5 Intelligent Ways to Deal with Toxic People

· October 17, 2017

Each one of us as individuals can change. We can make an effort to improve the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. But we can’t change others. This is something we cannot forget when we are dealing with toxic people. There are only two things we can do when facing these kinds of people: avoid them or confront them.

Many people prefer to run away from toxic people, but when you don’t have any other choice but to deal with them, the best thing is to find an intelligent way to do it. After all, toxic people will always find the way to spread their negativity and pass it on to others, creating a bad environment and ruining the moment.

Toxic people challenge the logic of personal relationships. Some of them are even happy to negatively impact others, though it is usually subconscious. Others find satisfaction in pushing people’s buttons. Any way you look at it, toxic people create unnecessary complexity, conflict, and stress. 

“Toxic people attach themselves like cinder blocks tied to your ankles, and then invite you for a swim in their poisened waters.”

– John Mark Green-

Emotional intelligence when facing toxic people

For a long time now studies have shown that stress can have a negative and irreversible impact on the brain. Even if it only lasts for a few days, the exposure to stress compromises the efficacy of neurons in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain responsible for reason and memory. If stress lasts for several weeks it damages neuronal dendrites (the small “arms” that brain cells use to communicate with each other).  If stress lasts for several months, it can permanently destroy neurons.

A recent study from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at the Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions- the same type of exposure that occurs when dealing with toxic people – caused the subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response.

Whether it be through negativity, cruelty, or victimization (among other strategies), toxic people provoke a state of stress in the brains of others that requires intelligent emotional management to make it go away.

The key to intelligent action, when faced with toxic behavior, is to cultivate the ability to manage your emotions and keep calm under pressure. In fact, one of the main qualities of people who know how to manage stress is their ability to neutralize the effects of toxic people. 


“Disregard the opinion of toxic people. Free yourself from critics and you will be free from each of their words and actions. Do not idealize. Don’t expect anything from anyone.”

-Bernardo Stamateas-

Ignore toxic people looking for your attention

Toxic people don’t wear badges so that we can identify them. However, we all know which people around us are sources of conflict and discomfort. We know the harm that they can cause. We know where they attack us. You know who seeks you out, and you also know that they find you. And when they find you there, in that place, you know you are lost.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t avoid that toxic person, try not to fall into their trap. Ignore them. You know that he or she is going to try to get your attention, that he or she will try to provoke you. Don’t allow yourself to get tangled up, don’t let them find you. Don’t allow yourself to be provoked by their interruptions, actions, or comments. Be benevolent. Be patient. Pay them as little attention as possible. Bite your tongue if you have to so that their poison doesn’t affect you. Be assertive if the time has come to set boundaries.

“Share only with people who can help you with information and support. When you find negative people, close your mouth.”

-Israelmore Ayivo-

Do not adopt toxic behavior: avoid contagion

The primary characteristic of toxic things is that they are contagious. The same thing happens with toxic people: their attitude is contagious. If you respond with toxic behavior, you’ve already lost the battle. Even if that toxic person manages to push your “guilty” button, not all is lost. It is possible to keep calm in the face of their worst poison: the inoculation of guilt.

The fact that it is possible doesn’t mean it’s easy to ignore the calls for attention from a toxic person. In fact, one common strategy of toxic people is ridicule their victim in public when they can’t get a direct confrontation (if they haven’t already taken that road from the beginning). That’s why keeping your emotions under control is essential in a situation like this.

On the other hand, maintaining an emotional distance requires awareness. You can’t always prevent someone from pushing your buttons. When this occurs you will have to overcome your fears and insecurities and keep going. In some ways, it is better to ignore what’s happening because then it is simpler to control your emotions. There is another option, however: set boundaries.

“The disqualifier’s goal is to control our self-esteem, to make us feel like nothing in front of others, so that he can shine and be the center of the universe.”

-Bernardo Stamateas-

Set and defend your boundaries

You should know that an attack by a toxic person doesn’t undermine your dignity. In fact, your dignity can be attacked and ridiculed, but you can never lose it unless you give it up voluntarily. You don’t have to engage in a toxic person’s arguments, but you do need to set clear limits.

They don’t offend who they WANT to offend, but who they CAN offend. If you get defensive you are showing that you can be offended. If you set limits you are making it clear that he or she cannot attack you.

When dealing with a toxic person, reason and explanations aren’t worth anything. It’s important to be very clear, wise but firm, making your authority over the decisions that you have the right and responsibility to make very clear.

Keep in mind that to set a boundary you have to do it in a conscious and proactive way. If you let things happen naturally, you will find yourself constantly wrapped up in difficult conversations. If you set limits you will be able to control most of the chaos caused by a toxic person.

Practice practical compassion

As we have seen, when dealing with a toxic person we can attack, defend, or simply ignore. But it’s not always necessary to do any of these. In fact, sometimes it makes sense to be kind to toxic people. They may be going through a difficult time in their lives due to an emotional situation that they aren’t able to manage.

Unfortunately, toxic behavior is often a way of confronting a difficult personal situation. It’s certainly not fair that they make others deal with their pain, and causing others to feel bad provides no relief. Nevertheless, the toxic behavior directed at you doesn’t always contain ill-intentions, anger, or resentment.

This doesn’t mean that you have to let it happen or accept it. After all, we all have our own problems and our own demons. When dealing with this type of situation, face it with compassion and forgiveness. It’s important to set boundaries and not play their play their game, of course, but don’t worry too much about the other person’s attitude. At the end of the day, it is no more than a reflection of their painful and turbulent inner life.