Protecting Yourself from Toxic People

We have all – knowingly, or unknowingly – have come across a ‘toxic person’ before. Relationships with them come in many different forms: romantic relationships, friendships, relationships with family members, bosses, and so on.

Toxic relationships can take a serious toll on your health – physically, mentally, and emotionally – and have the ability to cause great harm toward your happiness and quality of life.

It is generally very simple to determine if your relationship is physically abusive**, but relationships that involve mental, emotional, and verbal abuse are not always easy to see.  

We’ve got a simple question and answer here to help you spot any toxic relationships you might have in your life, and how to protect yourself from them.

Q: What is a toxic person?

It’s not actually that the person themselves is toxic, but rather that they engage in toxic behavior.  People who behave in a toxic way are often experiencing feelings with which they have not yet fully processed, which leads them to displace their feelings onto others.  Sometimes this causes them to act like a bully, or a victim; a perfectionist or a martyr.  These people are simply to get their needs met, but usually in an unhealthy way.

Q: How do toxic people behave?

There are a good number of behaviors that maybe considered toxic.  Some are obvious, and some are not.  Here are a few common behaviors you may encounter:

  • They are manipulative.  People who are manipulative are not interested in equality, and only in getting what they desire.  They are unconcerned with the needs of others, and act are satisfied as long as their needs alone are met.  Toxic people often use people to get what they want, and commonly have ulterior motives.  
  • They don’t take responsibility for their actions. Toxic people are masters at the blame game, and they rarely apologize. If a problem arises, they will not consider the possibility that they could be a part of the problem, and instead shift all of the responsibility to you. They may even expect that you are the one responsible for filling their needs, making it difficult for you to care for yourself.  These people will draw on your weaknesses to try to cut you down.
  • They are inconsistent, yet they make you defend yourself. “Two-faced” is a term that’s often used to describe toxic people.  One day, you may feel like their best friend, and the next day, you are their mortal enemy.  At the same time, if you are to make a mistake, or do something they do not favor, they may be very harsh toward you. 
  • They make you question yourself.  They will conveniently change “facts” to fit their story, thereby making you question your own sanity. This is also known as “gaslighting”.  These people will tell blatant lies.  They will deny things they said, and deliberately try to confuse you in an attempt to weaken your spirit. What’s more is that they will even assemble a group of people (what I call “henchmen”) to be aligned against you.  They are skilled at getting others to believe their lies, and then use that against you.

Q: How can I avoid toxic people?

Actions speak louder than words. Observe carefully – pay attention to their behavior patterns, rather than the things they say.  If you suspect that a new acquaintance may be out to get you, keep a healthy distance long enough to draw a fair conclusion about them.  That way, you are able to build the relationship, while at the same time protecting yourself from their toxic behavior.  

Q: How do I know if I’m in a relationship with a toxic person?

By reading up to this point, it’s possible a few people you know have come to mind.  Still, it can be difficult to know for sure. Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself to make a determination.

  • Are you deliberately avoiding this person?
  • Do you dread seeing them?
  • Do you feel drained after being with them?
  • Are you angry, sad, depressed, or feel uneasy when you are around them?
  • Do you feel like you have to impress them, or that you owe them something?
  • Are you emotionally affected by their drama or problems?
  • Do they ignore your needs and don’t hear ‘no’?
  • Do you feel you have to walk on eggshells around them?
  • Do they ignore your needs and your values?

If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, then chances are that the person you have in mind is indeed a toxic person.

Q: How do I protect myself from a toxic relationship?

If the relationship is seriously affecting your physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing, it is best to get out of it, if you can.  If the relationship is with a difficult friend or family member, depending on your circumstances, it may be possible to cut off the relationship completely.

There are circumstances however, such as if you are with a partner who is emotionally controlling, or in a job where you fear retaliation for standing up for yourself, if can be more difficult to just pack up and leave.  In these situations, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to set some boundaries.  Limit the amount of time you see this person, or speak to this person.  A person who respects you as an individual – regardless of the type of relationship – will also respect your need for privacy.

Know that, not all relationships are worth saving.  If it means ending the relationship to save yourself, then that is what you should do.  It is not easy, but it is always worth salvaging your safety, dignity, and happiness.

Q: How can I heal from a toxic relationship?

Toxic relationships often cause pain for the person being victimized.  Please, allow yourself to feel this pain.  Toxic people have a way of getting under your skin that makes you feel shame for their bad behavior, but shame will only stall your healing process.  It is okay to be hurt.  Allow yourself to let it pass through you, feel it fully, and then put it behind you.

Remember that this is not your fault.  You are responsible for your actions alone.  If you can confidently say that you have acted with kindness and integrity, you have nothing to fret over.

As you heal, recite this mantra daily: I have value, I have worth.  Toxic people do everything in their power to make you feel small and worthless in an attempt to control you.  Reminding yourself daily of your value and worth will help fortify you against this abuse.

Lastly, surround yourself with people who build you up.  They will help you through your pain – they can help you heal.  There are people in this world that love you.  Surround yourself with people who make you feel happy, safe, and cherished.  

**This statement is in no way meant to make light of domestic abuse, or otherwise physically abusive relationships.  If you are a victim of domestic abuse, click here to get help.

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