Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Relationships are not easy whether it’s with a romantic partner, parent, child, friend or co-worker. Sometimes we get into bad habits with certain people in the same way as with food, activities, substances and even thought patterns.
We can fall into unhealthy relationship dynamics anywhere we interact with other people. This could be at work, home or in your community. We can avoid some people, but with others like partners or family members, it’s trickier.
And although you have your part to play, let’s face it, there are some people in your life you would be better off without.
What is a Toxic Person?
A toxic person is someone unable to respect you as an individual and repeatedly violates your boundaries through their actions and words. This causes you to feel negative emotions when you interact with this person. Over time this can even inhibit your growth and affect your health. Actions that have a negative impact include undermining you through belittling comments, encouraging unhealthy behaviour (like drinking too much alcohol when you’re trying to cut down) or trying to manipulate you for their advantage.
Toxic people focus on the negative in every situation, or worse when something good happens to you they find it impossible to share in your joy. The accumulative effect wears you down causing emotional and even physical damage over time.
All relationships take work, but a relationship that takes up an excessive amount of time and energy is unhealthy. Everybody goes through periods of being down and it’s important to help a friend in need, but when you are in a toxic relationship often the other person demands more than you are willing to give, causing you to feel as if your boundaries are constantly being violated and your resources drained.
So Why Do People Stay?
There are many reasons for staying in a toxic relationship. Humans are social creatures and we need relationships for survival and it’s not so easy to walk away from a spouse, family member or close friend. Attachment runs deep.
Also, our brain likes the familiar, and if dysfunction is the norm then you will be used to it. For example, if growing up you experienced unhealthy patterns of relating with parents or caregivers you may feel uneasy in a healthy relationship built on trust and mutual respect as this may be unfamiliar.
Unhealthy dynamics can be hard to change, but if you experience dysfunction in any relationship – at home, in your community or at work – it is possible to find freedom from dysfunctional patterns of relating and, if needed, eliminate toxic people from your life.
Of course, everyone experiences unhealthy relationship behaviours at one time or another. We all act out, say stupid things or are insensitive to the ones we love at one time or another. However, in a toxic relationship, the person refuses to take responsibility and may even blame you.
The difference in healthy relationships is that you are able to self-reflect, recognize your bad behaviour, and focus on the repair. That is your responsibility.
Find Freedom from Toxic Relationships
If you feel dragged down into dysfunction there is a solution. Sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away, but only you can decide if that is right for you.
8 Steps to Removing Toxic People from your Life.
1 Identify the Problem
If you don’t like how someone treats you and you feel as if their behaviour is unacceptable you have to be honest about it. Recognizing there is a problem is the first step. If they are in the wrong, they must be held accountable but before you start attributing blame you have to focus on what’s going on objectively.
What have they said or done that hurt you? What do you want in the relationship that you don’t feel you’re getting? How does it make you feel? Getting specific will help you decide how to handle the problem.
2 State your Needs
Speaking up for yourself can be hard – especially if you are not used to it. It was probably what allowed the dysfunction to flourish in the first place.
Now you know what you want, and what you don’t want, you can relay this information to the other person. This won’t be easy and they will probably take it defensively. That is useful information too. If they can’t accept that you feel hurt, then they are a long way from taking responsibility for having caused any of it.
3 Be Firm
Assertiveness is all about expressing your needs in a way that comes from you. “I want,” “I need.” It’s not about blaming them, (“You should do this…, be this…”) it’s a statement of fact. For example, “I don’t like it when I feel belittled.” And you can state what you want to happen: “I want you to stop telling me I am stupid.” Then you can give them a consequence: “If you continue doing it, I don’t want to spend time with you anymore.”
4 Expect Resistance
Unfortunately, your assertiveness might not go down well after you put up with their nonsense for so long. Expect resistance in the form of angry outbursts or sulking. No matter how much they try to manipulate, cajole, or plead do not back down. In the early days of standing up to toxicity, you have to stick to simple facts. The fact is – you don’t like their behaviour and you are not going to tolerate it.
5 Take Care of yourself – Not Them
No matter how much you love someone or how much they say they need you, it is not your job to look after a fully grown adult with capacity.
In a healthy relationship, people look after each other in a mutual exchange of give-and-take. When this balance becomes upset, co-dependence sets in as a deceptive simulation of love. Don’t be fooled!
6 Don’t Give Toxic People your Emotions
When you set a healthy boundary with a dysfunctional person, they might try to attack you by projecting their dysfunction onto you. This could be through personal attacks, put-downs or even defamatory remarks about you to other people. They want you to retaliate with anger, indignant rage, or tears because, like a toddler, they don’t care what kind of attention they get. So take the high road and don’t give them that satisfaction.
7 Move on for Good – or Establish Clear Limits.
Once you have identified that a relationship is unhealthy for you, you may decide to eliminate this person from your life. Only you can decide whether or not that is right. Some people, including family and co-workers, might have to continue being a part of your life to some degree. You have to decide how to manage this.
If it’s a relative you are obligated to spend time with, establish for how long you are willing to be in their presence. For example, it might be hard to cut ties with a parent or sibling, but you can set limits on the duration and how frequent those visits might be.
8 Surround Yourself with Positive People
Seek out healthy people to create healthy relationships. This can be tough when you are not sure what one looks like yet or you struggle to attract positive people who will help you grow.
But keep looking. And keep working on your personal growth because this is what will help you attract people who will uplift you instead of putting you down. And the more you concentrate on what you want, the more unhelpful toxic dynamics of the past will fade away.
Bonus tip: Always Put Yourself First – No Matter How Great Your Relationship.
One of the reasons people let toxicity seep into their lives is because they don’t act from a strong centred sense of self. They put the other first because they learned that being selfish is wrong. But putting yourself first, no matter what benefits others by helping you build stronger relationships based on mutual respect.
When you interact with another you are still a separate person, but toxic people will act as if that is not the case and will trample all over your boundaries. They will feel entitled to treat you as they want - if you let them.
Some people mistakenly believe that they have the right to infringe upon your boundaries, especially if they love you. But healthy individuals respect the limits people put on them, irrespective of how close the relationship.
Open Your Heart Without Losing Your Sense of Self.
As you build yourself up through self-help, therapy or practices such as yoga and crystal healing, you may find that the toxic people fade away and healthy people are attracted to you. This takes time and is a process so don’t worry if you are not there now and some people still try to take advantage or manipulate you.
Start with the practical steps below:
Identify what is no longer acceptable,
Voice this to the person who hurt you,
State and maintain your boundaries.
This is a practice you can do at any time with anyone whenever you need to. It’s worth learning.
Focus on taking care of you and your needs and any dependants who need you. In the words of Jordan Peterson: “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” Link
If not, who will?
Certainly not the toxic person. All they care about is siphoning off your energy and your emotions because it’s easier to get gratification from that than it is to do the hard work.
When someone you care about is harmful it seems like an impossible act to remove them from your life. But it can be the most loving thing to do for both of you because allowing them to hurt you is not helping them either. Break the cycle of toxicity today and take steps to eliminate toxic relationships from your life.