How to Break the Power of Toxic People in Your Life

Is Your Life Plagued by Toxic People?

Curled into a fetal position, sucking your thumb as you watch The Devil Wears Prada.  “This is so my life!”  you think in despair.

Or does your life sometimes feel like a weird Twilight Zone episode featuring the Mean Girls?

Toxic People–We all know the type: Nasty. Passive aggressive. Confrontational. Physically aggressive.

No matter how they present in your life, chances are you would like to find a way to kick them to the curb (or if not, at least to minimize the impact they have on you).

You may have heard the maxim that “hurting people, hurt people.”  Let’s start there. In order to ameliorate the influence that toxic people have in your life, you have to begin to separate the behavior from your judgment of the person–as difficult as it may be.

If you want to change the impact of toxic people on your life, you’re going to have to do the work to heal the things their dysfunction brings up for you.  So let’s take a look at how this works in a practical way.

Toxic People Behave Sickly

Judging someone negatively because they are unhealthy, hurting or scared doesn’t serve you.  Sick people act sick. This is especially important to recognize if you are in close relationship with the person (such as family or close friend).

Venting your frustration at their behavior patterns by continuously judging them negatively will support your ego’s need to feel “better than” but it won’t serve your healing or your desire to grow.

Releasing the expectations you hold for the person behaving badly in your life won’t be easy because you truly want them to be different than they are.  Trying to change another person through manipulation or coercion is a fool’s errand. If you will understand this truth, it will save you a world of hurt.

1. It’s not personal! 
They are sick (or fearful, or hurt, etc), so they are behaving as a sick person would.  It doesn’t give them an excuse to victimize you; however, it does give you the freedom to release your expectations of them.  That’s big, if you can absorb it.  Sit with that one for a bit, if you need to.

2. You do not have to take anything personally.
You have the power to liberate your soul from the burden (and pain) of taking the disappointment of those unmet expectations personally.

There are no toxic people, only toxic behavior.  
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Stick with me here and I’ll show you how this is true.

Your negative judgment of another person is an indictment of yourself–always.

Because we cannot fully love and accept ourselves, we judge others (tweet it). We want to judge each other because we have criticized and condemned ourselves so harshly, first.

When the ego needs to prove its worthiness, then everything and everyone must be judged.  (How else would it know its worth?) The need to judge someone else evaporates when there is no need to set myself up as “better than…”

No separation exists between us. If you loath a quality or characteristic in another person, you must have first recognized it in yourself.  Otherwise, you would  not be triggered emotionally by another person’s actions.

The ego seeks to project the dysfunction outwards onto someone else (i.e., “he/she is toxic”).  It is easier than facing the truth.

What is the truth?

When you are whole and healthy, the pathology–or bad behavior patterns–of another stimulates compassion in you, not judgement.

When you feel judgement rising within you, it is a sure sign that your own pathology has awakened. There is pain or an unhealed wound within me which surfaces, stimulated by someone’s unhealthy behavior.

The Inadvertent Gift of the Toxic Person

Preparing for the expected Police Raid at Occupy L.A.I am not saying that you are responsible or to blame for the bad behavior of those around you. You are only responsible for your reaction to it.

Think about the last time you saw a child throwing a fit in the store.  You probably shook your head or rolled your eyes. Maybe you just walked away.  You noticed it, but it didn’t trigger a response within you.

Why?  Because it wasn’t your child!

It is the same in your life. Someone else’s tantrum (bad or unhealthy behavior) won’t cause an emotional reaction within you when it’s not your “child”.

When you recognize that you are emotionally triggered, use the opportunity to lean into awareness. This isn’t a bad thing!  It’s a gift. Embrace it.  Stop and observe.  What do you feel in your body?

The feeling of emotional charge that urges you to react is a signal that there is some fear, pain or wound within you that remains unhealed.  When you recognize it, you can choose to heal it. This is the gift that the toxic behavior of those in your life brings to you.

Release the need to judge–even your own feelings.  You are not your feelings.  You are the one observing them.  Allow them to flow in and through you.

So the first step to alleviating the pain of toxic behavior in your life is to begin to separate the judgement of behavior from the person. Next, it is to recognize that the judgement of someone else always begins at the doorstep of our own sense of failure.  Learn to ask: Where is it in me?

When you bring it out, you can work it out.
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The people you believe to be a toxic influence in your life actually offer you a great gift–the gift of awareness.  They invite you to awaken to your own pain and hurt in order to heal it.  They can be your greatest teachers if you will let them. It’s up to you.

What About You?

How do you cope with the toxic behavior of people in your life?  Have you been able to heal these relationships? Please join the conversation in the comments.

In the next post in this series, I’m going to discuss these relationships and how we can strive to move them from dysfunctional to healthy.

NOTE: Be sure to check out the rest of the series.
Part Two: How to Set Boundaries for the Junkyard Dogs in Your Life
Part Three: The Truth No One Ever Told You (but should have) About Ending Toxic Relationships

Image Credit: greg lilly 

About Steve

Hi, I'm Steve Rice and my goal is to transform simple philosophical truths into practical fuel to revolutionize your life. It's not about self-help, it's about self-reliance. I show you how. Connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and let me know how I can help you.

  • So…how do you deal with the toxic behavior of those in your life?

    • Sherrie Koretke

      I have learned to remove them as much as I can from life. I don’t harbor any hostilities towards them but love them from afar. I respect that they have their own path to follow but don’t allow their drama to effect my life.

      • That’s one of the topics that I’ll be expanding on in the follow up posts to this one, @sherriekoretke:disqus . How do you remove them from your life…especially if they’re family? Do you just limit your time exposure to them? Do you make this a noticeable thing or just something more subtle (like being “busy” or having something else to do–in order to avoid them)?

        I like the idea of avoiding the drama and not letting it affect you, but it can be a challenge. Do you have any tips on that front?

  • Lakesha Brown

    Steve, Steve, Steve…what can I say that I haven’t already said! I didn’t think you could have written this any better but reading this version, it’s even more on point. So many times I HAVE expected (insanely so) many things from a toxic acting person. I’ve questioned myself so many times on why I do it. This confirms that I definitely shouldn’t be expecting anything AND not taking things personally. I already KNOW how they are going to act so why expect anything different??? I’m the one that’s frustrated in the end. The other person has gone on about their business!

    Seriously though you have hit the nail on the head with everything you’ve said. It’s a work in progress for me as I’m right in the middle of someone who is acting REAL toxic and I can’t avoid them – at least not right now. Working on it and working through it… <3 <3 <3

    • This is exactly the point I came to in my own life–I”m the one who ends up frustrated when I have impractical expectations of someone who has bad behavior.

      You got this. It’s all there to show you your own strength and give you a chance to be powerful in the lives of those you love. You’re doing it, girl. That’s what a life of meaning is really about. Proud of you!

  • Thankfully, Steve – I have managed to keep the toxic people in my life at a safe distance. It doesn’t take me long to zone in on their toxic behavior, either. As soon as I see any sign of it, my “toxicdar” goes off, letting out this annoyingly loud screeching sound that is impossible for me to ignore. OK… maybe it’s not that apparently obvious, but it does signal me as to whom I’m dealing with fairly quickly. I have found that by avoiding toxic people, I can refocus my attention off the drama, and onto something more productive. Great read, my friend. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • That’s great insight Deone. Next week I’m writing more about this…what to do when the relationships break and how to move on from toxic relationships.people seem to have lots of questions about cutting off those relationships and how to do it kindly but firmly. Thanks again for lending your voice to this topic.