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Published on December 31, 2020

How To Stay Away From Toxic People When It’s Hard To Do So

How To Stay Away From Toxic People When It’s Hard To Do So

Maintaining a relationship with someone who’s self-absorbed, judgmental, manipulative, or even downright antagonistic requires an enormous amount of emotional energy. Yet, many of us stay on good terms with people like this in our lives. Why is it sometimes difficult to stay away from toxic people?

Why? Because it’s incredibly challenging to stay away from toxic people, especially when they’re our family members or friends. These types of people tend to be charismatic, socially popular, and overall fun to be around—except when their wrath is targeted at you.

What exactly makes a person “toxic,” you ask?

In applied psychology, researchers evaluate toxic personality traits within the scope of the “Dark Triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

According to a study in The Handbook of Interpersonal Psychology, narcissism involves grandiosity, an egocentric mindset, and an exaggerated sense of personal entitlement; Machiavellianism refers to “strategic manipulation;” and psychopathy relates to apathy, impulsivity, and thrill-seeking behaviors.[1]

Therefore, there are many different types of toxic people out there. Some may just be irritating to interact with (e.g., a friend who constantly brags about their life) while others can have potentially devastating impacts on your happiness, self-esteem, health, and general well-being.

If you recognize some of these antisocial traits in someone from your life, what can you do to stay away from toxic people and protect your sense of self-worth and life satisfaction?

The following sections offer a variety of research-backed psychological and interpersonal strategies to help you successfully navigate (or even cease) relations with the toxic family members and friends.

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Toxic Family Members

If you are dating or related to a toxic person, it can be challenging—if not impossible—to stay away from them altogether. For romantic partners and married couples, recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship is a good first step, but it’s not as simple as breaking up and moving on with your life.

The same problem arises with immediate family members—it’s just not realistic to avoid them (especially if you live with or near them) and cutting ties is an enormously complicated and emotionally exhausting decision that shouldn’t be made lightly.

If this family member is unbearably toxic and unwilling to change, perhaps you’ll eventually reach a point where you can let go of the relationship and move away from them. However, if you want to stay away from toxic people without relocating or inciting tiresome family drama, there are two ways to limit their influence over your life without severing the relationship:

1. Establish Firm Communication Boundaries

The problem with toxic people is that they either lack self-awareness about how their words and actions negatively affect people around them or they’re actually well-aware of their apathetic, manipulative tendencies and aren’t in any hurry to change their ways if nobody presses them to.

Remember the Golden Rule of “treat others as you would want to be treated?” Forget that for now, and embrace the principles of the Platinum Rule, which involves treating others how they want to be treated.

The Platinum Rule is superior to the Golden Rule when dealing with a toxic family member because it requires a meaningful discussion about how you two interact with each other, rather than leaving you to make assumptions about how the other person wants to be treated.

A word of caution: one of the most common traits of toxic people is a persistent refusal to accept personal responsibility or empathize with another person who’s upset or harmed by them. If you approach the conversation from the one-sided angle of “you hurt me and we need to talk,” there’s a good chance they’ll refuse to listen, dismiss your concerns to avoid the discussion entirely, or possibly twist it around and project blame onto you.

You don’t owe a toxic, hurtful person anything. However, if you want to increase your chances of them genuinely listening to your concerns and changing their ways, here are some scripts to help you start setting firmer interpersonal communication boundaries:

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  • “When you said ____________, it made me feel ____________ because ____________. I would prefer it if you said/did ____________ in the future instead.”
  • “I don’t appreciate the way you ____________. It hurts my feelings because ____________. Would you be willing to discuss alternatives with me?”
  • “I love and care about you, but I’m not a fan of how you ____________ because ____________. I think it would make our relationship/communication better if we could both do ____________.”

2. Practice Self-Distancing

We all learned what “social distancing” is in 2020. But what about self-distancing?

This concept refers to psychologically removing yourself from an event and engaging in adaptive self-reflection to moderate your own thoughts and feelings about the person or situation. Self-distancing is similar to mindfulness techniques in that you become more aware of yourself while developing the emotional resilience necessary to successfully manage interpersonal conflicts.

For example, say you’re dealing with a family member who refuses to ever take responsibility or apologize for their words and actions. You probably know from experience that there’s no point in arguing endlessly with a toxic person in hopes that they’ll give up at some point and admit fault (truly toxic people rarely concede first, if at all).

In this case, self-distancing would involve taking a step back and assessing the issue from the perspective of a neutral, external observer. It helps if you imagine the problem is happening to a friend instead of you.

At this point, you might be wondering: if my family member is the toxic person—and thus, unlikely to care much about my feelings—then why shouldn’t I reflect on my own feelings?

The answer lies in our tendency to get emotionally agitated or overwhelmed when reflecting on people and experiences that upset us.

The Journal of Personality published a study in 2019 that compared the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral implications of self-distancing as a response to adverse experiences as opposed to self-immersion (reflecting on negative people and/or incidents with an emphasis on their own thoughts and feelings on the matter). The study ultimately found that individuals who engaged in self-distancing were more likely to experience significant growth in positive emotionality but no increase in negative emotionality.[2]

It’s not easy at first, but if you genuinely want to stay away from toxic people and achieve emotional freedom from their manipulative clutches, then here are two self-distancing techniques to start practicing in your daily life:

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  • Reflect on events with third-person pronouns. Self-talk is most effective when you frame thoughts and feelings using he/she/they pronouns instead of I, me, or my. For instance, you could ask yourself, “Why did their sister say that to them?” instead of framing it as “Why did my sister say that to me?” This helps with self-distancing by temporarily depersonalizing your connection to the incident, thereby allowing you to reflect on it from a more neutral point-of-view.
  • Engage in expressive writing. Spend 20 minutes writing down all of your thoughts and rawest emotions related to the conflict you’re experiencing with a family member. This open-ended journaling technique is called expressive writing and should only be done for yourself (i.e., don’t share it with anyone afterward; you’re just getting everything out on paper so you can better manage and articulate your emotions later).

Toxic Friends

Which group brings you the most happiness—your family or your friends?

Two studies assessing nearly 300,000 adults worldwide found that friendships tend to produce the best outcomes for an individual’s happiness and health.[3] This could be because we consciously choose to interact with friends whereas family relationships feel more like obligations we’re required to fulfill.

Interestingly, the aforementioned studies found that when friendships are reportedly “stressful,” individuals are likely to report higher rates of disease as well. On the other hand, family relationships have comparatively little influence over a person’s health and well-being.

While these broad statistical findings don’t apply to everyone equally, this nevertheless suggests that toxic friends could be more destructive for your health and happiness than toxic family members.

If you’re friends with raging narcissists, aggressive manipulators, or vocal complainers who are negative about everything, you can stay away from toxic people like them without abandoning your friendship or mutual social circles using the following strategies:

1. Discuss the Issue With Them Directly

How close are you to this friend? If you’ve been friends for years and they’ve only recently started acting this way, you should directly address your concerns with them (preferably not over text or email, but these electronic avenues are preferable to never bring up the problem at all).

Following some conflict management guidelines, you should calmly introduce the problem, acknowledge any personal responsibility you may have in the conflict, and propose a compromise that’s fair to both parties.

If you do all of the above and your friend still blows you off (or blows up), then your next step would be determining whether the friendship is worth continuing in its current state or not. After all, the primary purpose of a friendship is to provide mutual companionship and support. If only one person is willing to put in the time and effort to make it work, then it’s preferable to stay away from toxic people like that friend so you can save your emotional energy for someone else who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.

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2. Limit Social Media Interactions

If your friendship is more casual or if you don’t want to burn bridges entirely, then your next step should be minimizing your online interactions with them. Staying on close terms with a friend who regularly strives to make you feel envious, posts upsetting things, or disparages you can have devastating consequences on your mental and emotional well-being.

What’s worse: your toxic friend’s words and actions aren’t the only problems. The Internet itself—especially social media—is a seemingly endless breeding ground for toxic interactions between people.

Yale Professor of Psychology Dr. M.J. Crockett wrote in a 2017 analysis in Nature Human Behavior that digital media encourage expressions of outrage by exacerbating emotional triggers, reducing reputational risks for individuals, and enhancing potential benefits to be gained from toxic rhetoric and behavior online.[4]

A 2020 study of how social media platforms’ technical architectures influence toxic communication among users also found that these sites’ algorithms privilege emotionally-charged, inflammatory content to drive the greatest possible engagement (views, likes, clicks, comments).[5] In other words, social media allows toxicity to flourish while camaraderie flounders.

To minimize the negative consequences of engaging with toxic friends on social media without having to de-friend or block them entirely, you can do the following:

  • Mute or unfollow them. Most social media platforms offer users options to hide a certain person’s posts and stories without notifying the other person that you muted them. Similar to self-distancing, this simple strategy allows you to get a much-needed break from seeing their posts and photos without severing the friendship altogether.
  • Enhance your posts’ privacy. If your friend constantly makes negative comparisons between you two, harshly judges or mocks you for what you post (even if “it’s just a joke!”), or otherwise uses personal information to make you feel terrible about yourself, then it’s time to tighten up your privacy controls and restrict them from seeing your content.

Final Takeaways

It’s hard to stay away from toxic people when you’re physically and emotionally close to them the way we are with our family members and friends. In these types of relationships, it’s just not as simple as recognizing their toxic traits, realizing you deserve to be treated better, and cutting your losses so you can move on with your life.

To preserve your own happiness and well-being, boundary-setting and self-distancing are essential techniques you can use regardless of whether the toxic individual is willing to listen to you and put in the effort to change the way they treat you or not.

We can’t control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others, but we can control our own.

More Tips on How to Stay Away From Toxic People

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Kelly Kehoe

Kelly is a full-time professor of communication studies with over 12 years of award-winning experience in public speaking, persuasion and debate.

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Published on May 4, 2021

How To Spot Fake People (And Ways To Deal With Them)

How To Spot Fake People (And Ways To Deal With Them)

They say we are the average of the five persons we spend the most time with. For a minute, consider the people around you. Are they truly who your “tribe” should be or who you aspire to become in the future? Are they really genuine people who want to see you succeed? Or are they fake people who don’t really want to see you happy?

In this article, I’ll review why it is important to surround yourself with genuine individuals—the ones who care, bring something to our table, and first and foremost, who leave all fakeness behind.

How to Spot Fake People?

When you’ve been working in the helping professions for a while, spotting fake people gets a bit easier. There are some very clear signs that the person you are looking at is hiding something, acting somehow, or simply wanting to get somewhere. Most often, there is a secondary gain—perhaps attention, sympathy, or even a promotion.

Whatever it is, you’re better off working their true agenda and staying the hell away. Here are some things you should look out for to help spot fake people.

1. Full of Themselves

Fake people like to show off. They love looking at themselves in the mirror. They collect photos and videos of every single achievement they had and every part of their body and claim to be the “best at what they do.”

Most of these people are actually not that good in real life. But they act like they are and ensure that they appear better than the next person. The issue for you is that you may find yourself always feeling “beneath” them and irritated at their constant need to be in the spotlight.

2. Murky in Expressing Their Emotions

Have you ever tried having a deep and meaningful conversation with a fake person? It’s almost impossible. It’s because they have limited emotional intelligence and don’t know how they truly feel deep down—and partly because they don’t want to have their true emotions exposed, no matter how normal these might be.

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It’s much harder to say “I’m the best at what I do” while simultaneously sharing “average” emotions with “equal” people.

3. Zero Self-Reflection

To grow, we must accept feedback from others. We must be open to our strengths and to our weaknesses. We must accept that we all come in different shapes and can always improve.

Self-reflection requires us to think, forgive, admit fault, and learn from our mistakes. But to do that, we have to be able to adopt a level of genuineness and depth that fake people don’t routinely have. A fake person generally never apologizes, but when they do, it is often followed with a “but” in the next breath.

4. Unrealistic Perceptions

Fake people most often have an unrealistic perception of the world—things that they want to portray to others (pseudo achievements, materialistic gains, or a made-up sense of happiness) or simply how they genuinely regard life outside themselves.

A lot of fake people hide pain, shame, and other underlying reasons in their behavior. This could explain why they can’t be authentic and/or have difficulties seeing their environment for the way it objectively is (both good and bad).

5. Love Attention

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest sign that something isn’t quite right with someone’s behavior can be established by how much they love attention. Are you being interrupted every time you speak by someone who wants to make sure that the spotlight gets reverted back to them? Is the focus always on them, no matter the topic? If yes, you’re probably dealing with a fake person.

6. People Pleaser

Appreciation feels nice but having everyone like you is even better. While it is completely unrealistic for most people to please everyone all the time, fake people seem to always say yes in pursuit of constant approval.

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Now, this is a problem for two reasons. Firstly, these people are simply saying yes to things for their own satisfaction. Secondly, they often end up changing their minds or retracting their offer for one reason or another (“I would have loved to, but my grandmother suddenly fell ill.”), leaving you in the lurch for the 100th time this year.

7. Sarcasm and Cynicism

Behind the chronic pasted smile, fake people are well known for brewing resentment, jealousy, or anger. This is because, behind the postcard life, they are often unhappy. Sarcasm and cynicism are well known to act as a defense mechanism, sometimes even a diversion—anything so they can remain feeling on top of the world, whether it is through boosting themselves or bringing people down.

8. Crappy friend

Fake people are bad friends. They don’t listen to you, your feelings, and whatever news you might have to share. In fact, you might find yourself migrating away from them when you have exciting or bad news to share, knowing that it will always end up one way—their way. In addition, you might find that they’re not available when you truly need them or worse, cancel plans at the last minute.

It’s not unusual to hear that a fake person talks constantly behind people’s backs. Let’s be honest, if they do it to others, they’re doing it to you too. If your “friend” makes you feel bad constantly, trust me, they’re not achieving their purpose, and they’re simply not a good person to have around.

The sooner you learn to spot these fake people, the sooner you can meet meaningful individuals again.

How to Cope With Fake People Moving Forward?

It is important to remind yourself that you deserve more than what you’re getting. You are worthy, valuable, precious, and just as important as the next person.

There are many ways to manage fake people. Here are some tips on how to deal with them.

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1. Boundaries

Keep your boundaries very clear. As explained in the book Unlock Your Resilience, boundaries are what keep you sane when the world tries to suffocate you. When fake people become emotional vampires, make sure to keep your distances, limit contact, and simply replace them with more valuable interactions.

2. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

Sadly, they most likely have behaved this way before they knew you and will continue much longer after you have moved on. It isn’t about you. It is about their inner need to meet a void that you are not responsible for. And in all honesty, unless you are a trained professional, you are unlikely to improve it anyway.

3. Be Upfront and Honest About How You Feel

If your “friend” has been hurtful or engaged in behaviors you struggle with, let them know—nicely, firmly, however you want, but let them know that they are affecting you. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you’ll feel better and when you’re ready to move on, you’ll know you tried to reach out. Your conscience is clear.

4. Ask for Advice

If you’re unsure about what you’re seeing or feeling, ask for advice. Perhaps a relative, a good friend, or a colleague might have some input as to whether you are overreacting or seeing some genuine concerns.

Now, don’t confuse asking for advice with gossiping behind the fake person’s back because, in the end, you don’t want to stoop down to their level. However, a little reminder as to how to stay on your own wellness track can never hurt.

5. Dig Deeper

Now, this one, I offer with caution. If you are emotionally strong, up to it, guaranteed you won’t get sucked into it, and have the skills to manage, perhaps you could dig into the reasons a fake person is acting the way they do.

Have they suffered recent trauma? Have they been rejected all their lives? Is their self-esteem so low that they must resort to making themselves feel good in any way they can? Sometimes, having an understanding of a person’s behavior can help in processing it.

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6. Practice Self-Care!

Clearly, putting some distance between the fake person and yourself is probably the way to go. However, sometimes, it takes time to get there. In the meantime, make sure to practice self-care, be gentle with yourself, and compensate with lots of positives!

Self-care can be as simple as taking a hot shower after talking to them or declining an invitation when you’re not feeling up to the challenge.

Spotting fake people isn’t too hard. They generally glow with wanna-be vibes. However, most often, there are reasons as to why they are like this. Calling their behavior might be the first step. Providing them with support might be the second. But if these don’t work, it’s time to stay away and surround yourself with the positivity that you deserve.

Final Thoughts

Remember that life is a rollercoaster. It has good moments, tough moments, and moments you wouldn’t change for the world. So, look around and make sure that you take the time to choose the right people to share it all with.

We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so take a good look around and choose wisely!

More Tips on Dealing With Fake People

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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