How To Deal With The Toxic People You Can’t Cut Out Of Your Life

In a perfect world, you can tell that toxic person in your life to GTFO, but this isn’t always possible. What if the toxic person is your boss, colleague, or family member? What then? Here are some strategies to help you deal without losing it.

  1. Stop being a target. What’s making you such an appealing target for the toxic person? Maybe you lose your temper fast, which makes them enjoy pushing your buttons. Maybe you battle to say no, so they take advantage of you. Think about what you’re doing that makes you a target and try to change it so that it’s harder for them to get to you or hurt you.
  2. Draw up some drama lines. Sometimes there’s a good reason why you choose to keep toxic people in your life. For instance, when it comes to friends. At times, your toxic BFF is wonderful and you enjoy spending time with her, but then there are the dramatic times where you just can’t deal with her. You don’t have to cut her off completely. Just have some boundaries. Decide when you’ll spend time with her and when you’ll pull back a bit to look out for yourself.
  3. Let it out. You need a support system that you can turn to when the toxic person in your life is making you crazy. When you moan about your toxic boss to your friends, you unleash your negative emotions and de-stress, while hopefully also getting some fresh perspective on the situation, which can be really helpful.
  4. Don’t let them in. Sometimes toxic people can be really charming, like your sister who seems so nice sometimes that you end up confiding in her about your life – only to regret it later. Letting in a toxic person is the worst thing you can do. They always find a way to turn your words against you. In severe cases, this could include the colleague in whom you confide about the latest gossip and then she uses it to make you look bad or wreck your reputation.
  5. Stick up for yourself. You might set boundaries with the toxic person and then feel guilty. Don’t! Understand that it’s important for you to look after yourself and do what’s healthy for you. Besides, toxic people are pros at making you the bad guy. SMH.
  6. Try to laugh about it. It’s not always easy, but try to see how ludicrous, ridiculous, and crazy the toxic person is. Laugh hard at them – it’s good to lower your stress. (Just do it when they’re not around.) Research from Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that causes strong negative feelings actually causes people’s brains to react with heavy stress. Toxic people are bad for your brain – it’s not worth destroying your sanity over them, so lighten the load with a good laugh.
  7. Stop trying to change them. If you want to increase the amount of stress you feel around the toxic person, continue trying to change them. Ugh, you’ll never be able to do that. Even if you work super hard at work to try to get your toxic boss’s approval or you become the most amazing friend to your toxic mate, it’ll never make them into the person you want them to be. You’ll have better luck hitting your head against a wall.
  8. Rise above their poison. Toxic people can make you feel strong emotions, like anger and frustration. But don’t play them at their own game or engage with them during heated moments – that’s just giving them what they want. Instead, detach emotionally – it’ll take some practice but you’ll be glad you did it – so that they can’t reach you from where you are high in the clouds of bliss… Hahaha. Let your mind wander while they go off on a rant. Think of a funny movie scene or amazing experience you had earlier. Nod and pretend to listen, without answering back. Remember, if you can’t change them, change how you react to them.
  9. Pretend you’re studying them. Professor Robert Sutton, author of the book “The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt”, says that one of the strategies to use with toxic people is to pretend you’re studying them, as though they’re rare specimen. This helps you to observe the toxic person, which makes you take an objective view of them and makes them less hurtful on a personal level.
  10. Imagine them as actual poison.  You really want to quit your job because your toxic boss or colleague is making your life a nightmare, but you can’t. So what do you do? Create as much distance, whether physically or emotionally, that you can. As Sutton explains in an interview with Greater Good Magazine, “If you can’t escape the situation, treat the jerk as a toxic substance that you avoid as much as possible. Research shows if you’re more than 100 feet away from somebody, they might as well be in another country.”
  11. Take a time out. When it comes to friends and other loved ones, sometimes a great way to get some relief from their behavior, and hopefully send the toxic person a message, is to take a time out. Stop talking to them and do your own thing for a while. This also helps you to put a toxic friend in her place without cutting out the entire friendship. And who knows? Maybe she’ll ask you if everything’s okay, which provides a good opportunity to talk about how she makes you feel once you’re calmer. It might even be enough to make her realize she can’t treat you badly again in future.
Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.