How to deal with toxic people

The healthiest thing to do is to remove yourself from toxic relationships, but what if the toxic person in your life is a colleague or even a relative?

How to deal with toxic people

The healthiest thing to do is to remove yourself from toxic relationships, but what if the toxic person in your life is a colleague or even a relative?
  • Most of us have at least one or two toxic people in our lives. They're the ones who have us bending over backwards to please them. They may use passive-aggressive tactics. Sometimes they make unreasonable demands just to test us.

  • If toxicity is coming from someone you just met, you can just back away slowly and breathe a sigh of relief. But sometimes the toxic person is a family member, a colleague or someone who is constantly in your life due to circumstances you can't control.

  • Not everyone you dislike is a toxic person. In her book, Toxic People: 10 Ways of Dealing With People Who Make Your Life Miserable, author Lillian Glass includes a 78 question quiz to help you work out if your relationship with a particular person is poisonous. While this quiz is helpful, you can trust your gut when deciding whether a person (or your relationship with them) is harmful: You come away from every encounter feeling worse than you did before. You find it exhausting just being around them.

  • Suspect you're dealing with a toxic person? Here are a few ways to make it just a little easier.

  • Recognize that it's not about you

  • It's human nature to take things personally, but it is helpful to realize a lot of what you deal with is simply not about you. Often when someone is being rude, critical or judgmental, it's all about them. If it happens once, they may be having a bad day. If it happens consistently, you could be dealing with a toxic person. Their attitude is more about their character than anything you've said or done.

  • Accept what you can and can't control

  • If this person is your sister-in-law you may have to see her for Thanksgiving, but you don't have to spend every holiday with her. If she's a member of your church you might have to see her on Sunday, but it's fine to politely decline when she invites you to a mid-week meet-up. Distance yourself from the people who sap your energy.

  • Cultivate extreme self-confidence

  • Toxic people will put you down, judge you and criticize you. Depending on their style, they may do it all with a smile on their face and with words that seem as harmless as kitten kisses. But they chip away at you, slowly, surely and destructively. It's easier said than done, but developing self-confidence helps us deal with toxic people.

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  • If someone is critical about a specific lifestyle choice, develop extreme self-confidence around that choice. When I was dealing with judgmental opinions about my decision to homeschool my children, I simply became the most well-informed, well-supported homeschool mom on the block.

  • Prepare for the more trying encounters

  • Toxic people often repeat themselves, which gives you a chance to prepare and rehearse. To take the example above, the first time a toxic person in my life remarked that all the homeschooled children she knew were weird, it hurt, even though I was pretty sure she didn't know any. The next time she said it, my reply was ready: 'Oh, who do you know? I'm friends with all the home school families around here now.' There's something oddly satisfying about watching a toxic person ramble about some random (and clearly fictitious) family she met in a grocery store once, who had a weird homeschooled kid. When dealing with toxic people, it's good to rehearse a few responses to their common comebacks.

  • You can also prepare by simply having an exit strategy. When you know you have to spend time with toxic people, always have another appointment you have to get to or a nap time to work around.

  • Practice assertiveness

  • Reacting to aggression with aggression leads to friction, if not an outright fight. Being too passive may encourage a bully. It's not easy, but practicing assertiveness is generally the best option. If you can respond with a calm, but firm, assertive answer in most situations, you'll feel you're at least somewhat in control.

  • Be incredibly nice

  • Most toxic people are looking for drama. Don't give it to them. Try being ridiculously nice to the toxic people you're forced to spend time with. Smile. Greet them warmly. Compliment them. It may throw them off guard. You might even find they feel obliged to be nice back. If they continue to be unpleasant, they'll look particularly bad, perhaps even in their own eyes. Give it a try.

Karen Banes is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, lifestyle and entrepreneurship. Contact her at her website or via Twitter where she tweets as @karenbanes.


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