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Five Strategies For Dealing With Toxic People

toxic people photoThey conceal their true emotions, they say one thing while meaning something else, they forget important dates, and their sharp criticisms always seem to be covered in ornate gift wrap. There is one word (or two) for people like this: Toxic.

Dealing with toxic people can be like trying to hug a porcupine – no matter what angle you choose, you get poked. And yet, toxic people may be related to us and we get caught in thinking that they should behave in ways that are compassionate, kind, and at least acknowledge some degree of reciprocity.

The problem is, toxic people often operate out of a primitive character structure which may not include empathy. Fulfilling their needs comes at the expense of other people.

So how do you deal with people like this? Here are five ways.

Use Assertive Communication. Toxic people love unclear communication. Why? It gives them an out. You didn’t really say I needed to be here at 10 am. I didn’t know you needed that from me. You didn’t tell me that. Do you notice the pattern? Toxic people love to point fingers and shift responsibility elsewhere. As long as things are not clear, they have a perfect excuse for feigning lack of understanding of your needs.

Set Boundaries. Boundaries exist for us to know where things stand. They are an integral part of healthy relationships and provide the structure upon which equality and fairness between people can be built. Because toxic people often avoid direct communication, the boundaries with them need to be explicitly clear. By stating exactly what you expect from them, and they you, you define what you will tolerate, where you draw the line, and set the grounds for preserving your own well-being.

Know When To Disengage. Toxic people come in many forms, but they all specialize in manipulation and vindictive acts. While the tendency to fight back against their hurtful and heartless behavior is often instinctual, it is not ever effective. Why? Toxic people don’t really want resolution. They want revenge. When they engage you in a fight, it is for the sake of hurting you. Protecting yourself then, begins with seeing this toxic behavior for what it is, and knowing when to exit.

Prepare Exit Strategies. Toxic people seek to manipulate, control, and ultimately hurt you. To them, you exist as a vehicle to get their needs met. This may be a need to control, a need for power, or a need for admiration, but when their behavior becomes hurtful (and perhaps even dangerous) what you need are pre-planned exit strategies to simply remove yourself from the situation. You have to pick up your child from school. You have an important appointment to get to. You have to run to the store to pick up something for dinner. What explanation you come up with is up to you; what is important is that you have it prepared before you have to interact.

Go Back To What You Love. Toxic people have a way of infecting your life and leaving a nasty residue. They says things meant to stick in your head, make you question yourself, doubt yourself, and feel insignificant, unworthy, and unloved. Often, they make you want to return simply because they leave unfinished business in your head. People shouldn’t say things like that if they say they care about you. People shouldn’t treat loved ones (or anyone that way). Surely, they didn’t mean to hurt me. Toxic people can even try to manipulate you into thinking that what you love to do is not good for you (or not worthwhile in some way). Yet when you continue to engage with people when they are treating you this way, you only fan their flames. Instead, go do the things that bring you joy, peace, happiness, and a sense of fulfillment in your life. Those are the things that make you who you are. Don’t ever let a toxic person take that away from you.

Photo by Hernan Piñera

Five Strategies For Dealing With Toxic People

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2016). Five Strategies For Dealing With Toxic People. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Dec 2016
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