentality.  They can’t keep their promises, and life never works for them, but it is never their fault because there is always something or someone else to blame.
  • Crazy Makers.  Crazy Makers are unstable. They may be emotionally immature,  suffer from mood swings, behavioural issues, undiagnosed or uncontrolled mental illness, or substance abuse. You can’t rely on them because from day to day you don’t know how they will react or behave.
  • If it suits me.  You’re their second best. If there’s a better option, you’re always dumped. They are in this for what you can give them. There is no respect. They are insincere. You want the relationship more than they do, and they know it, and take advantage of it.
  • Abusers.  Whether it’s physical, emotional or intellectual abuse, abuse is abuse, and no-one deserves that. Get help, or get out. Or both!

In almost every situation, the best thing to do with a toxic person is to remove them from your life, or to remove yourself from theirs. It’s not your job to save them, or fix them. And you sure can’t change them – that’s something they have to want for themselves, and do for themselves.  It’s your job to look after YOU. In the workplace, report bullying, and get support.  Here are some posts that can help you work out if moving on might be an option for you:

Using Your Internal Compass to Navigate Life

Writing Your Way Out of Stuckness

Knowing When to Walk Away

People Will Be Who They Are

Are You Too Nice?

Listen with your Eyes

But what if they are family? What if this is a situation where you can’t just unplug and walk away?

The truth is, sometimes even with family, we need to cut those ties. It might be for a short time, it might be for good. A skilled counsellor will be able to help you get clear about your options. In the end, this is YOUR life, and you deserve every chance at success and happiness.

If you need to stay, here are some strategies to help you cope better:

  1. Stop needing them to be something that they are not. One of the most important reasons that we feel unfulfilled in family relationships is because we needed the other person to be different. Accept them as they are, and come to grips with that. Grieve that loss if you need to, and then look for the guidance, love, acceptance and support you’re seeking elsewhere.  Once we let go of wanting our mother to be wise, or our father to be accepting of us, or our sister to share their emotions with us, or our brother to include us, we let go of being constantly disappointed. You can get to a place of grace with this, so that you can truly understand that this is just who they are, and sit without judgement on that. Acceptance is something we all want. You can love them without liking their behaviour.  Often by getting to this place of unconditional love, the dynamics of the relationship actually start to change.
  2. Limit your exposure.  Find reasons to stay a shorter time, to end the call sooner, to avoid one-on-one time.  Meet in public places if necessary.
  3. Put on your psychic raincoat. Visualise yourself surrounded by a shielding bubble of light before you connect with the other person.  Let it all wash over you – their words and behaviours. There’s no need to change them. There’s no need to engage. Just come from kindness and be polite. Listen a lot and talk little. Direct it all back to them so that they are the one talking. Maintain your privacy and create strong boundaries.
  4. Find a relationship counsellor.  Trained professionals can give us strategies for better handling conversations, confrontations and expectations. Instead of being ‘handled’ and manipulated by others, we can move back into a position of balance and empowerment.
  5. Bless them and release them.  This doesn’t mean walking away.  It means that mentally we bless them with love, and we let go of any and all expectations and responsibilities. They become like a stranger to us. We treat them with respect, and love, but not with intimacy and deeper connection.

Your life is YOURS to live. Life is too short to waste it being someone you’re not, doing things that don’t make you happy, and spending time with people who are posionous to your self-worth. By stepping away from unhealthy relationships we make room in our lives for new, better connections. We renew our hope, restore our freedom and open ourselves to fresh possibilities. Today I’m wishing you strength, real friendships, and true love.  Bless ♥ xx

55 thoughts on “How to deal with Toxic People

  1. Fab post… For me right now it’s the psychic raincoat…listening…remembering to breathe deeply…keep returning to my centre & heart. With gratitude, love & a big whole body smile. Hope you have a stella weekend with your Beloved’s…all of them…XXOO

  2. Nicole. This is some really good stuff. Over the past few years I’ve identified more than one toxic relationship that I had to walk away from. It’s not always easy, but it is always necessary for Self.

  3. The timing of this post was pinpointed exactly right for me. I have some toxic relatives visiting right now and was needing a way to shield myself from the situation. Psychic raincoat is the perfect exercise. Thank you for your timing. :)

  4. Perfect timing as usual, Nicole :) I have 2 toxic relationships in my life right now – one is a work colleague (look at ME, look at ME!!) and the other is my mother (look at ME, manipulator and criticiser/comparer). Your mechanisms for coping are exactly what I need to do. I need to accept them for who they are and just move on. I really struggle with that one when it comes to my mother. I do try to limit my exposure to her but she always finds ways/excuses to get to see me more frequently than I can handle.
    I have long held the belief that my life is MY LIFE, and if I’m happy then my family should be too. If not, then that’s something they will have to deal with.
    Blessings and light <3

  5. Very pragmatic and important advice for people! It’s interesting how many of us withstand the intolerable or endure the unbearable because it has become so entrenched or chronic that it almost seems normal! Thank you for shining a light on an area that is crucial!! Love how you tackle and approach all issues, even the challenging and threatening, in the most lovely and loving of ways……… Bless You!!!! :)))

  6. I just love this post….so very important for us all to read. We’ve all had toxic relationships but perhaps not the realization that it is possible for us to leave those relationships with grace. Thank you so much for pointing this out. Namaste.

  7. “Bless them and release them. This doesn’t mean walking away. It means that mentally we bless them with love, and we let go of any and all expectations and responsibilities. They become like a stranger to us. We treat them with respect, and love, but not with intimacy and deeper connection.” This works for me heaps. Especially today. Though I don’t need to treat them like strangers, just change my expectations and this frees me of certain obligations (their expectations) also.

  8. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE this post, Nicole as alwayz :) Tremendous help and I know these things already but it’s good to be reminded, and my biggest issue when reading about toxic relationships is the very thing you addressed: What about if it’s family?

    Enormously helpful and I feel more confident that I am on the right path and managing these relationships in the right way. It’s hard not to feel like a selfish bitch – but I need to take CARE OF ME and of course I’m not being selfish. I’m wearing that psychic raincoat and accepting it for what it is :)

    Hugs ♥

  9. The shocking thing about this post for me is to be faced with the fact that I was once (at least once, but probably far more often than I’m aware of!) a toxic person in a relationship. I was a criticiser in a relationship where I wanted to have it all on my terms, and somehow it just got out of hand and I stopped seeing that my demands were driving the person away. Amazingly, after walking away from me for some time, that person contacted me and we’re now good friends again. I am so aware of how I handle that relationship now, I feel I’ve been given a chance to learn from my mistakes and the whole thing stands out for me as a very interesting learning experience. I do regret my behaviour, but I don’t regret learning such a valuable lesson and having a friendship with someone that I don’t fully understand. I recognise some other people I’ve known in your descriptions of character types too and think those last five points are extremely helpful and positive. Thank you for this post Nicole.

  10. Wow!amazing post!I have been dealing with two toxic family members,they choose not to contact me no matter what i do.So i say”sending my love and blessings”and i move on.Their actions were upsetting as i am the innocent party and it will never be resolved.I never thought that there were any problems with them.Thank’s for the info!

  11. Superb! I went through this process years ago, but it was extremely difficult and in some cases painful….like amputating a leg for the good of the whole body! Releasing “friends” was hard enough, but it was the closer relationships which require enormous strength and self love to finally change or end. Blessing and releasing, as you say, is the way to go…but still difficult to say the least. But the end results are well worth the effort as I now continue to move forward in my own life’s journey. And to my great joy and surprise, one of these relationships actually has been renewed, with me coming from a whole new place, and it is now working beautifully, albeit quite differently than before. I truly believe that the blessing and releasing are what made this possible as well. Thanks again for your being here to remind us of where we’ve been, where we’ve progressed to, and how proud we should always be of our progress along the journey.
    with much love light and JOY always

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Jane. There is always the possibility of renewal once we change old and unhealthy patterns and behaviours, and it’s great for people to get a sense of that. Life constantly surprises and delights me. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Bless xx

  12. I think it is common that we turn anger inward towards ourselves, when we are in toxic relationships, instead of feeling the anger and use it to get out, say no, set boundaries and protect ourselves in healthy ways – we turn it in and start to doubt ourselves etc.
    I use it as a reminder – if and when I start to doubt myself, be hard on my self etc I stop to see if there is something I need to deal with………….. and there usually is :-)
    Toxic people project their feelings and we really need that psychic raincoat – that is such a great picture!

    Thank you for a great post Nicole!!

  13. This is absolutely brilliant! And so exceptionally well-written too! Do you mind if I re-shared this important post on my blog (sesapzai.wordpress.com)? I’d much appreciate it! Thank you so much for writing this, sweetie! L.O.V.E. :-)

  14. The family, as everyone in their posts have said, are harder to “cut off and release” however the psychic rain coat? Can do that! How perfect and truly the best advice….. Thank you Nicole :) >3

  15. You are AMAZING! I cannot find the words to thank you enough for this incredible and wise post. Suffice to say, I needed this. A comprehensive post with links to other info you’ve shared that I will be returning to again and again. I thank you very much! With grateful hugs, Gina

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  18. Such a coincidence to read this tonight Nicole. We’ve been discussing this over the past few days and working out how to handle a problem we are faced with. It’s difficult if you want to have a ‘relationship’ with a family member or friend but it drains the life out of you all the time. They can cause so much heartache with their ‘claim on the spotlight’ wherever you are and apparent inability to share any empathy with you at all.
    I often wondered if I was being ungenerous in how I felt about them, but I can see after reading this that I’m not.
    Thank you – I’ll shelve my post about Toxic Relationships for quite a while – I think it would be superfluous.
    Really glad you seem to be getting over the herx again. Tough times when you were feeling so well.
    Blessings and much healing to you.
    Susan x

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