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Letting Go of Toxic People

Updated on May 19, 2016

It's Okay to Distance Yourself

On the one hand, I hate to call people "toxic." Everyone is a unique individual, and even the most difficult among us undoubtedly has a redeeming quality or two. We're supposed to always look for the best in others, and assume their motives are pure.

However, sometimes your mental and even your physical health dictates that you take a break from a certain person or situation. It might be temporary break or it might be permanent. In any event, spending less time with the source of your distress is the only sane option.

Some people are simply difficult to deal with. They drain us. We find that every time we see them we are exhausted and feel on edge. Although they may mean us no harm, being in their presence just doesn't feel right. So we might need to limit our time with them, or find a way to create firm boundaries that won't be breached.

Other people, however, may have a moral disorder known as "malignant narcissism." This is a condition in which people lack scruples and do not relate to others in honest, healthy manner. Manipulation, deceit and treachery are what we'll experience if we become involved. One you realize you can no longer trust a person, it makes no sense to keep them in your life.

Yes, we can forgive them and pray for them, but from a nice safe vantage point.


The Sociopath Next Door

Are People Becoming More Difficult?

This is a very hard question to answer, especially for me, as I have no formal training in psychology. But I do have first-hand experience with malignant narcissism because of a "friendship" I formed with another woman whom I had met at church. As strange as it sounds, disordered people go to church just like the rest of us. Religious settings are perfect for what's known as "covert narcissists" because they can appear very pious, which allows them to get away with a lot.

Although this was a very difficult experience, I did learn some lessons and I'm more than happy to share them, because so many others have had their lives turned inside out by a morally disordered person.

Sometimes narcissism is referred to as a "personality disorder." But I prefer the term "moral disorder" because these individuals freely and willing exercise bad behavior, and they know what they're doing is wrong, or else they wouldn't be so concerned with having their mask slip, and allowing others to see their dark side.

Some social scientists, such as Dr. Jean Twenge, PhD, believe we're seeing an upsurge in personality disorders such as narcissism. She lays this largely on our society and style of parenting, where we continually tell our children how special they are.

Dr. Martha Stout, PhD, author of The Sociopath Next Door, also believes sociopathy and other severe moral disorders are much more common than we'd like to imagine, as 1 out of every 25 people displays anti-social behavior.


Discerning a Toxic Situation

It's not always easy to tell when a situation is toxic, and this is complicated by the fact that it might have been alright, at one point, to spend a lot of time with a particular person. But, now, that's no longer the case. People move and grow in different directions, and, when this happens, it's alright to step back and to reassess.

Another reason it's difficult to discern if a relationship or a situation is healthy is because something that might be right for someone else is not a good companion for you.

Also, if you are dealing with a morally compromised person, this friendship is likely not operating on an honest level. There will be a big disconnect between what a person says and professes, and what he or she actually does. This makes it very confusing.

Now, as a middle-aged adult, I try to put much more stock in actions rather than in words. It's how someone lives that holds the key to their character.

People with malignant narcissism also play a number of mind games, such as gas lighting, where they purposely try to confuse you, and projection, in which they blame you for their faults.

Because everything is so foggy, it's hard to see clearly. You may wonder if you have the problem, instead of them. So, discerning a toxic situation isn't always easy.

How the Situation Makes You Feel

Perhaps the most accurate assessment of whether someone is "toxic" is how you feel after spending time with them. Are you angry, hurt, resentful or unsettled? Does this happen repeatedly? Do they insult you, mock you or put you down? Do they lash out at you? Do you start to doubt yourself after being in their company?

These are all red flags there's a serious problem in the relationship, and you shouldn't discount them. Your visceral reaction is something you can't ignore. If you feel deep down that something isn't right, but the other person keeps insisting it is, go with your gut. It usually doesn't mislead you.

From my own experience, I've found that this is the only way to really assess if it's wise to put some space between you and someone else. A slightly toxic situation may only call for a lot more breathing room.

Narcissists have shallow emotions.
Narcissists have shallow emotions. | Source

Building Better Boundaries

If someone doesn't have a malignant personality, but is simply draining or overly demanding or critical, firming up your boundaries is a good step. This prevents you from over-extending yourself,and it also sends the message that you have needs as well.

Strong boundaries, I've found, are the best way to deal with difficult people that you otherwise love. You certainly don't want them to cut them out of your life. But you do need to establish some clear rules.

Prepare for some resistance though. Your rules, even if they're entirely reasonable, make upset someone who doesn't want to follow them. That's okay, but your boundaries still need to be respected.

Some Symptoms of Morally Disordered Behavior

Charming on the surface
Entitled to the Max
Backbiting Behavior
Irrational Anger
Morally disordered people are masters of the first impression. However, this is just a facade. Eventually you'll see their true self.
Malignant narcissists expect special treatment. You'll be expected to give a lot, but don't expect anything in return.
One red flag is someone who constantly belittles others behind their back. They will do the same to you.
Reacting angrily to something that doesn't warrant this is a big clue you might be dealing a character disordered person.

Going No Contact

Morally deranged people can be dangerous, even if they do you no physical harm. That's because disordered personalities thrive on constant drama and conflict. Some are even sadistic, and experience pleasure if they can inflict pain. This includes sabotaging your other (healthier) relationships and/or your livelihood if given a chance.

Any information gleaned during conversations will be filed away and used to undermine you. It's impossible to trust someone with such a serious disorder because they have little regard for the truth. There is absolutely no upside to maintaining a friendship with a malignant narcissist.

If you've gotten close to someone who fits this description, chances are your life has become more chaotic than before. Under the circumstances, the best way to achieve a measure of peace is to go "no contact."

How to Spot a Toxic Person

Maintaining No Contact

Oftentimes, this is easier said than done. Narcissistic people are skilled manipulators and highly charming. They know just what makes it tick, and they'll try every trick in the book to pull us back into the relationship. That's because everything to them is a game and they desperately want to win.

They certainly don't want you to discard them. They'd prefer to end the relationship on their own terms. When they dump someone, it's typically done in the most tasteless, ruthless way imaginable. Once you've made made up your mind that no contact is the way to go, you'll need to resist their overtures.

Standing Your Ground

Chances are, you'll miss your narcissistic relationship because it occupied such a big part of your life. However, you are really much better off without the misery. You might fondly remember the good times. But, as the relationship progresses, they became fewer and fewer.

Resist the urge to ask mutual acquaintances how your former "friend" is doing. Delete any emails and don't respond to voice mail or text messaging.

The easiest way to move on from a toxic relationship is to do just that. Keep moving and don't look back.


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  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

    This is another very thought-provoking article. I am amazed at the statistic that one out of 25 people display anti-social behavior. That is quite a lot of people running around with a behavior problem. This is an excellent article and gives some common sense advice.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    The levels of narcissism do seem to be increasing, just as levels of empathy seem to be decreasing. Toxic is definitely the way to define these sad folks, and the best way to deal with them is like you would any toxin -- isolate the source from causing you harm. Voted up +++, shared, and pinning this excellent hub.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi suzette, the figures do seem high, but, unfortunately, I don't think they are.

    FlourishAnyway, thank you again.

  • tirelesstraveler profile image

    Judy Specht 3 years ago from California

    konow 2 people like this. If you know them from church you feel its your moral obligation to help them. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries are vital. Voted up and useful.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Marvelous. I think I used to be toxic. Not a narcissism issue as much as just big, brash and overbearing (though I was insecure) It is better now I think.

    Great stuff here and very well written.

  • Bk42author profile image

    Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

    Excellent read! I've had some learning experiences within the past couple of years on how sometimes you need to let some people go as their presence has too much of a negative impact on your life. And as you mentioned in your hub - and it's a phrase I now live by 100% - listen to your gut! Voted up!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi tirelesstraveler, Eric and Bk42author, thanks so much for reading and for your kind comments and support.

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

    Excellent article! Great insight and advice as to dealing with toxic people. Boundaries are a must. When it comes to a point after being in the presence of those with such disorders, and their negativity just drains you ... time to make a change for sure.

    Voted up and more

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Faith Reaper, thanks so much for reading. Good boundaries are at least half the battle.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    So glad I read this. I have friend whom I dread to hear from. Your article, including the video just explained my dilemma--a toxic friend. Thank you and voted up!

  • Writer Fox profile image

    Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

    Great insights! Sometimes, though, toxic people can't be avoided. In a work environment this is particularly true.

  • Nancy Owens profile image

    Nancy Owens 3 years ago from USA

    Very good advice here. Creating distance can be especially difficult when the toxic person is a family member or coworker. Thank you for sharing this wisdom.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi WriterFox, in a work environment you can only protect yourself by not sharing personal information. Thanks for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Nancy, it's almost impossible to avoid interaction when you're working with someone or when the toxic person is a family member. All you can do is set boundaries with a loved one. Thanks for reading.

  • swilliams profile image

    Emunah La Paz 3 years ago from Arizona

    Great article, presented in a different light pertaining to the issue of avoiding destructive people, I like the images as well. Voted up!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is a very useful hub containing good advice about recognizing and dealing with a toxic relationship. Sharing your experience and knowledge in this area should be very helpful for other people!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi MsDora, I'm so happy if this helped you recognize something about your friend. Although it's hard to distance yourself, sometimes that's the only way.

  • Hackslap profile image

    Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Great article...God knows I've had my share of dealing with toxic people or 'energy vampires' a friend of mine calls them.. I agree with the red flags you've pointed out here..another one I absolutely loathe is people who're blatant hypocrites - they see no shame and obscenity and following one set of rules for themselves and then preaching something completely the opposite to those around them...

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hackslap, I totally agree and when you see that it is a dead giveaway. Thanks so much for reading.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

    Informative and comprehensive hub here, jam packed with sound advice. Well done ologsinquito.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Jodah, thanks so much for reading.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    I like to be who i am not someone I am not. I have let go of toxic people along time ago. I don't want to feel pressured by their ignorant behavior and will not please any one. A very thoughtful hub.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks so much for reading DDE.

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

    Setting boundaries was something that helped me most. I have a family member that has done a number on me for years. I finally spoke up and so far, so good.

    This is such an excellent hub. Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and will share. ~ vocalcoach

  • sujaya venkatesh profile image

    sujaya venkatesh 3 years ago

    well said

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi vocalcoach, I'm sorry to hear about your experience, and it's good that you spoke up. I hope this helped the situation.Thanks so much for reading.

  • lisavanvorst profile image

    Lisa VanVorst 3 years ago from New Jersey

    Excellent article. I haven't been around people who are deliberately toxic, but I find myself surrounded by those who are just plain unhappy and miserable with the conditions in their life. Sometimes it is hard to escape these people because they can be your own family and relatives. What I do is to distance myself discreetly so to avoid the old saying "Misery Loves Company". We all go through tough times but we do not need to constantly complain about such to the point where those around you are feeling down and miserable too.

  • profile image

    Jo 2 years ago

    What a good article. I've just recently had to go no contact with my mother because of her narcissistic ways and the emotional abuse I have suffered by her hands for 28 years. I have also had to implement no contact with others in my 'family' as they are enablers, or more to the point, flying monkeys. I have made my stand, there is no turning back. That doesn't make it any easier trying to move forward now knowing what I've endured for so long. Nor does it make it any easier knowing that the woman who is my mother is a parent only because she happened to become pregnant, not because she knows how to give unconditional love, support and understanding. It is a long, hard road I walk now trying to reclaim some semblance of who I am.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Jo, sorry to hear of your struggles with your mom's condition. It's good that you realize she's not going to change. Many people have parents and other family members who don't give unconditional love. Maybe you can make peace in your heart by appreciating the fact she chose to give birth and chose life, and treasure the little bit of love she had for you then. It is a long, hard road dealing with narcissistic abuse, and I wish you the very best.

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    What you've said here is so important when dealing with toxic people. Whether they're family members or coworkers or people in authority such as doctors, lawyers and the like, it's so important to listen to our gut feelings and use limited association with those influences.

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