Although you may consider them problematic or annoying, you cannot go around labeling people you do not get along with as toxic.
Referring to someone as being toxic, no matter how valid the label, is not a term grounded in psychology; hence it does not have an exact definition. A person’s level of toxicity is not determined by how annoying or problematic they are, but rather by the kinds of behaviors they exhibit.
Some common traits of toxic people are:
- unnecessarily judgemental
- eschews responsibility for their feelings
- inconsistent behavior
- never apologizes
- and unsupportive, uncaring, and disinterested in things that interest you
Though someone you dislike might present some of these traits, that does not make them necessarily toxic. However, if someone you know possesses these traits, and their presence is taking a toll on your mental health, you might want to consider the following tips.
- Establish boundaries
If you commonly are roped into being part of a toxic person’s drama, consider setting limits or distancing yourself when it is necessary. Toxic people do not understand boundaries. Not because they are ignorant about the concept, but because they refuse to take responsibility for their feelings, actions, and consequences of both. So, your overbearing aunt or nosy neighbor, though irksome, is technically not toxic (though I’m don’t know them personally and am not certified to make a classification).
To have good emotional and mental health around a toxic person, you need boundaries. They are paramount, especially if they are family members. Some polite ways of asserting your boundaries are by limiting your time with that person or making yourself unavailable, but, eventually, boundaries are what will save you. Boundaries are not to warn off a toxic person since they will ignore them anyway. Boundaries are there for you. They serve to protect you and to remind you what you consider acceptable and what you do not. For example, you can be indifferent to your co-worker’s elaborate stories but draw the line at gossiping and verbal abuse.
- Take back emotional control.
Though you have set physical boundaries, with a toxic person, you need to establish emotional boundaries as well. Their behavior can be melodramatic and over the top reaction, but be indifferent. Usually, toxic people use these antics to get to engage. They want you to react. It empowers them in some way. But, no matter what that person does, remain calm. Though it is tough to take attacks from someone, do not take anything they say personally. Do not complain about them to someone else during your spare time either because, in doing so, you are giving them power over your emotional well-being.
If you are ever dragged into one of their moments, focus on your breath, and repeat reassuring words to yourself. Or have an exit strategy in place.
- Have healthy coping mechanisms.
Though emotional and physical boundaries are helpful, toxic people can still drain your energy. Creating and practicing healthy coping mechanisms can restore your energy while also building up your self-worth. Some healthy coping mechanisms are practicing gratitude, self-care, meditating, or taking care of your health. These habits help you stay mentally and emotionally strong.
- Recognize and ignore insults
Saying an unkind word about or to someone happens. You get angry and sometimes say things you do not necessarily mean. However, toxic people constantly leech venom. They often do not notice that they do.
If you have been around a toxic person long enough, you have noticed that they often gossip and insult people. They may resort to backhanded compliments or other forms of emotional and verbal abuse. If you happen to be their target at the moment, though it may be difficult, do not stoop to their level. Generally, it makes you feel worse off in the end.
Instead, recognize how that person is trying to make you feel. Ask yourself whether what kind of attacks do they usually resort to and come up with positive statements that counterattack what they may say (but keep them to yourself). You may never have control over the dialogue when you are talking to a toxic person, but you can control how you choose to react.
- Don’t try to fix them.
It may be tempting to want to fix a toxic person, especially if you have a meaningful relationship with them. However, remember that you are not responsible for someone else’s behaviors, emotions, or actions. Do not get manipulated into thinking that somehow what is happening to you is your fault or responsibility. It is not.
I am not saying that the person in question cannot change. They can, maybe one day. But, it is not your job to fix them. The only thing that you have control over is you. You can change. In changing yourself, you can change the narrative of your relationship with that person. You can learn how to control your emotions so that their comments do not affect you as much, or you can learn to be firm in your boundaries. Either way, do not expect the other person to change and do not push them to do so because it will sap you of your energy.
- If possible, talk to them about their behavior.
This point may not interest you, and I understand. However, if the toxic person is someone close to you, such as a family member or co-worker, try talking to them about their behavior. When you speak with them, do not make accusatory statements. Remain neutral. Instead, tell them how their behavior is making you feel.
For example, I value trust in a friendship/relationship, so I cannot continue this friendship/relationship if you lie to me again.
If they show no remorse or willingness to change, perhaps it may be time to walk away.
You will encounter toxic people in your life. It’s almost inevitable. Toxic people can erode your self-esteem and self-worth while eventually dragging you down to their level. Do not beat yourself up about it because it will happen. However, you can choose to break the toxic cycle by disengaging and choosing yourself. Stay true to your values, even if that means cutting that person off from your life.
Let us know in the comments below any tips you have to deal with toxic people.
BrainyDose. “15 Ways Intelligent People Deal With Difficult and Toxic People.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Oct. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXelMZzViPI.
Brito, Janet. “How to Deal With Toxic People.” Healthline, 20 Nov. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-toxic-people#talk-to-them.
Meyerowitz, Anya. “7 Warning Signs a Person Is Toxic.” Red Online, Red Online, 15 May 2020, www.redonline.co.uk/health-self/self/a28577908/signs-a-person-is-toxic/.
Morin, Amy. “7 Better Ways to Deal with Toxic People.” Psychology Today, 3 Dec. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201812/7-better-ways-deal-toxic-people.