Why I Despair of Toxic People ‘List’ Articles

by Andrew Leigh on 23 May, 2012

Toxic People ShelterThere’s a type of toxic people article that seems to be getting everywhere just now.

Seems like everyone and their dog want to tell us the same tired old story: Here’s my category list of toxic people. Avoid them. At all costs.

The author will offer us their ‘top ten’ worst kinds of toxic people (the charmer, the drama queen, the volcano, the cynic, etc., blah, blah, blah…) add a brief description for each and then a couple of not-too-helpful paragraphs on why we should avoid them. As I already mentioned above, if they want to really hype it up they’ll tell us how absolutely essential it is that we ditch everyone who qualifies, cut them out of our life – just like that.

It’s a zero tolerance, scorched-earth approach to dealing with toxic people, and it drives me crazy.

Here are my top 8 reasons why I despair of such articles.

  1. They promote a ‘bunker mentality’ approach to social interaction
  2. They reduce the people we find difficult to one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs
  3. They encourage a fault finding and defensive frame of mind
  4. They ignore even the lowest levels of social complexity
  5. They are blind to any negative consequences of following such poor advice. For instance:
    • Offending other more valued people
    • Isolation
    • The loss of any advantages some of these otherwise toxic people may bring
  6. They totally ignore the presence of dozens of very effective coping and detoxifying techniques
  7. They underestimate you, and deny you the option of learning, growing and becoming a more empowered and powerful human being
  8. They often say avoid at all costs. At all costs? Really? So, losing good friends? Estranging family, children, parents? Telling lies instead of the truth? Quitting an otherwise great career? ……… Oh, please – use a little imagination

I’m not saying you shouldn’t avoid certain toxic people. I’m not saying you shouldn’t cut some of them out of your life. Both are valid tactics.

But they should rarely be your only tactic.

Many of these article authors are otherwise intelligent and well qualified people whose careers I respect (I won’t name them because that would be a toxic response in itself). Well, they may be all that, but this kind of article is simplistic, potentially damaging and just plain dumb.

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