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How to Avoid Being Negatively Affected by Toxic People

03 Apr

If you find yourself a magnet for the hopelessly self-centered, the most important question to ask is not, “Why are some people so toxic?” but, “How can I stop attracting toxic people and still love myself?”

There are reasons why many super-nice people are drawn to those who take advantage of them, even if they are not fully conscious of these reasons.

Of course, toxic behavior occurs on a continuum, from the person at work who always looks for someone else to do things for them, to the friend who constantly asks for favors but never reciprocates, to the person who is callous, lies, steals others’ intellectual or actual property, the partner who cheats, or the family member who is verbally abusive or worse.

Whatever form your toxic people tend to take, you’ll recognize your tendency to get involved with the liars, false friends, or takers of the world, because you’ll find yourself in the same types of frustrating, draining, or hurtful situations again and again.

Even as the people in your life change, the basic dramas won’t, and you’ll ultimately experience feelings of hurt, betrayal, or insecurity when toxic people reveal their true colors.

There is no denying that toxic people have the ultimate blame for how they treat others. But at the end of the day, it takes two to tango; only you can learn to change your steps (effectively changing the dance), or leave the dance floor altogether, and choose better dance partners going forward

What Keeps People Going Back to a “Poisoned Well?”

Continually forming relationships with people who can’t reciprocate or who take advantage of you is like a being thirsty person who drinks only from poisoned wells. Even if the water doesn’t kill you, you’ll probably feel really ill from drinking it and you will never fully quench your thirst.

Many nice people unconsciously seek out those who need healing of some sort. They may believe that their self-worth depends on being loved by difficult people. They may get a “high” from being a hero, rescuer, or perennial “go-to” person. They may feel a need to be self-sacrificial in order to be a “good person.” Toxic people can “smell” these needs from a mile away.

Breaking the Cycle and Creating Positive Change

So, what can you do to break this cycle? I suggest keeping a journal and reflecting on the points below. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn about yourself. You’ll also become better able to change self-destructive habits.

  1. Take a fearless inventory of your relationship patterns. If you’ve attracted a number of friends or partners who tend to take advantage of you, ask yourself what initially attracted you to these people. Same goes for coworkers and bosses. Write this down for each relationship that fits the bill.
  1. Notice how many times you say, “Yes,” when you would rather say “No” to someone. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings you have when you consider setting a limit. Write these down as well. This will shed light on how you value yourself and the self-judgments you have around limit-setting.
  1. Ask yourself, “Do I treat myself with less kindness, consideration, or respect than I give others?” Understand that if the answer is “Yes,” this makes you a magnet for difficult people. And it’s unfair to you. Most important, you are the only person who can change this pattern.
  1. Realize that you can take good care of yourself and still be a good person! “Goodness” does not require self-sacrifice to the point of victimhood. There are no extra points for personal martyrdom.
  1. Understand that how you treat yourself sets the ultimate example for your children. It will influence how they treat themselves and their partners, their own children, and other loved ones some day.
  1. Remember that it’s impossible to make everyone else happy (and that’s not even a good goal anyway). Some people will never be happy. And no one who looks to others to make them happy will ever really get there.
  1. Similarly, understand that no one can heal or change another person. Personal growth requires a willingness to do the hard work, and although other people can be supportive, no one can do the work for anyone else. Truly toxic people are uninterested in becoming more self-reliant, compassionate, kinder, or more giving. Stop trying to change them.
  1. Practice mindfulness or another form of meditation. This will help you to ride out the anxiety you’ll likely feel as you get used to taking care of you, and weeding out the people who treat you poorly. You’ll also gain greater insight into your own vulnerabilities and strengths, and better sense when someone is really unable to be in a healthy relationship with you.
  1. Listen to positive affirmations. Recent research has shed light on how your brain responds to them, and has found that affirmations really help people feel and do better. Ones that focus on fostering self-compassion, developing a healthy self-esteem, and having greater self-confidence can give you the boost you need to treat yourself better.
  1. Understand that you will definitely get pushback from people who want you to continue being their go-to person for everything. Toxic people hate losing their supply. You can help shore up your self-esteem and build self-confidence by spending time with those who are truly supportive of you, and by practicing self-kindness.
  1. Be creative in your efforts to release old patterns. Imagery that helps you sever unhealthy emotional cords can help you through the process of ending dysfunctional relationships. It can also help heal the heartbreak that losing relationships – even toxic ones – can generate.
  1. If you need additional help learning to set limits or move on from a relationship, consider consulting with a counselor who can support you during this process.

Be well!
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Traci Stein

Traci Stein, PhD, MPH, is a practicing psychotherapist and Columbia-trained
clinical psychologist, ASCH-certified in clinical hypnotherapy. She has combined integrative therapies, including hypnosis, with conventional medical and psychotherapy practice. Her passionate commitment to mind-body healing has spanned two decades.