How to identify and deal with toxic people

How to identify and deal with toxic people

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines a toxic person as someone “very unpleasant, especially in the way somebody likes to control and influence other people in a dishonest way”. Well, haven’t we all come across such a person at some point in our life? Whether this person belongs to the family, working environment, social network or romantic relationship, toxic people live among us, the same as ticks; sooner or later, one will stick on you to feed on your blood and energy, make you feel weak and drained. Once spotted, though, it can be successfully removed.

I think of myself and the encounters I have had with toxic people, mainly in my friendships and work across the years. My personality is such that I naturally could not get along with them for a long time, so no severe damage happened to me; nevertheless, toxic people do leave their footprints in your life. Hopefully, it is in the form of a lesson to be learned and never repeated.

Have you ever gotten involved with a person who is manipulative and constantly judgemental of you? Someone, that drama follows them everywhere and in whatever they do? Every day of their life entails a misfortune or curious incident, even in an ordinary visit to the pharmacy. Can you recall happening upon someone so needy that you cannot resist saying no to them but who vanishes whenever you ask for their help and support? Is somebody constantly exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviour? Then you probably have to do with a toxic person, should they fulfil all or most of the above criteria. 

Toxic people are not easily or quickly recognised. They trap you in their poisonous spiderweb and make it quite difficult for you to break free; they enslave you in their micro-world, where you think you belong but, deep inside, you feel that you should not be a part of. 

There are ways to identify a toxic behaviour, so you can step away from it:

  • You feel confused or unsure of yourself
  • You feel angry, frustrated, stressed or emotionally exhausted after an interaction with them
  • You feel the need to help them out and sort out their problems
  • You cannot resist their will by saying no
  • You feel bad about yourself and guilty
  • You develop psychosomatic symptoms

A toxic person draws satisfaction by undermining and bossing you around in a subtle way; therefore, it is hard to notice the toxic behaviour at first. Well, nobody wants this person in their life! They never apologise and admit their mistakes; instead, the toxic person makes you feel at fault, guilty of a misstep.

There are some things you could certainly do:

  • Set boundaries. It is not simple and effortless, but you should define clear lines between yourself and the toxic person. Sure enough, they will not like it, and the feeling of guilt might return, but you have to be definite and clear about the limits of your relationship with this person.
  • Quit trying to fix things for them and their drama life. Nothing will change no matter how hard you attempt to provide them with comfort and support. Accept that you cannot help everyone live a better life; some people need to help themselves first.
  • Minimise the time you spend with them. 
  • Stop inquiring into their life. Once you stop asking about them, they will gradually lose interest in you and try their influence on someone more… curious. Apply the grey-rock method. This is a challenging step as people are naturally intrigued by misfortune narratives. Suzanne Oosterwitjk has contacted interesting research on morbid curiosity, which is worth checking out. 
  • Let go. Toxic people are essentially a form of clutter, and as with everything that litters our life, you can discard them the same way you would with this ugly poster in your guest room.

The eternal pursuit of balance between work and personal life is laborious and effortful. Nevertheless, it can be achieved by making well-thought decisions and keeping the right people beside us. Toxic people exist to teach us a lesson; we have the power to make better choices and appreciate the ones who support us to become a better version of ourselves, not the opposite. 

3 thoughts on “How to identify and deal with toxic people”

  1. Hi Katharina,

    Love yourself and make the right choices for you is the message these essays try to convey. People, situations and things are meaningful only because we assign meaning to them and if we feel self-confident and beautiful internally, then we can make the right to us choices and live with the weight they carry.

  2. Thank you so much for this article! I believe recognizing someone to be toxic is one of the hardest things to do… In your heart, you want to be there and it feels wrong to distance yourself from someone “who needs your help”. It goes against the empathetic nature that these people use for their benefits.
    I believe there also is a lesson to be learned in here to love yourself enough to make that cut. See yourself in a positive light and recognize that you don’t deserve someone like that. It is not ones tasks to fix other people’s life.. that’s their own responsibility. So basically, what I’m saying… love yourself enough to let go of everything that might influence you and your life negatively.

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