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I don’t necessarily like the term toxic person because that seems to imply that they should not be loved. Toxic people need love even more than normal people, but they must be loved at a safe distance in order to not be sucked into their pit of self-loathing. Since I have been abused, I fall into the trap of seeking out or being sought out by toxic people. This can be terribly detrimental not only to my mental health but also my physical health. People can drain the life out of you. It is true. So, how do I protect myself from toxic people? First, I ask myself these questions.
Questions to Help Decide if Someone is Toxic
How do I feel after I hang out with this person?
If I feel bad, what kind of bad feeling is it? (ex. devalued, sad, confused, frustrated, excluded)
Why do I feel this way? (ex. comparison, comments they made, situations I was put in)
Is this my problem or something that stems from the other person? – This is the most tricky question because, for those who have been in abusive relationships, it can be very easy to put blame on yourself. Look at this closely though. Are you jealous of them? Do they bring out a side of you that you don’t like?
Is this person open to constructive criticism? – I used to be quite an annoying person to hang out with. Several wonderful people in my life point out where I was being toxic, and I became a much more open and kind person because of them. Who knows? You may have been put in this toxic person’s life to share the truth with them. I’m glad that those people believed in me enough to think that I would listen. You will probably know though if this is the kind of person who will actually listen. If you’re unsure, observe if they take criticism of any kind from others well. Don’t have that opportunity? Try a very small piece of criticism and gauge the reaction. If you are still unsure, seek wise counsel.
What level of interaction can I have with them without being pulled into their toxic pit? – Seriously evaluate this. It can be helpful to have someone who knows you both to walk with you through this because you cannot be objective. This requires a painful, yet important, dissection of the relationship. There are several different levels at which you can hold that person.
Levels of Relationships
Disclaimer: These categories are based on experience and some reading. I only use these categories for deciding which level a toxic person has in my life. I don’t actually rank my friends. Don’t do that. That’s a jerk move.
- I Can Pick Your Boogers If I Wanted To. – No toxic person should ever be at this level. This is a closeness where you are always in a safe place with this person, so much so that you could reach out and pick one of their boogers without it being weird. You can literally open up about anything to this person, and you will be met with love and understanding, probably a little kind teasing too. This is the level of a spouse or best friend. This person definitely has the authority to speak into your life, and you had better listen!
- Yes, Let’s! – I do not hold a toxic person at this level either. This is where you have a mutual respect in a friendship with someone, discover new things together, and just enjoy each other’s company. When you ask them to hang out or try something new with you, their answer is always, “Yes, Let’s!” You share deep conversations and get to know them beyond a superficial level. This person has authority to speak into your life.
- I’m So Glad You’re Here Too! – I have held some toxic people at this level, but I am not sure that I recommend it. This is the kind of relationship where you do not purposely hang out, but, when you meet by chance or you see them at work, you are happy to go to lunch or sit next to them during a conference. You may even have a deep conversation once every year. Each person enjoys the other, but the relationship is not built up to a point of intentionality. This person has limited authority to speak into your life.
- Oh, Hi! How’s the Family? – I hold some toxic people at this level where I have evaluated that any negative changes to my health only happen after long exposure. These people genuinely care how each other is doing because they actually like each other. They ask each other questions that can be answered somewhat superficially. Neither go out of their way to talk with each other but will happily engage in conversation while walking down the same hallway. This person has no authority to speak into your life.
- Oh, Hey! – Some toxic people can be at this level as well. These are the people that you will greet when you see walking down the hallway, but that is about it. These people are at the level of acquaintances and show no interest in going beyond that point. They don’t have anything against each other, and they don’t really have any interest in each other. This person has no authority to speak into your life.
- Oh, ****, It’s ________! – Unfortunately, I have had some people in my life at this level. This is the person who sears the soul on contact. This person you actively avoid and enlist others’ help in doing so. You have blocked their number on your phone. You have defriended them on Facebook. You never want to see them again. Usually, this person is in one of the other categories and is demoted because of toxic behavior. This category is really only for toxic people. They have no authority to speak into your life.
Now that you have made a plan, you must stick to it. It will be easy to stray from it when you are in the presence of the person, but remember that you made the decision of where they will be in your life when you were not under their influence, when you were completely in control. In order to do that you must decide which level of interaction they are allowed to have with you.
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If you want to continue the discussion, please comment.
How do you decide if someone is toxic? How do you handle toxic people in your life? Any other thoughts?