How to Spot and Cope With Toxic People in Your Life

man holds his head in exasperation as woman talks to him
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Most people have known or worked with (or even been related to) someone who just seemed to spread negativity everywhere. Examples include a work colleague who constantly complains about how poorly the company is run or a friend who can never seem to see the good in anything (and who never hesitates to tell you all about it). These are the toxic people in your life.

After a conversation with a toxic person, your mood probably will be lower. In fact, you may be blue for some time, thinking about all the bad things in your workplace or your social circle.

The negative person, however, now may seem happy — she's offloaded all of her negative thoughts and energy onto you, and having done so, she may be quite cheerful. This is one hallmark of a toxic person — having thoroughly upset you, she's pretty happy, at least for a while.

The key to coping with toxic people in your life is to minimize your contact with them and to understand what's happening when they start to spew negativity. Once you learn not to absorb that negativity, you should be able to cope with them more easily.

Who Are the Toxic People in Your Life?

Toxic people are the ones who complain all the time. They are the ones who always blame you. They may always turn things around so things you thought they had done wrong are suddenly your fault. They overreact to bad events.

Toxic people can drain your energy. You may start to spend a lot of time and emotional strength trying to cheer them up. They may bombard you with their negativity so that you have to spend energy trying to fend it off. Perhaps their constant pessimism infects you, or they always make you angry. They may be leeches who feed themselves by encouraging you to give them your optimism or strength.

People with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, major depression or even depressive tendencies may be particularly susceptible to toxic people since they're already sensitive to negative emotions. For example, someone with bipolar who's in the midst of a mixed or depressive episode may have a somewhat weaker grip on emotional stability than other people, and that may make that person an easier target for toxic people. However, toxic people can affect anyone.

Spotting the Toxic People and Shutting Them Down

Do you feel depressed, angry, or tired after speaking with certain individuals? Think about this person. Is he or she a complainer? Someone who always expects things to go wrong? Someone who constantly finds fault with you? Does he or she always seem more cheerful after ranting to you?

If one or more of these is true, you likely have a toxic person on your hands.

If you have an easy way to get this person entirely out of your life, you'll be better off instantly. It's not easy to do when the toxic individual is a co-worker, long-time friend, or family member.

If it's a co-worker and the problem is proximity, is there a good excuse (something along the lines of "I'm right under an air vent that's bothering me" or "I could get more work done if I wasn't right by the printer") to get your desk moved? If the person seeks you out to complain, you might try referring him to a supervisor, and then calmly return to doing your work. You may have to repeat this numerous times before he gets the hint.

With family members and friends, it's likely to be more difficult, since there may be no easy way to remove the toxic person from your life.

If you have a seriously toxic friend, you may need to simply decrease the time you spend with her. If you're worried about offending her, cut back your visits over a period of months so it isn't quite as noticeable (she may well notice anyway, though).

When the toxic person is a family member or close friend, it may be possible to encourage that person to get into therapy, which is often needed to solve the underlying issue behind the negativity.

If you can't get the person out of your life, you need to train yourself to tune out when he's complaining, fault-finding, and energy-draining behavior begins.

The Bottom Line

Getting away from toxic people can help, but there are times (both at work and in your family and social life) when avoidance just isn't possible. That's when you need to realize you can't change the other person's behavior—but you can change your own.

If someone you know always triggers depression, anger, or tiredness in you, examine how you react when the negativity starts, and see if changing your own reaction helps. If your reaction doesn't contribute to the problem, or if you just can't make such a change, find a way to lessen this person's presence in your life. It will be good for your health.

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