To be honest, coping with toxic people has never been my specialty. I have dealt with enough toxicity in my life to know when it’s best to cut ties. (Snip, snip, suckas!) But we all have toxic people in our lives who can’t be avoided, whether it be a parent or parent-in-law, a sibling or a sibling’s spouse, a friend of a friend, or a co-worker whom you just can’t stand.
A quote about toxic people from the Dalai Lama comes to mind, “Let go of negative people. They only show up to share complaints, problems, disastrous stories, fear, and judgment on others. If somebody is looking for a bin to throw all their trash into, make sure it’s not in your mind.” If the Dalai Lama is dusting toxicity off his shoulders, shouldn’t you? Cutting out negativity from your life — even if you can’t cut out the person — doesn’t make you a bad person, it means you’re valuing your mental and emotional well-being and practicing true self care.
All this is, of course, easier said than done. So, how do you deal with people you’d rather avoid at all costs?
1. Set limits with toxic people.
Take it from me, toxic people don’t do well with boundaries. They have a tendency to want to control others as well as situations. Trying to set limits or boundaries for them will get you nowhere; they see it as a personal challenge.
But you can set limits on the things you can control. Don’t invest too much time or effort with toxic people. Keep interactions brief and the topics light. Keep in mind that toxic people will be listening for anything you say that they can spin to make themselves look better.
So talk about the weather or say nice things about someone else. Then run away as fast as you can. Set a timer on your phone if you have to. Arrange for a friend to give you the old SOS call. Do whatever you have to do to get the hell out of dodge.
2. Pick your battles wisely.
It’s tricky to balance being cordial with not wanting to normalize someone’s emotionally abusive behavior. But toxic people don’t respond well to criticism. It’s important to acknowledge that battles can escalate quickly into full-fledged declarations of war.
Keep this in mind when interacting with toxic people. Try this: Rate your grievances on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, if your mother-in-law says something about your weight gain, that might be a “6.” If she says something to your daughter about her weight gain? That’s probably an “11.” My rule is if it’s an 8 or above, it’s worth arguing about. Otherwise, it’s best to keep the waters calm as best you can.
3. Recognize and distance yourself from their behavior.
It’s not easy to rise above it when some people are determined to drag you down into the fray. But recognizing that people are toxic should be the first step toward desensitizing yourself from their words and actions.
Ask yourself, “Do I value this person’s opinion?” and “Do they have my best interest at heart?” If the answer to both of those questions isn’t a resounding yes, then don’t worry so much about what they say or do.
Toxic people only have the power to upset you if you let them upset you. Even if you can’t distance yourself physically, you always have the power to distance yourself emotionally.
4. Focus on the positive.
I know how cliché this sounds. But I also know that if you dwell on how infuriating toxic people can be, or the problems they create, it will stress you the fuck out.
Do your best to catch yourself when you start to fixate on the negative, and try to consciously switch your thoughts to solutions or more positive situations. Toxic people don’t deserve your mental energy.
5. Utilize your support system.
If you’re lucky, you have a support network of people who aren’t toxic. Rally your support troops as needed.
It can feel really cathartic to vent to someone you value (and who values you!), if only to keep things in perspective that you’re not the problem. Your real friends will be there to remind you that you’re amazing — so keep them close.
Dealing with toxic people isn’t easy, and these coping mechanisms aren’t developed overnight. But with any luck, they will help you tune out the toxicity that can’t be avoided.