Dealing with Toxic People


My family is currently in the middle of a toxic relationship with another person. This person is drowning under a history of addiction, serious health problems, and a long line of bad decisions. We have done quite a lot to get this person the help needed to return to some sense of normalcy, but it seems that the more help we give, the worse the problems get. Earlier this year, we realized that we need to begin distancing ourselves from this person because the situation will only lead to us being tapped dry financially and emotionally.


Before you learn how to deal with toxic people, you first have to know what toxic people look like.  Here’s a list of the common types of toxic people:

  • People who refuse to let go of the addictions that are killing them.
  • People who thrive on negative conversations.
  • People who continue to make damaging decisions that affect others around them.
  • People who refuse to let go of dangerous prejudiced thinking.
  • People who only see you as an endless source of money.
  • People who (intentionally or unintentionally) find ways to sap the joy from you.


Often, we are plagued with guilt, and we really want to help friends and family. Toxic people know this and sometimes play on that emotion. It may not seem like it, but when dealing with a toxic friend or relative, you really do have a choice about getting involved.

So the question this week is this: How do you deal with toxic people?

Here’s the answer: Learn how to be selectively selfish.

My wife was the first person to teach me that the word “selfish” has a bad connotation, but it should be treated as any other feeling we have. Selfishness is a TEMPORARY state of being, like being angry or hungry or sleepy. Sometimes I’m angry, and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m sleepy, and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m selfish and sometimes I’m not.

Think about it. You are already selective with lots of things in life. You selectively choose your friends. You selectively choose your entertainment choices. You are selective with your food, your clothes, and with most decisions in your life. Now you need to be selectively selfish with spending your resources on frustratingly fault-ridden friends and family.

And limited resources are the other factors. I’m a chronic rescuer. I have a tendency to step in and rescue people from bad situations. But over time, I’ve learned that I can only rescue others if I have the time, energy, and money to SPARE. If I can’t spare those three resources, then I can’t get involved.

So here’s what you do.

If you need to reduce a toxic person’s presence in your life, allow them one (and only one) conversation. Call that person up and say that this is the only conversation you’re willing to have on this topic and then lay it all on the line (in as polite of a way as possible). If that toxic person loves you, he’ll understand. But remember that this person only gets one conversation. Otherwise, you risk falling into some of the same traps you’re trying to avoid.

If you have the conversation but the toxic behavior continues, then be selectively selfish with your time, energy, money, and effort, and just step away. Take control of your own life and create physical distance between toxic people and your limited precious resources.

If you’re a chronic rescuer and you continue to struggle with toxic people, remember this mantra: By always putting other people first, you’re basically teaching them that you come second.

Let me say that again.

By always putting other people first, you’re basically teaching them that you come second.

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