Toxic people are dangerous. From causing extreme stress to slowing your progress, they can be a massive drain on your time and happiness.
They’re also hard on your body, with studies showing that people with more toxic relationships had a greater risk of heart disease.
Whether you’re dealing with a manipulative boss, a spiteful friend, or a pessimistic cousin, toxic people can show up in everyone’s life. They may be lashing out in resistance to change, or they’re feeling insecure and threatened by your achievements.
The reasons behind their behavior are less important than the damage they cause — which may be far more pervasive than you think.
Why It’s Important to Cut Toxic People Out of Your Life
I found myself caught in a toxic disaster last year. A spiral of vindictive behavior and sabotage attempts on my personal development were telltale signs that these relationships had turned toxic — and it took a toll on my well-being.
Chances are, toxic people have caused a strain in your life too. A toxic relationship may have caused you to doubt yourself or defend your choices. They make you feel angry, resentful, uncomfortable, miserable, and even ashamed of yourself.
You may feel emotionally exhausted after spending time with them, or worse, you may come to find that you dislike the person you become when you are with them.
Toxicity is contagious and wormlike, with a disturbing way of spreading into others. If you’re under the influence of a toxic person, you may begin to take on some of the same toxic traits — something that can happen to anyone.
It’s a natural defense mechanism, and was one of the first evolutionary adaptations. Howard Bloom, author of The Lucifer Principle, describes how cyanobacteria evolved to increase in toxicity so it could survive. We can see the same pattern in humans on a larger scale, often without us even realizing.
Have you ever felt angry and annoyed by the behavior of a toxic boss and taken it out on your colleagues? This bad atmosphere infects the team, making everyone irritable, which then causes them to go home with a prickly attitude that spreads to their friends and family.
It’s often unconscious, yet that’s what makes it so poisonous, and that’s why it’s crucial that we remove the toxic people from our lives.
The Signs of a Toxic Relationship
The idea of removing ‘toxic people’ from your life has become a trending theme — ‘toxic’ was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2018 — but what actually is a toxic person? How do you know if you’re dealing with one, and what can you do about it?
It’s important to clarify that although a person’s behavior may be toxic to you, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re overall a bad person.
No relationship is perfect all the time, and you’ll likely encounter plenty of demanding, difficult, and undesirable people in your life. Everyone goes through hard times where negativity and gloom may get the best of them, but that doesn’t mean we need to cut them out of our life.
Our tolerance for toxicity is dependent on the person, and only you can decide when someone needs to be completely removed from your life, or when you may just need some distance. Family tends to get more chances than friends or colleagues, but every relationship is different and everyone walks a different line.
There’s also a scale of toxicity. On one end, there’s your colleague who bails you up at the coffee machine to complain about their day, while on the extreme end, there’s your partner who threatens to hurt themselves if you go out with your friends instead of staying home with them. Your colleague is annoying (but avoidable). Your partner is abusive and consuming.
This type of toxicity drains your energy and poisons your life, making your ability to identify harmful people and learn how to manage them absolutely vital to your well-being.
Seven Telltale Signs of a Toxic Person
1. They disrespect your boundaries.
Toxic people don’t know when to quit. It doesn’t matter if you’ve told them to stop behaving in a certain way — a toxic person will continue to disregard your boundaries. While well-adjusted people have no problem with respecting boundaries, a toxic person thrives on walking all over you.
2. They’re manipulative and controlling.
A manipulative person can be difficult to detect. They may be outright selfish and coercive, or they’ll use subtle methods like gaslighting to make you doubt yourself. For toxic people, or someone who is insecure in themselves, it’s all about taking control over you.
3. They lie.
There’s a difference between the occasional exaggeration, and blatant pathological liars. Toxic people are consistently dishonest, even about small things. Whether they’re lying to mask their low self-esteem, or they’re using it as a manipulative tool, a repeated pattern of deceit is a sure sign of toxicity.
4. They always have to be right.
There’s no use arguing with a toxic person — they’re always going to be right (even when they’re not). They’ll blame other people and tell lies before admitting to being wrong and they’ll never apologize. And while they’ll never own up to their mistakes, they’re more than happy to berate and broadcast yours.
5. They’re always the victim.
Bad things happen to everyone, but a toxic person always seems to be the victim of the world. They love to blame others for their problems, and they’re incapable of taking any personal responsibility for their actions or emotions. They thrive on sympathy and attention, and would rather mope around than work to solve their problems.
6. They’re judgmental.
Toxic people love to criticize and gossip and they rarely have a nice thing to say about anyone. They feed on other people’s flaws to boost their own self-esteem or mask their jealousy.
Whether they make scathing comments about your appearance or personality to your face, or behind your back, this can take a toll on your well-being. Even if their constant criticism is aimed at others, this kind of behavior is hurtful and saps your positive energy.
7. They’re all take and no give.
A toxic relationship is never equal, and you’ll find yourself giving away large amounts of your time, attention, and material possessions, with nothing in return. Toxic people are self-absorbed and have little empathy or consideration for your needs. They’ll happily dominate the conversation and expect you to do favors for them at the drop of a hat, but they’re never there to support you.
If any of these sound familiar, you may be dealing with a toxic relationship. As toxicity is often covert or unconscious, it can take years before you recognize a pattern of harmful behavior.
Once we can identify the signs and symptoms, we can begin to remove a toxic relationship from our life.
How to Cut a Toxic Person Out of Your Life
Removing a toxic person from your life isn’t easy. It can be difficult to break ties with a partner or family member, and there’s always a strong possibility that they’ll become abusive or resistant to your attempts to leave. This only reinforces why it’s critical to cut these people out of your realm of influence.
Here’s how to do it in a healthy way.
Consider distance rather than complete removal.
First, you’ll need to assess your relationship on a scale of toxicity. Some negative relationships, such as friends and colleagues, can be improved simply by creating space. When you see or talk to them less often, you’ll remove yourself from their dynamic and stop fanning the flames.
A toxic relationship with a family member can be a little more difficult to manage. They have an almost instinctive way of pushing our buttons, and they’re usually very entangled in our lives.
It’s important to remember that you don’t owe anything to your family simply because you’re blood-related — they don’t get a free pass to bring toxicity into your life — however distancing can be helpful in a sticky family situation.
You may have to engage with a toxic family member when necessary — for example, during the holidays or when sharing custody of a child — but you can always choose to distance your emotional involvement and refuse to get caught up in their pattern of toxicity.
Accept that it may take time.
If a toxic person has a history of disrespecting your boundaries, they likely won’t accept your boundaries now. You may have to be firm and persistent in telling them to stay away. Cutting all ties can often be a process, and you can always start by distancing yourself from the relationship.
Don’t give them a huge explanation.
It’s okay to tell them how you feel, but you don’t owe them a long-winded explanation, and it’s not a negotiation. How much you tell them is up to you, and every relationship is different, but it’s best to keep it simple. Tell them calmly you don’t want them to be part of your life anymore, and don’t get caught up in a debate.
If they do try to argue or make a scene, firmly restate your boundaries, then end the interaction. Make a commitment to avoid an argument and don’t fall into the toxic trap of having to negotiate for the person to leave you alone.
Choose your method of communication.
If you’d like to tell them in person, make sure you meet them in a public place. Toxic people can become hostile and violent, and the public atmosphere can reduce the chances of this happening. If things turn sour, you can always walk away.
If you’d prefer not to see them in person, consider writing a letter. It can be a cathartic experience to write down your thoughts and feelings, and the toxic person will get the message without the opportunity for any argument.
Block them on social media.
Some toxic relationships require preventing all forms of contact. Social media is an easy way to bully or intimidate someone, and you don’t want to give them any opportunity to remain in your life. Stick to your boundaries and block all lines of communication, if necessary.
This also sends a message to yourself. You’re recognizing your value and reclaiming all the time and energy you’ve been expending on someone else. You’re prioritizing your sense of self-worth over their dysfunction.
Your power lies in your boundaries.
Once you’ve drawn the line, you’ve taken back control. And you’ll only continue to find it easier to banish toxicity from your life.
[Featured photo by Ashley Jurius]