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10 smart ways to deal with that toxic person you can’t avoid entirely

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Dealing with toxic people is pretty much inevitable.

Whether it’s a narcissistic parent or a condescending coworker, some people just weave mayhem and misery wherever they go.

Here we’ve got 10 smart ways to deal with toxic people so their negative energy and actions don’t affect you:

1. Limit exposure.

This is often one of the most effective and accessible methods to deal with toxic folk.

Toxic people can’t hurt you if you don’t grant them access, so by limiting your exposure to them, you create a nice, thick barrier between yourself and their venom.

If you can, avoid places where your toxic acquaintance or ex usually frequents. Go out for lunch instead of sitting in the staff room with Brenda the energy vampire from accounting.

Limiting physical exposure is obviously trickier if you’re forced to live with a toxic person, but you can still deny them access to your emotions using the rest of the strategies in this article.

But if possible, try to avoid being at home when they are, and when you are there at the same time, keep to yourself by staying in your room, avoiding shared meals, and so on.

2. Set and enforce boundaries.

Many toxic people behave the way they do because they’ve been allowed to without any repercussions.

As such, it’s important to set and communicate boundaries for what behavior you will and will not accept, and establish consequences if they intentionally overstep them.

For example, let’s say you’ve made it clear to your narcissistic parent that you won’t tolerate them insulting you or your family, and if they do so, they’ll lose grandchild visitation rights for two weeks.

If they push against that boundary, remind them of it and make the consequence happen.

They’ll likely play the victim and insist it’s a misunderstanding, but stand your ground. Once they get visiting privileges back, if they overstep again, revoke rights for another two weeks, and so on.

3. Communicate assertively.

There’s an old saying that goes, “The tune makes the music”. It means that how we communicate is even more powerful than what’s being said.

Think of it this way: if a dog is tearing apart your kid’s toy, what will they respond to more? A gentle admonishment to put it down because that isn’t nice? Or a sharp, firm “NO! Put that DOWN!”?

If you chose the latter, you’d be correct.

This doesn’t mean you should bark responses at people who mistreat you, but make it clear with your tone and body language that you won’t tolerate their crap.

If you can, hold strong eye contact and pause briefly before speaking to them. Learn how to project your voice (but not yell) so what you’re saying comes across powerfully.

Speak clearly, avoid swearing, and ensure that your posture is one of absolute confidence. Then, once you’ve finished speaking, maintain eye contact if you can until they look away.

This places you in the dominant position and will make them less likely to stir things up in the future.

4. Shut them down.

In some cases, a smart way to deal with a toxic person is to shut them down.

Bullies and toxic people gravitate toward those they perceive as ‘soft targets’. As such, if you’re a rather kind, gentle, loving person, they’ll think they have an easy win with you.

Toxic people feed off defensiveness, anger, and tears. In contrast, if they encounter calm but assertive opposition and resistance they’ll feel like they don’t have the upper hand and retreat.

Bullies don’t like people who fight back, and will avoid future confrontations with those whom they perceive are stronger than they are.

So when it comes to toxic people, behave like a honey badger, not a bunny.

5. Don’t take things personally.

Generally speaking, toxic people behave badly because they’ve been through things that damaged them.

Maybe they were mistreated by their family, or they struggled to get their needs met in the past.

Regardless of the cause, it’s important to remember that their toxicity has absolutely nothing to do with you.

If they’re lashing out or mistreating you, it’s because they see you as a means of making themselves feel better, not as an actual person.

That’s on them.

Try to remember this the next time someone is being awful to you.

Hold on to the awareness that there’s nothing wrong with you, and try to let go of the nasty things they say.

Their insults are on par with a toddler calling you a poophead. You wouldn’t be permanently damaged by that because they’re just a silly kid. Inside, so is the toxic person who’s mocking you or putting you down.

6. Go grey rock.

This method, which works well with narcissists, is also effective with other types of toxic people.

Essentially, it involves not responding to them at all when they say something awful to you.

Instead, envision yourself as a massive grey chunk of rock, devoid of all emotion, and show that to them.

Let nothing they say or do affect you in any way. If you have to make eye contact with them, focus on the space between their eyes and look through them.

This gives them nothing to work with, and since they won’t be able to feed off any type of emotion from you, they’ll stop paying much attention to you at all.

7. Learn to discern who deserves your empathy.

It’s important to understand and empathize with others, but it’s just as important to learn how to determine who deserves your empathy, and who should be kept at a distance whenever possible.

Many toxic people behave badly because they’re deeply wounded individuals.

Instead of dealing with what traumatized them in the past, they carry their pain around with them and use it to lash out at others.

Here’s the thing, though: not dealing with past traumas is a choice.

There are always options to work through past pains, including finding a good therapist.

If someone has chosen not to get the help they need, that’s a conscious decision.

As such, you can understand that they behave the way they do because, “Hurt people end up hurting others”, but you don’t necessarily need to give them your time and energy by empathizing with them.

8. Reframe negative experiences as learning opportunities.

Many of us kick ourselves when we react badly to toxic people. We may spend time dwelling on what we should have said if we’d been thinking clearly.

It’s best to consider these interactions as opportunities to learn how to control your emotions and respond accordingly next time.

Try to see it like getting hit by a branch when you’re riding a bike on a new trail. The next time you ride that path, you’ll know to duck when you spot the branch coming at you.

Try not to admonish yourself for less-than-ideal reactions to toxicity. These people seek out others’ sensitive spots and have spent years learning how to push buttons.

And now that you know that, you’re set for similar future encounters.

9. Avoid escalation through redirection.

One of the best ways to avoid escalation with a toxic person is to take control of the interaction via misdirection.

Essentially, aim to derail their energy by flinging it elsewhere and away from you.

For example, let’s say your narcissistic parent insults what you’re wearing. Don’t even acknowledge that they said anything to you and instead ask how their dying friend is doing. They’ll immediately drop that subject and redirect it to the new topic.

This is rather like distracting a toddler by offering them a snack so they forget about wanting your phone.

It’s a quick and dirty approach, but it works.

10. Practice mindfulness.

This is a good way to ‘heat sink’ after you’ve had to deal with toxic people.

Instead of stewing over what they said or did and allowing it to damage you further, learn how to let it go.

You can do this by practicing mindfulness to help you focus entirely on the present moment.

If you’re new to mindfulness, the five senses meditation technique in which you concentrate on what each of your senses can detect in that moment, is a great place to start.

If the hurt you’ve felt intrudes upon the moment’s peace, bring your attention back to each sense, until the anger or negative feelings subside.


Unfortunately, we can’t permanently eliminate all toxic people from our lives, but by using the methods mentioned here, we can certainly mitigate the damage they do to us.

Choose which ones will work best for you in different circumstances, and you’re far less likely to be affected by anyone’s toxicity in the future.

About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.