How To Deal With Toxic People

January 18, 2018

I’m not a huge fan of labeling people, but chances are, if you’ve lived long enough, you’ve encountered a person who could be considered toxic to you…someone you know is simply not good for you.  For one reason or another, this person may have hurt you or harmed you in some way, and, whether it […]

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I’m not a huge fan of labeling people, but chances are, if you’ve lived long enough, you’ve encountered a person who could be considered toxic to you…someone you know is simply not good for you.  For one reason or another, this person may have hurt you or harmed you in some way, and, whether it happened once, or has happened repeatedly, you feel no desire to be around them as a result.  Your inner monologue regarding this person may have been the same from day one:  this person is not someone that is good for me to be around, or it may have shifted over time:  this person isn’t who I thought they were and now I recognize that it’s not good for me to be around them.  Regardless, there is a myth out there that I would like to dispel:  you do not have to associate with anyone whom you know is not good for you.  I repeat:  You do not have to maintain relationships with toxic people.  
Contrary to popular opinion, setting boundaries and doing what is best for you does not make you a “bad person,” a “bad friend,” or “mean.”  In fact, going with your gut, trusting your instincts, and doing the difficult but beautiful work of determining how you will allow people to treat you is the epitome of health.  It is the epitome of self care and wellness.  And it is the epitome of love…because telling the truth and setting boundaries is always a loving act.  And only when we are willing to do this difficult but beautiful work will we be able to reap the benefits of maintaining healthy, thriving relationships. 

How to Know When To Set A Boundary Or Walk Away

Please don’t misunderstand me:  I’m a huge proponent of believing the best of people and finding compassion for difficult people.   But there is a big difference between trying to love someone when they let their not-so-awesome side show (as we all do every now and again), and becoming a doormat.  So what is the difference?  How do you know when to keep showing up, keep trying to love and forgive and find a way to make things better…and how do you know when to walk away, to set firm boundaries, to enter into self-preservation mode?
Mostly this:  a pattern. 
If a person wrongs you once, ok.  We are all guilty of that.  Nobody’s perfect.  If a person wrongs you twice…yeah…it happens.  Stay in a relationship long enough and it’s bound to keep happening, right?  Of course it is.  What about three wrongs?  Well, that’s up to you.  
To be honest, there isn’t a “magic number” of times someone can hurt you before you know it’s time to set some strong boundaries and/or walk away.  You have to listen to you, not me or anyone else.  But perhaps I can be of assistance as you consider these things.  The following is a list of what I (and most clinicians) would consider to be “toxic” personality traits, a list of warning signs, if you will.  
Constantly requires more of you than you are willing or able to give 

Takes advantage of you or manipulates you (or others)

Consistently invalidates your feelings

Never apologizes even when you make them aware they have hurt you

Is conceited, thinks they can do no wrong, has a very high view of themselves and a low view of others (and perhaps you)

Loves you one minute, can’t stand you the next or makes you feel like “you never know what you’re going to get” in terms of their mood
Is always so full of drama that you can’t even

Disrespects boundaries you or others have set in the past
Is violent, rageful, or abusive emotionally, physically, or sexually (note:  if this happens ONE time, please get help immediately, do NOT wait, tell a trusted friend or family member and/or report to the appropriate authorities.)

I hope this list can shed a little light on the difficult topic of toxic people, my friends.  And if any of this sounds familiar to you, let me just say:  you do not have to take it anymore.  

How To Disengage 

The difficult thing for most people, when dealing with these toxic relationships is that they aren’t easy to get out of, especially if you work with them, are related to them, or in general cannot avoid seeing them.  The easier thing to do in these cases is just keep the waters smooth.  As a recovering people pleaser, I know a thing or two about this.  But what I’ve come to find (and I hope you will, too) is that life is so much better, so much more free when you can find a way to disengage from people who repeatedly treat you terribly.  And also:  life is too short to be constantly engaged in drama and chaos.  Life can be chaotic enough without surrounding ourselves with unhealthy or unstable people.  
Once you have recognized a toxic person in your life and you have decided to do something about it, you are ready to disengage.  You can do that in a number of ways, and it’s important to assess each individual situation to determine how best to go about this.  You may choose to confront the person (gently, speaking the truth in love) and tell them what you’ve been thinking and feeling.  That is a very brave and awesome thing to do.  However, you should know that a toxic person will probably not receive this well.  They will likely give you excuses, deny or place the blame on you or someone else.  Toxic people do not take responsibility for their actions.  They just don’t.  
If you decide not to have this conversation (or maybe you’ve had it before and it didn’t go so well), that’s fine too.  In that case, you’ll want to start setting those boundaries.  It’s often helpful to make a list of what behaviors they have repeatedly done that have made you come to the conclusion they are toxic to you.  You don’t need to share this list with anyone, but simply use it to process through what was harmful and unhealthy about their interactions with you in the past.  Then, do some journaling or talk to a trusted friend or therapist about what you will do to prevent these things from happening again in the future.  You can’t control them, but you can definitely control you.  Will you avoid them altogether?  Will you change the places you are willing to hang out with them in the future?  Think of ways you can change your behavior so that this person is less of a problem for you going forward.  

Remain Cautiously Optimistic

I want to end on a more positive note, with another truth I have come to believe from years of working as a therapist and being a human.  People always, always, always have the power to change.  Even the most toxic person you know is toxic for a reason (they are likely hurting deeply within themselves), and if they awaken to the ways they hurt you, they can always make the choice to start taking responsibility for their past actions and make better choices going forward.  Remember that actions speak louder than words…so receive their words, but then look for their actions to change.  When someone has repeatedly hurt you, it is crucial to take what they say with a grain of salt, and instead examine what they do.  
I hope this can strengthen and encourage some of you today.  I know relationships aren’t always easy and I’m here to help if you need a little extra guidance or support.  Lots of love to you all today!

*** If you love this post, there’s a good chance you’ll love my book 31 Days to Managing Your Moods.  You can check it out here! ***

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