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10 Healthy Ways to Cope With Toxic People

Updated on August 9, 2019
Madeleine Clays profile image

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. I have learned to cope with toxic people in healthy and productive ways.

Who Are Toxic People?

The word toxic means poisonous. Toxic people are people that are harmful to be around because of their negative impact on you. They will manipulate, control, or otherwise hurt you, and may at times appear to be oblivious to the damage they cause you and others.

Behaviors They May Engage in Include:

  • verbal, physical or emotional abuse
  • fits of rage
  • very controlling or manipulative actions
  • lying or spreading rumors about you
  • being overly critical—making you feel like you’re never good enough
  • being highly negative—having a glass half-empty rather than a glass half-full mentality
  • narcissism—not seeming to realize or care about how much they hurt you or others by their selfish actions

For your own well-being, learn how to respond effectively to toxic people.
For your own well-being, learn how to respond effectively to toxic people. | Source

Harmful People in Our Lives

Growing up, I spent a number of years living with abusive people, at the hands of whom I experienced deep trauma.

I did not have the capacity at the time to cope with my situation in a healthy manner, and often blamed myself for what had happened.

It took me a very long time to learn that I could take steps to minimize the impact these harmful people had on me. This was very empowering for me and I honestly don't believe I would be who I am today had I not learned this.

Toxic people are all around us. We often can’t avoid seeing them or interacting with them on some level. They are in our office and in our families. They can make our lives very unpleasant if we allow them to.

We sometimes feel that we are at their mercy. But we aren’t. We can learn strategies to cope with them in ways that are healthy and productive.

Healthy Ways to Cope With Toxic People

1. Don't Justify Their Behavior

Stop making excuses for their behavior, such as “She had a difficult childhood” or “He has a mental illness.” Recognize that, regardless of the cause, their behavior is wrong. You need to acknowledge this.

For example, my stepmother was abusive to me, both verbally and physically. For years, I told myself that she acted this way out of jealousy of my dad’s love for me, and I felt sorry for her. I also knew that she grew up with an alcoholic father, and I felt badly for her about this, too.

However, her jealousy and difficult childhood did not justify her actions. I needed to acknowledge that although her behavior had an explanation, it did not have an excuse. There was no justification for the way she treated me. It was wrong, period.

Toxic relationships are dangerous to your health; they will literally kill you. Stress shortens your lifespan. Even a broken heart can kill you. There is an undeniable mind-body connection.

— Bryant McGill, Human Potential Thought Leader and Best-Selling Author

2. Recognize the Damage They Are Causing You

This is really important. We live in a culture that tells us to have thick skin, be the bigger person, or “keep calm and eat a cupcake.”

While this advice may have its place and time, it’s okay to acknowledge that you experience stress and other physical symptoms by being around a difficult person.

More than likely, these symptoms are a red flag that you need to create healthy boundaries with this person or sever ties altogether.

Don't ignore or feel guilty about the anxiety, stress, or emotional roller coaster you experience when you're with a toxic person. You are important, and your feelings are important.

3. Stop Blaming Yourself for Their Toxic Behavior

It's not uncommon for victims of abuse to believe that, in some way, they are responsible for their abuser’s behavior.

For example, children sometimes believe they are to blame for their parents’ constant fights. A wife may feel she should have been able to prevent her husband’s alcohol addiction.

You may feel that you deserve the ongoing taunts you get at family gatherings, because, unlike everyone else in your family, you are very quiet and usually don’t have much to contribute to the conversations.

It is never okay to hurt others by our words or actions. As adults, we are each responsible for the choices we make, which includes the way we treat others.

Stop blaming yourself for others' hurtful behavior.

Is there a toxic person you have to interact with every day?

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4. Stop Trying to Fix Them

It is not your job to psychoanalyze or to try to fix a toxic person. Moreover, you probably won’t succeed, so stop trying.

I confess this has been my greatest challenge when dealing with abusive people in my family. I have spent hours thinking about what could have led them to become the way they are, and what I could do to help them heal and change their actions.

However, my attempts to help them have usually resulted in frustration as I realized my efforts didn't seem to make a difference in their behavior.

I have learned that the only thing I can control is the way I respond to them .

If you haven't forgiven someone, it does not hurt that person. They're sleeping at night. You're holding onto that, and all the damage is being done to you internally.

— Tyler Perry, Author, Actor, Producer, Director

5. Stop Thinking About Them

When you dwell on toxic people and their behavior, you give them power over you.

When a friend of mine realized how much I still held on to deep hurts from my past caused by my stepmother and my father, she advised me to not give my abusers any more mental real estate.

It took me a while to understand what my friend's words meant. She was telling me to not allow these harmful people to occupy my mind. She was advising me to move on and not think about people who had already taken away so much of my life.

Probably the main way I have been able to release my abusers from my thoughts is by forgiving them for the pain they caused me. This has been a process for me. Sometimes I still remember what they did to me and I become angry. I then remind myself that I choose forgiveness over resentfulness.

Forgiveness does not mean that you okay the actions of your offenders, but rather that you relinquish your right to retaliate or to hold a grudge against them.

When you free yourself from the negative thoughts related to toxic people in your life, you make room for pleasant thoughts to take their place.

6. Consider Talking to Them About Their Behavior

Let them know how their behavior affects you.

Perhaps they were genuinely unaware of how their actions were impacting you. They may even apologize and thank you for being honest with them.

You will know their apology is sincere when they change their behavior on a consistent basis.

Unfortunately, some people may not respond as well when you approach them with your concerns. They may not be interested in listening to you and may refuse to acknowledge that they're doing anything wrong.

Or they may relish knowing they are getting to you, and they may step up their game by trying to make your life more miserable.

Think before you decide if you want to have this conversation with them.

7. Don't Expect Them to Change

If you keep expecting different behavior from them, you will only be frustrated.

Accept them as they are.

This doesn’t mean that you condone their actions or that you don't believe they can make a turnaround at some point in the future. It certainly doesn't mean you think they are beyond help.

It only means that you realize they are who they are.

Recognize that they may never change, particularly if they've been operating in this dysfunctional manner for a long time.

Creating healthy boundaries with toxic people is a significant way to minimize their negative impact on you.
Creating healthy boundaries with toxic people is a significant way to minimize their negative impact on you. | Source

8. Create Healthy Boundaries

Don’t give them anything to chew on. Don’t share personal information with them, thereby giving them an opportunity to criticize you or gossip about you.

They may gossip about you anyway, but it’s less hurtful if what they say about you is completely false rather than half-true. If it’s completely false, at least you can sort of laugh about it. After all, eventually people will probably find out it’s a total lie.

If it’s half-true, you’re likely to be upset because you’ll realize you should have never shared personal information with them to begin with.

Minimize interactions with them. Learn to do this in a natural manner, so it doesn't appear as if you’re deliberately trying to avoid them.

For example, if you have a difficult coworker you dread having to interact with, don’t arrive early to office meetings. Arrive right on time or just a minute early so that you don’t have to be in the same room with this coworker longer than necessary.

For family gatherings, try to sit away from a toxic person if you can. If you must be near them, limit the conversation to superficial topics or try to focus on their lives rather than yours.

If necessary, cut ties with them. In some cases, it may be best to cut ties with a toxic person so that you can heal from past wounds this person has caused in you, and so that you can ensure they do not continue to hurt you. This may mean separating yourself from them temporarily or permanently.

The book Boundaries, by Henry Cloud, was very instrumental in helping me recognize that it was okay and even necessary for me to pull away from people I loved in order to heal from past hurts they had caused me. This book also helped me understand that creating boundaries with others is a healthy strategy rather than a selfish one. Grasping this was very liberating for me and gave me peace and confidence to do what I needed to do.

9. Be Kind to Them

It has been said that kindness can melt the coldest heart. I like to believe this is true.

However, sometimes people will continue to treat you in a painful manner regardless of how you treat them. In some cases, their behavior towards you may become worse when you are kind to them.

But it doesn't hurt to try. You never know the difference your kindness may make in their lives.

Sometimes God is the only One who can change a toxic person's behavior. Don't underestimate the power of prayer.
Sometimes God is the only One who can change a toxic person's behavior. Don't underestimate the power of prayer. | Source

10. Pray for Them

If you are a person of faith, perhaps you have already experienced changes in your relationships when you have prayed about them.

Only God can heal deep wounds in people which often lead them to adopt toxic behaviors.

We can never know what people are going through or what they have experienced in their past.

Pray for the difficult person in your life. Ask God to bring healing to him or her.

Responding, Not Reacting, to a Narcissist

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Madeleine Clays


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