Almost everyone has had a negative person in their orbit. It can sometimes feel impossible to break free from these toxic relationships — but the first step is learning how to identify people who drain your energy and damper your spirit. Here, experts weigh in with six easy tips for dealing with toxic people, including advice on how to end hurtful dynamics and nurture positive ones.
Trust your instincts
It’s easy to rationalize others’ bad behavior, but your body always knows the truth, says Lillian Glass, PhD, interpersonal communication expert and author of Toxic People: 10 Ways of Dealing with People Who Make Your Life Miserable. “If your muscles tighten and your breathing changes, or you’re walking on eggshells around someone — these are signs you’re around a toxic person,” she confirms. High-conflict personalities avoid taking responsibility for their behavior, adds Christine Murray, PhD, a therapist and director of the Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Remind yourself that you deserve respect — this is the first step to change.”
Spot sneaky tactics
“One common type of toxic person is the Feisty Frenemy, someone who sees your relationship as a competition — from crosswords to gardening, whatever you do together, they want to win,” Christine Murray.
Another difficult type: the Flatterer. “Their compliments are often followed by requests for favors, but a friendship should be a partnership, not a power struggle. It’s okay to walk away if you need to.”
To dodge negative folks in the future, just take a simple “toxic people quiz,” urges Glass. “Jot down five names of people who make you feel bad. Then write three adjectives next to each name — you’ll likely find they’re all variations of the same trait, such as, ‘judgmental’, ‘persnickety,’ or ‘critical.’” When you learn the type of person you’re most “allergic” to, it’s much easier to avoid them because you’ll see them coming a mile away.
Make like a ‘gray rock’
One of the best ways to deal with toxic people is to be, well, boring. It’s known as “grayrocking,” and it means not showing the emotions that attention-seekers want to illicit from you. Another strategy Murray likes is called BIFF: brief, informative, friendly, and firm. If a negative person wants you to do them a favor, for example, you might text them that you can’t — without excuses — and wish them luck.
This way, you’re not wishy-washy, but you are true to your values by being kind.
Lean on positive people
The opposite of toxic folks? Nutric people, or those who nourish you. “It’s true that 10 percent of people tend to take 90 percent of your energy, so it’s important to make sure you have positive relationships that support you,” encourages Murray. She suggests simply making “dates” on the calendar to, say, grab coffee with your best friend. “It’s so healing to be seen and listened to.”
Protect your energy
“Toxic behavior is a pattern, which is why you need an equally strong pattern of self-care,” says Murray. Coping resources come in many forms, from journaling to doing yoga to making yourself a cup of tea. “When you create space for your needs, it helps you respond to toxic people confidently. Self-care puts you in control of the things you want in life as well as the people you want in your life.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.