Dealing with Toxic People

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Dealing with Toxic People: How to Protect Yourself and Support Them

Recently, there has been a lot of attention on how to recognize and minimize contact with toxic people. While it is important to take appropriate steps to protect yourself from such people, it is also helpful to know how to deal with or even support a toxic person when possible, rather than abandoning them completely.

In this article, we will focus on ways to protect and support yourself while dealing with toxic people. However, we will also address when it may be time to end a relationship in the last section.

How to Protect Yourself

First, be honest with yourself. Do you want to continue being friends with this person if they improve? Are you willing to put in the effort to establish and maintain healthy boundaries? If the answer is no, that is okay. You are under no obligation to be a part of this person’s improvement. But, it is important to recognize when somebody wants to change and is actively trying to change. Here are some tips on protecting yourself:

  • Don’t Feed the Bear! – Do NOT feed the toxic behaviors by participating with them! Insulating yourself from toxicity is helpful to the toxic person, though they may not admit it.
  • Know Your Limits – Even if you are a mental health professional, you cannot be a friend’s or loved one’s therapist. Do not take on that role as you risk becoming too entangled in the intricacies that a therapeutic relationship should be addressing (not to mention professional ethics!). The techniques outlined below are not therapy; they are self-care for you and potentially helpful for the toxic person’s growth should they take that on.
  • Set Clear Boundaries – Try to use the same language when you remind them of these boundaries. This consistency helps keep things simple and clear, and less susceptible to the manipulative twisting that comes with toxic methods. Some examples of boundaries would be:
    • “When you start gossiping or being negative in general, I’ll let you know, but then you have to stop or I’ll need to leave.”
    • “If you insist on lying about something, I will not participate. I’ll challenge the lie, but if you don’t own it, I’ll need to leave.”
    • “Talking about a tough situation is fine, but if you begin blaming people, or start feeling sorry for yourself, I’ll need to leave.”
  • Enforce Those Boundaries – If you have set a boundary that you will leave should somebody continue to badmouth someone else, then get up and leave if they continue. Period. You’ll need to stand your ground should they later launch a guilt trip toward you. You can be polite, but firm. Express that you care about them and will, therefore, not feed the toxic vibes that could tarnish your friendship. Sometimes the tone may be more firm than polite, but there’s no reason for you to be mean or something you’re not. Assertiveness is always fine.
  • Limit Your Time with Toxic People – If you find that your friend or family member is in a much healthier frame of mind when you go to the park, then spend more time at the park. If you realize that they are especially difficult when they drink alcohol, then do not drink with them.

Be Supportive, But Not of the Toxicity

When toxic people are going through a difficult time, it’s okay to offer support and compassion. However, if they are consistently negative and refuse to take steps to improve their situation, it’s time to step back. You can still care about them without allowing their toxic behavior to drag you down.

  • Practice Compassion

    It’s important to remember that toxic people often behave the way they do as a coping mechanism. While their behavior may be hurtful, it’s often a reflection of their own inner pain. Compassion does not mean tolerating toxic behavior. It means acknowledging their pain while still maintaining your own boundaries and self-respect.

Recognizing When It’s Time to Move On

If you feel drained, exhausted, or unhappy more often than not after spending time with someone, it may be time to consider letting them go. Trust your gut and listen to your intuition; it will usually guide you in the right direction. However, there are other signs to look out for that indicate it’s time to move on.

Signs It’s Time to Let Go

  1. Trust Your Gut

    Your intuition is not prone to error, so if you feel like it’s time to move on, trust yourself.

  2. They Cannot See the Problem

    If you have tried to communicate with them about the issue, but they are not acknowledging or taking it seriously, it may be time to let go.

  3. They Aren’t Trying to Change

    If they see the problem but aren’t taking steps to change their behavior, consider moving on.

  4. You Are Becoming Toxic

    If you notice that you are behaving negatively or becoming toxic yourself as a result of spending time with this person, it’s time to let them go.

  5. You Are Losing Sleep

    If you find yourself losing sleep worrying about the next time you see them, it’s time to let go.

  6. You keep getting let down

    If they repeatedly let you down or don’t follow through on plans, it may be time to move on.

  7. They regularly ruin your day

    If they consistently bring negativity into your life and leave you feeling drained or upset, consider moving on.

  8. They regularly ruin your day

    If they consistently bring negativity into your life and leave you feeling drained or upset, consider moving on.

  9. You feel guilty for not being around them

    If they try to manipulate you using guilt, and you feel obligated to be around them, it’s time to move on.

  10. They become abusive

    If they become physically or emotionally/verbally abusive, it’s time to cut ties immediately. It is OK to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline even if your situation is not with a romantic partner; violence in our personal lives is never okay and they will be able to steer you toward safety. Do not hesitate to call 9-1-1 if you are in danger or are not sure.


Remember, it’s important to prioritize your own mental and emotional well-being. While it may be difficult to let go of someone, it’s necessary for your own happiness and growth. Trust yourself and know that you deserve healthy and positive relationships in your life. Please get in touch if you are not sure what to do about a toxic person in your life. I am here to help.

Learn more about Counseling in Austin.

Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.

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