Protecting Your Mental Health Around Toxic People

By Georgia


Last Updated: July 10, 2021

Toxic is one of the most overused pop-psychology terms of the last 5 years. Its meaning has been slightly diluted and its use has been skewed by those looking to defend and deflect from their own awful behavior. But the ultimate understanding remains the same; toxicity poisons people and situations. And while the best thing you can do to protect your mental health is steer completely clear of toxic people, sometimes that is not possible. So here are some ways to recognize and protect yourself from toxic people and their unacceptable behavior. 


What and Who

What is toxic behavior and who are toxic people? Toxic behavior is anything that contributes to unnecessary negative feelings. This could be the content or context of what is said or done. Just because something causes pain it doesn't automatically make the behavior or conversation toxic, however. Delivering bad or disappointing news in the right place at the right time (which is as soon as it is appropriate) can cause harm, but this cannot be avoided. This is not toxic. Conversely, sharing good news at a horrible time (i.e. announcing a long awaited pregnancy at another child's funeral) is toxic because it is selfish, cruel and lacks compassion; essentially making a mockery of the somber occasion. It doesn't need to be said then and causes undue hurt to the people who lost their beloved family member or friend.


This and That

Toxic behaviors come in many shapes and sizes. The numerous forms of toxicity range from irritating to downright life ruining. Here are just some of the ways a toxic person can target others.

Toxic people can become belligerent, hostile, antagonistic, derogatory, aggressive, threatening  and violent. Some are sadistic, cruel, erratic, and often intoxicated. They may be attention seeking, histrionic (theatrical or melodramatic), scream, curse and damage or throw things. 

Toxic people can also traffic in guilt, shame and manipulation. They are known to criticize, complain, over-talk, bully, and be passive aggressive. Almost all cross boundaries, while some invade privacy, and others reveal secrets. Many lie outright and by omission, cheat, steal, scam, gaslight, self-harm for sympathy, and constantly make themselves both the hero and the victim.

They can also start and spread rumors, frame others for misdeeds (real or fictional), harass others, recruit people for a harassment campaign,  publicize sensitive information, sabotage and dox individuals. 


Mottos and Mantras

When contact is inevitable and you're getting ready to be around these terrible types of people, instead of psyching yourself up you need to calm yourself down. Repeat soothing, corrective mantras to yourself before you go, and say them in your head while you're there. It can help occupy your mind with pleasant, constructive or at the very least diffusing energy to counteract the intensive negativity you will likely face. These can be anything about positivity, peace, tranquility, or reminders of the fabulous life you have and the good things and people in it. You can also speak to your own good qualities, or remind yourself of how short this visit is in the grand scheme of your life. Remember, this is to yourself and in your mind, not out loud to the person or within earshot of anyone else besides a partner in crime who tags along for the ride.


Avoid and Ignore

Put as much physical distance between them and yourself as possible. If you can't escape their space, ignore their presence to the best of your ability. Be only as polite as you need to be to avoid drawing attention to yourself. 


Divert and Disengage

Change any triggering or negative topics of conversation to more neutral ones if you get caught in their net. If they refuse to move on to something else, retreat and disengage from the conversation. Divert your attention away from them or just get up and move somewhere else. 


Short and Not So Sweet

If you have to engage, make it short and not so sweet. Being too accommodating may make you seem open to their antics. Curt, dry responses will help you seem uninterested and uninteresting. Even if you're not asked a question, you can back out of a distasteful exchange with “No, thank you.”


Low and No Contact

Ultimately, toxic people need to be met with low or no contact. This isn't always possible and others may become involved to try to pressure, guilt, shame or manipulate you into engaging or maintaining a relationship. It may be hard to stand your ground, but toxic people depend on making it easier to give in to them than protect yourself. So don't be surprised if they attempt to punish you for pulling away.



3 comments on “Protecting Your Mental Health Around Toxic People”

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