How to identify and remove toxic people from your life in 3 steps

Guest post by Minerva Siegel
By: danielygoCC BY 2.0

Toxic people can create negativity that seeps into all aspects of your life. They can affect your self-image, your mental health, your very sense of self and who you are as a person. So, how do you know if someone is truly toxic, and not just having a bad moment? When do you know when it’s time to finally cut ties, and how do you go about it?

Pruning negative, toxic people from your garden of friends and family is essential, basic self-care, and never something you should feel bad about doing.

My experiences with cutting out toxic people are a little more extreme than others, so I speak with a lot of experience. Not only have I removed toxic friendships from my life, but I’ve had to cut ties with nearly all of my family-including my own parents. Losing them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, but when I did finally break away for good, it was as if a light started shining on my life.

I didn’t feel bogged down by negativity and self-doubt any longer; I felt free, and able to move on with my life. Here’s how I do it…

Step 1: Identifying toxic people

Everyone has bad days, bad weeks, even bad months sometimes. We all go through bad times when we’re feeling negative, and our negativity can bring others close to us down. So, how do you recognize a case of the grumps vs. toxicity?

  • Frequency
    Take note of how often this person is negative to the point where it affects you. Do you end up feeling bad about yourself when you’re around them? Do they negatively affect your self-image, or constantly disrespect your life choices? If the latter is true, it sounds like you have a toxic relationship with someone.
  • Life factors
    Is there something stressful going on in the potentially-toxic person’s life that is making them act this way, or is their toxicity an actual state of being? Are they going through a traumatic life event like a divorce, marital trouble, problems family? It’s important to be supportive and understanding of friends and family who are going through hard times, but if it’s getting to the point that it’s negatively affecting your own life and sense of self, it might be time to distance yourself from their situation for a while as an act of self-preservation.
  • Mental illness
    Does the potentially-toxic person have mental health problems that they’re trying to cope with? The world of mental health is so murky and abstract, and it can sometimes take dozens of medicine changes and combinations and hundreds of hours of therapy before someone who has mental illness can properly cope with life.

Personally, mental illness runs deeply in my family. The line I draw is this: If someone is actively seeking help and trying to get better, I’ll stay by their side and be as supportive as I can be while preserving my own mental and psychological well-being. However, if the person is sticking their head in the sand, ignoring their mental problems, refusing to acknowledge them or get the help they need, I refuse to be their victim and distance myself from them.

Step 2: Making the change

Cutting people out of your life is always painful, even if it’s for the best in the end. I don’t think there’s really any way around it. You have to be strong and brave to realize that you need to do what’s best for you and preserve your well-being by removing toxic people from your life.

Removing people that are detrimental to your well-being is always hard, and you’ll go through all the classic steps of grief, and mourn their loss, even though you know it’s for the best. But you have to keep in mind why you’re doing it, and focus on the end goal of self-preservation and self-care. Remember, too, that removing toxic people isn’t selfish; you aren’t a bad person for doing what you need to do to be healthy and happy. This isn’t your fault.

Step 3: Start Living

Cutting my own mother out of my life was probably the hardest thing I’ve been through, because the feelings of rejection, shame and self-blame stung like nothing I’ve felt before. Now that she’s out of my life, however, I can finally live — I was able to discover who I am as a person and to pursue activities that make me happy. I met a man, fell in love, got married, adopted two beautiful fur-kids, all without her in my life. I can say with utmost confidence that I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am now if she were still in my life.

As soon as I cut ties with the toxic people in my life, I started feeling better; like someone had opened a window and let the light and fresh air in. The peace, freedom and happiness I feel let me know every day that I made the right choice by standing up to the toxic people in my life and letting them go.

Identifying truly toxic people can be difficult, but if you really ask yourself some hard questions and examine your relationship with the people in question and deem them to be toxic, letting them go and moving on comes with such an exhilarating feeling of liberation that makes the pain of losing that person worth it.

Comments on How to identify and remove toxic people from your life in 3 steps

  1. I love toxic people posts. Not because toxic people make me happy by any means, but because I lived with toxic relationships for a long time.The recognition of what a toxic relationship is and that it’s ok to remove yourself from them (even with people who have been in your life for a long time) has really helped me to have a more positive life. The sense of relief after cutting off a toxic relationship is ah-mazing.

    I always try to keep in mind that just because *I* have a toxic relationship with someone, doesn’t mean that they are a toxic person to *everyone*. It doesn’t automatically make them a terrible person. And that if someone is toxic to me, I am probably toxic to them too.

    I highly recommend Toxic People: 10 Ways to Deal with People Who Make your Life Miserable by Lillian Glass. It helps identify different types of toxic relationship and also gives coping mechanisms for those people that you need to interact with (coworkers, boss, assigned college room mate)

  2. Although there is some good advice here I think there are some other things that should be considered before cutting someone out of your life. I think it is important to look at what they are being negative about and do some self assessment whether they might have valid concerns. What makes someone happy in the short term isn’t necessarily what is best in the long term. Is the reason their comments sting so much about a specific topic that it actually is something that needs to be changed for example. Sometimes friends and family may be negative from a place of love and not merely being judgemental. Also sometimes toxicity can be a mutual thing; is their negativity coming from a reaction of how the other person is acting towards them. Perhaps someone may be bringing out the negativity in others without realizing it. As I said I don’t disagree with the post. I just know from personal experience sometimes when a loved one has been very critical I’ve come to realize the validity of their point. Sometimes the best friends are the ones willing to risk your friendship by calling you out and making you question things.

    • I think good healthy relationships should include things you don’t want to hear, painful honest truths etc. I think this is exactly why it is so hard to identify relationships that are truly toxic, because they contain elements of good healthy relationships but for me it is about balance and boundaries. A good friend delivering a painful truth will do it respectfully and carefully, treating it as rare event it is and they won’t fling it at you in anger (or blindside you with it in a public place or at a significant event) and they will be prepared for you to disagree. Even the best of friends can bungle it though, so it’s not about doing it perfectly every time it’s about not doing it dangerously imperfectly almost every time.
      Something that makes it hard to take action about a toxic relationship, is that sometimes (probably most times) a person whose behaviour is toxic is so because they are (pretty visibly) in some kind of emotional pain, from something now or in the past. It’s almost never because they are just plain bad, they are just not going to be an obvious villain you can self-righteously take action against to universal agreement. Feeling bad about their suffering doesn’t mean it’s a wrong decision, just a right but hard one.

  3. I wish I had recognized how toxic my relationship was with my ex was years before I did. When I finally realized that being around him made me feel bad about myself it was like coming out of the fog into the daylight. The first weeks and months after we broke up were like rediscovering myself all over again.
    My rule of thumb for identifying people / relationships that aren’t good for me is to think about A. How do I feel during / after spending time with this person? B. How do I feel about myself when I’m with this person? If negative feelings outweigh the positive feelings for either then I know it’s time to let that relationship go.

  4. Perfect timing. I have been thinking about letting go of a toxic “friend” for months now. I kept holding off, thinking she might change. But this article inspired me to take the plunge and delete her from social media, once and for all. And I have to say that I feel so liberated, like a weight has been lifted from my chest! I have felt nothing but peace since hitting that “delete” button, so I think it is safe to say that I will not be missing her. Thanks for pushing me in the right direction!

  5. This is very difficult to do and it’s sometimes hard for others to understand. For the most part our family and friends have been understanding about our choice to cut my husbands parents from our lives for the actions they have taken against us especially during some of the most difficult times in our life. However, it is still going to be a long road and one we deal with regularly as we begin to process. I think only you can know who is toxic to your life and what is right for you.

  6. So I just got engaged in June and I’m having mad difficulty with this. I love my mom but last year after a crazy blow-up regarding my collegiate education, I realized she may be emotionally abusive. long story short, now I’m in therapy and it’s all confirmed. But I can’t bring myself to cut her off/wean from the relationship. We talk every day. I couldn’t even finish this article!

  7. What about a toxic co-worker? How do you handle that? Quitting or transfering is not an option, and they are not in a management position (though seem to be delusional about that fact) Just curious how to handle this one without looking like a petty narc…

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