In this post, I would like to address the topic of toxic people and how to deal with them. Toxic people wear us out and drain us of energy, they are frequently called “energy vampires”, they can anger and enrage us, they often times constantly criticize or put us down, they cross our personal boundaries and mainly make us feel worse as opposed to better. Toxic people at their core are extremely negative and unhappy people. You know the saying, “misery loves company”? Well, with those who are toxic to us, that is precisely their underlying and hidden motive.
What Defines a “Toxic” Person? What are their Character Traits?
- Toxic people are typically chronically negative people. They are often the naysayers in life, are chronic complainers or whiners, they play the victim constantly, everything is always everyone else’s fault, they are never to blame, and their lives are often full of highly dysfunctional/broken relationships and/or constant drama.
- They can be envious and jealous of other people. They don’t want to see others doing better in life or to feel better than them. They are commonly deeply and inwardly insecure about themselves, their own abilities and accomplishments and therefore, feel inferior other people.
- They typically are the takers in a relationship as opposed to the givers. A relationship with a toxic person is often one-sided and imbalanced, weighing in their direction. They typically talk mainly about themselves, rarely asking or truly caring about how you are or what is going on in your life.
- They frequently ignore, disrespect and disregard your feelings.
- They also can exhibit an inflated ego and will flaunt their accomplishments or show off.
What distinguishes a toxic person from an unpleasant or negative person is that a toxic person frequently disrespects and crosses your personal boundaries, they manipulate and try to control others and they are always right.
Another distinction is that when confronted on their behavior or when they’ve hurt your feelings, toxic people do not take any personal responsibility for their actions and often will turn it around onto you, rage on you, accuse you of wrongdoing, twist facts, rewrite history, flat out lie and manipulate you. They may even give you the silent treatment or cold shoulder when confronted, making you feel like the person in the wrong.
A toxic person can be a family member, a close friend, an acquaintance, a boyfriend/girlfriend, co-worker, boss or marriage partner. They exist everywhere. These kinds of people can infect our lives with sheer poison, and can impact our own ability to be happy.
Do you ever feel this way around certain people in your life? Is there anyone in your life now that makes you feel much worse rather than better and is doing more harm than good in your life?
A relationship with a toxic person is highly destructive to our own well-being and happiness and can take over our lives. If you can relate to this feeling, read on to find out what you can do about it.
My Own Story with a Toxic Person
Before I do so, I will share a personal story. I have dealt with numerous toxic people in my life of all shapes and sizes including friends, acquaintances, boyfriends, co-workers and bosses, but one in particular stands out to me. She is/was a classic narcissist and could be clinically diagnosed as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Narcissists are the most toxic personality type there is, and are virtually impossible to treat in therapy because they are never wrong and have zero insight into themselves. Dealing with a narcissist in any kind of relationship is beyond maddening. This personality type is extremely toxic to one’s own well being, mental stability and happiness.
This particular woman I had been friends with for seven years. I put up with her self-absorption, her self-centered ways, her constant chatter about herself, her controlling manners, her egotism and constant criticism of me and how I handled different situations in my life. Well, one day I woke up and realized how completely unhappy I was in this friendship and how very little I was getting out of it. I had complained endlessly to my boyfriend about her, yet endured it all and remained in the friendship for years. I gave, and I gave and I gave of myself, with very little in return. And most times when time I visited her, I returned home feeling drained, unfulfilled, bitter and resentful.
It took me seven years to finally wake up and realize how unhappy I was in this severely one-sided, toxic friendship. When I was feeling particularly low one evening and went to her house, but returned feeling far worse, it hit me. I had had enough. In that moment, a light bulb flashed, and I realized that I had not gotten out of that visit what I had wanted, which was to feel better, not worse. I asked myself, what am I doing?? Why am I doing this to myself?? I severed the friendship shortly after that visit, and I have not looked back or questioned it once since then. In fact, I have been much happier since exiting from that relationship.
The reason why I share this personal story is because I know that all too often we put up with unacceptable treatment and toxic behaviors or one-sided friendships perhaps mainly out of fear. I know that I was afraid to walk away from this friendship since I have only just a few close friends to share activities with in my immediate environment. However, when we realize that someone is doing us far more harm than good, it is time to take action and resolve the problem.
So back to how do we deal with toxic people?
Set Personal Boundaries and Limits
When the toxic person is a close family member or someone from whom we may not easily be able to walk away, we have a couple options:
1. The first option is to communicate our personal boundaries indirectly and walk away. We can simply and politely excuse ourselves, leave the room and exit from the conversation. That is setting a limit and indirectly communicating that you will not engage with that person on that topic any further.
2. We can also and alternatively directly state, that is not acceptable treatment towards me, I do not accept what you are saying to me right now, or that hurts me, and I am going to exit from this conversation and then walk away. That is also setting a personal boundary. If the person presses you to continue to engage in the conversation, be firm and tell them you are not willing to talk until they can be respectful, remove yourself from the room and end it there. Do not let them take control; take control of the situation yourself.
Also, do not engage in an argument or confrontation. That will only cause the person to retaliate and it will make things much worse for you. Simply set the limit and walk away. Setting boundaries is a way to show our self-respect and to preserve our self-esteem and good feelings about ourselves. It is drawing a line between what is OK and what is not OK. We do not have to accept poor treatment, nor should we.
Remove the Toxic Person From Your Life
Another option is to remove yourself and sever the friendship or relationship entirely. Easier said than done, I know, but sometimes, this is the only option left, especially if you have tried everything else including trying to talk to the person, reason with the person and trying to get them to change their behavior or treatment of you.
This is especially true when it comes to a friend, a lover or a spouse. With a friend, it is easier, but with a childhood or long-term friend it is harder. There is history involved, commitment and loyalty to the friendship and memories shared. However, there comes a time when you have to ask yourself the question, is this relationship doing more harm to me than good? And be honest with yourself when answering that question. Look at the history and the patterns of behavior over time.
With a lover, there is less of a commitment involved than with a marriage, and it can be a little easier to sever ties, depending on the level of involvement and length of time together. But you should ask yourself the same question I posed above, again, being 100% honest with yourself.
Within a marriage, especially a long-term marriage where kids, homes and finances are involved, it can be much, much harder. In this case, I recommend trying couples and individual therapy first. Sometimes, therapy can turn around a toxic relationship or a toxic relationship dynamic, if and only if the person is truly willing to listen to and respect your feedback and make substantial changes. When kids, homes or finances are involved, it is worth the effort to at least try. If after couples therapy nothing changes, then it is time to look reality square in the face, make a change yourself and leave the marriage. You will be much happier and healthier mentally in the long run, trust me, and it is well worth the price of dealing with a divorce.
And sometimes, we may even have to sever a relationship with an extremely toxic family member. Sometimes this is the only recourse when everything else has been tried, and when the toxicity of that relationship is ruining your life. And when I say ruining your life, I mean literally. What I mean is when the toxic person is severely impacting your own mental health, financial stability, your livelihood or career and job stability, your marriage, your friendships, or any other important aspect of your life that is going down the tubes because of that person. It is time to sever the relationship. It is hard when it comes to family members, but sometimes there is just no other recourse.
How to Deal with Toxic People in the Workplace
Now when the toxic person is a co-worker or a boss, the situation is much trickier because our jobs and livelihoods can be at stake. However, you do have the option of speaking with the individual directly about their mistreatment of you. With this type of person it may not work, but try to remain calm and professional while doing so. You can also approach a Human Resources representative who will provide support, suggestions or a mediation meeting between yourself and the person who is mistreating and disrespecting you. For additional reading, check out my post, How to Manage a Hostile Work Environment and Be Happy.
In sum, your well-being, mental stability and ability to be free from people who drag you down as opposed to lift you up is very important and vital to your happiness. Over recent years, I have deliberately and purposely been taking steps to recognize and immediately avoid and remove all toxic people from my own life, which is a large factor that has contributed to my overall happiness today.
For more information on identifying and dealing with toxic people, here is a great resource: How to Cut Toxic People From Your Life.
Here’s to limiting and removing toxicity from your life and to your happiness!