How to Deal With Toxic People

Three Parts:Recognizing Toxic People in Your LifeTalking to Toxic PeopleBehaving Toward Toxic People

Do you have a friend, family member, or romantic partner who is really difficult to get along with? Do you feel degraded or manipulated around them? If so, it's possible that you have toxic people in your life. Toxic people require a special kind of care to navigate, if you choose to continue to do so. There are techniques you can use to learn how to take care of yourself and deal with other people in a toxic relationship.

Part 1
Recognizing Toxic People in Your Life

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    Look for basic signs of a toxic person. Toxicity can show up in a lot of different ways.[1] You may have a toxic friend and not even realize it. Here are several ways that toxic behavior can manifest:
    • They create and are surrounded by interpersonal issues.
    • They try to manipulate and control you.
    • They are needy and make strong demands on your attention.
    • They are extremely critical of themselves and other people.
    • They are unwilling to seek help or try to change.
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    Watch for people who are constantly angry. A strong form of toxicity is constant anger. These people are irritable and will get upset at you for the smallest slight. You may feel like you are having to watch your back constantly in order to keep them from jumping on you. Recognize the traits of an angry person so you can learn to respond appropriately. Here are a few signs of an angry person:[2]
    • Shouting at people.
    • Threatening people.
    • Interrogating people with hostile questioning.
    • Regularly using strong, intense language.
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    Watch for cynics who get you down. Another form of toxicity that shows up is the cynical person.[3] Cynical people have a negative view of the world. This view infects everything in their life and they have a difficult time being positive. They are hard to be around because of the unending dark cloud overhead. Cynical people may:
    • Complain endlessly about their lives.
    • Never be satisfied with how you act toward them.
    • Fail to contribute anything positive to the relationship.
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    Assess how you feel around people. One useful way to determine if people are toxic is to pay attention to how you feel around them.[4] You can "check in" at certain points while you are around people. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Am I feeling drained right now? Does it seem like the person is draining my emotions?
    • Am I walking on eggshells? Am I afraid to say the wrong thing because they might react negatively?
    • Am I ignoring my own voice? Is the person making it hard for me to listen to myself and follow my own values?
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    Get a second opinion. You may be too close to the toxic people to know if they are really toxic or not. They could just be going through a rough patch. Try asking a different friend or someone with good judgment if they think the person is toxic. This will help you zero in on the toxic people in your life.
    • Your own judgment is a good source of information, but sometimes when we get too close to a situation it can be hard to have an unbiased opinion.

Part 2
Talking to Toxic People

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    Express yourself effectively.[5] Since tension is bound to occur in friendships and relationships, it is crucial that you can express your feelings clearly. When you are owning and examining your feelings, you have the opportunity to handle this tension smoothly. And, speaking expressively will open space for other people to express how they feel, and work through these different feelings together.
    • Start by listening. Make sure to acknowledge what the person is saying before you counter with your own views.
    • Use "I" statements. A simple way to avoid being too confrontational is to tell people what you're experiencing rather than what they're doing wrong. For example, you can say "When you're late to our coffee dates, I feel like you don't value my time" rather than "You're always late and it's really rude."
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    Tell them how you expect to be treated. As strange as it sounds, sometimes people don't know what's acceptable behavior. Acceptable behavior to one person can be unacceptable to another. In order for people to know what you are willing to put up with, be upfront and make it clear.
    • For example, if being late to coffee dates is your pet peeve, let them know. They might have no clue what effect their behavior has on you.
    • If the person is really toxic, this strategy may not work, but it's good practice for setting boundaries regardless.
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    Speak firmly and assertively. This ties into effective arguing, but speaking assertively is something you can do all the time, whether you're arguing or not. Being an assertive speaker will help improve your communication and relationships.
    • Try to figure out where you could use some improvement. Maybe you're easily intimidated and people tend to step all over you, especially if they have a toxic personality. Identify the problem area as a first step.
    • Reflect on tactics for specific situations. Maybe your toxic friend asks you for money and you have a hard time saying no. What can you do in these situations? Could you rehearse a simple script for the next time they ask? For example, you could say "I care about you, but I'm not able to give you any more money."
    • Practice responding assertively in your life. You can use techniques like the "broken record," where you simply repeat yourself if they argue about what you've said. Start small if this is difficult for you, such as saying no (when appropriate) to family members or non-toxic friends.
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    Protect yourself from harm. Be aware of what goes on inside your relationships with toxic people. For example, avoid taking everything they say at face value if you've noticed a tendency for them to be harsh and critical toward you. Protect yourself in these relationships, if you choose to continue them, by developing awareness of what they're saying to you, how they're behaving toward you, and how it's making you feel.
    • For example, if they make a claim about you, such as "you're never there for me," analyze the claim. Is it true? Can you think of examples that prove it wrong? Toxic people often exaggerate and make all-or-nothing claims.[6] Practice thinking critically about what they say to you.
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    Apologize if it's appropriate. Even if someone is toxic, that doesn't mean you'll always be right and they'll always be wrong. Own any mistakes you make and apologize when you feel it's appropriate.[7] Even if they don't accept your apology or rarely apologize themselves, at least you will know you've done your best to be a good friend or partner.
    • You might even make a positive impression on them. This is called modeling, or showing people healthier ways to behave than what they've traditionally done.[8]

Part 3
Behaving Toward Toxic People

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    Set and maintain boundaries.[9] Boundaries are important in general, but they become especially important when you're dealing with toxic people. Toxic people often take advantage of people with poorly defined boundaries and low self-assertiveness. Here are some steps to help you maintain better boundaries:
    • Tune into and act on your feelings. Avoid getting swept up in the emotional turmoil of toxic people. Pay attention to what you feel and need.
    • Give yourself permission to be firm. Many people feel guilty if they have to establish a firm boundary. However, taking care of yourself is also important. Avoid neglecting yourself in favor of others. Learn that saying no doesn't make you a bad person.
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    Listen to your gut.[10] It's easy for some people to make excuses for a toxic person. You may know deep down that the person is bad for you or is taking advantage of you. Avoid rationalizing these gut instincts or explaining their behavior away. Let your instincts have the final word, because they probably know more about what's going on and what you need than you realize.
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    Ask for help. Learn to know when enough is enough and you need help.[11] Contact a close friend or family member you trust to be there for you. If you want to maintain relationships with toxic people, be sure to make use of your support network. Keep self-care a priority. Giving too much of yourself is not the best way to be there for other people.
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    Take responsibility for what you're doing. Try to make a sober assessment of the kind of relationship you're in and the effect it's having on you.[12] Many people who continue being friends with toxic people have a "people pleaser" personality, where they want to be liked and want to feel like they're supporting others. There's nothing wrong with being supportive, but be aware of what's going on so that you can have a realistic picture of the situation. If the situation is hurting you, that's something you should know about. If it's enabling the other person and preventing them from change, that's something else you should know. Ask yourself these questions to get a sense of whether or not you're being indiscriminately supportive:
    • Am I usually the one keeping up communication?
    • Do I often take on the role of "peace keeper", cleaning up tense and difficult situations?
    • Does it sometimes feel like I am following around this person, handling responsibilities or working behind the scenes to avoid anger or confrontation?
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    Walk away. At the end of the day, you may need to end your relationship with the person if it's toxic. Cutting people out of your life can be a painful exercise, but in the case of toxic people, short-term pain can be healthier than long-term pain.[13] Keeping toxic people in your life can mess with your self-esteem, your finances, your emotional balance, and your other relationships. If the toll is too high, it may be time to plan your exit.


  • Respond to hostility with compassion. This is good modeling behavior and will also help you feel positively about yourself.


  • Avoid playing their games. If you feel yourself being pulled in, take a step back and assess your involvement in the situation.

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Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions | Social Nuisances