How to Cut Toxic People out of your life - from the Art of Manliness (not the full article)
What we’re talking about here is true toxicity — the kind that infects, metastasizes, and takes over your life. Here are a few classic signs of toxic people:
Toxic people try to control you. Strange as it might sound, people who aren’t in control of their own lives tend to want to control yours. The toxic look for ways to control others, either through overt methods or subtle manipulation.
Toxic people disregard your boundaries. If you’re always telling someone to stop behaving a certain way and they only continue, that person is probably toxic. Respecting the boundaries of others comes naturally to well-adjusted adults. The toxic person thrives on violating them.
Toxic people take without giving. Give and take is the lifeblood of true friendship. Sometimes you need a hand, and sometimes your friend does, but in the end it more or less evens out. Not with the toxic person — they’re often there to take what they can get from you, as long as you’re willing to give it.
Toxic people are always “right.” They’re going to find ways to be right even when they’re not. They rarely (if ever) admit when they’ve messed up, miscalculated, or misspoken.
Toxic people aren’t honest. I’m not talking about natural exaggerations, face-saving, or white lies here. I’m talking about blatant and repeated patterns of dishonesty.
Toxic people love to be victims. The toxic revel in being a victim of the world. They seek to find ways to feel oppressed, put down, and marginalized in ways they clearly are not. This might take the form of excuses, rationalizations, or out-and-out blaming.
Toxic people don’t take responsibility. Part of the victim mentality comes from a desire to avoid responsibility. When the world is perpetually against them, their choices and actions can’t possibly be responsible for the quality of their life — it’s “just the way things are.”
Do any of these sound familiar? They might help diagnose toxicity in the people around you, even if the toxic pattern isn’t always or immediately obvious. In fact, toxicity can easily go unnoticed for years until you stop to consider your own experience of a difficult person. Though our thresholds for toxicity are relative, that’s often because we fail to recognize the symptoms.
So how do you go about removing these toxic people from your life and reclaiming the time and energy you’ve been giving them?
Accept that it might be a process. Getting rid of toxic elements isn’t always easy. They don’t respect your boundaries now, so it’s likely they won’t respect them later. They might come back even after you tell them to go away. You might have to tell them to leave several times before they finally do. So keep in mind that distancing yourself is a gradual process.
Don’t feel like you owe them a huge explanation. Any explaining you do is more for you than for them. Again, tell them how you feel, which is a subject not open for debate. Or, if you prefer, keep it simple: Tell them calmly and kindly that you don’t want them in your life anymore, and leave it at that. How much or how little you tell them is really up to you. Every relationship requires a different approach.
Talk to them in a public place. It’s not unheard of for toxic people to get belligerent or even violent. Talking to them publicly can significantly diminish the chances of this happening. If you run into problems, you can just get up and leave.
Block them on social media. Technology makes distancing more difficult, so don’t leave any window open for them to bully or cajole you. You’ve set boundaries. Stick to them. This includes preventing them from contacting you via social media, if appropriate. Shutting down email and other lines of communication with a toxic person might also be in order.
Don’t argue — just restate your boundaries. It’s tempting to fall into the dynamic of toxicity by arguing or fighting — that is precisely what toxic people do. In the event they do return, make a promise with yourself to avoid an argument. Firmly restate your boundaries, then end communication. You’re not trying to “debate” the person into leaving you alone. This isn’t a negotiation. You can, however, make it less and less attractive for them to keep bothering you. “Do not feed the trolls!”
Consider writing a letter. Writing yourself a letter is a sort of dress rehearsal for an in-person conversation. You’re clarifying your thoughts and articulating your feelings. You can also refer back to the letter later, if you need to remember why you made the decision to cut someone out. Because toxic people often do everything they can to stay in your life, you’ll need all the help you can get.
Consider creating distance instead of separation. Remember the person we talked about above — the one who’s not toxic, but just a drag? You don’t have to cut these people out of your life completely. You just need to create distance by occupying your time with other friends and activities, and agreeing not to feed into their dynamic.
And in many cases, you might not have to “do” anything at all.
For many toxic relationships — especially with friends and colleagues — you’ll only need to make an internal decision to create some space, without having a bigger conversation with the toxic person again. Remember: you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You can just slowly ghost out of their life to the degree necessary, until you’re no longer affected by the toxicity. That might seem obvious, but it can be tempting to think that you have to make your distancing obvious and vocal, when in fact most of the work is on your side of the equation. Like a fire, you can simply stop feeding the flames.
I won’t lie: Cutting people (especially family) out of your life can be one of the most challenging things you can do. But as we’ve said, it’s also one of the most liberating and life-changing decisions you’ll ever make.
Most importantly, cutting toxic people out sends a key message to yourself. You’re saying: “I have value.” You’re prioritizing your happiness over someone else’s dysfunction. Once you recognize how toxic people can erode this basic sense of self-worth, it becomes harder and harder to allow them in your life.