Toxic People - You get what you tolerate

  • The daughter whose father constantly turns up uninvited, regardless of the plans she’s made
  • The partner who is constantly belittled and blamed by their other half
  • The long-suffering wife who turns a blind eye to hubby’s late nights and not-so-secret infidelities
  • The put-upon guy who bows down to his girlfriend’s every whim
  • The boss whose decisions are blatantly ignored by one senior staff member
  • The P.A. whose boss is a tantrum throwing, mind-changing, paranoid control freak

In every case one person is ‘crossing the line’ and the other is simply putting up with it. Are they getting what they tolerate? Absolutely.

Do they deserve what they tolerate? Surprisingly, many people say ‘yes’. ‘Just don’t put up with the bad behaviour,’ they’ll say. ‘Have it out with them. Confront them.’ Or, ‘You should eliminate all the toxic people in your life.’ (This last one always sounds a little sinister to me).

Let’s be clear. No one deserves the toxic behaviour they tolerate. BUT – (yes, it’s a big but) – toleration of unacceptable behaviour is often a contributing factor to its growth and development. This is not about blame or self-blame – it’s simply that toxic behaviour flourishes where there is no resistance to it, or no signal of its unacceptability.

Why Do We Put Up With It?

Of course, there are lots of reasons why we tolerate toxic people and the stuff they do. We may have no idea how to deal with it. We may not actually be aware that we’re tolerating it. We may feel that we do indeed deserve the toxic behaviour. We may not feel strong enough to do anything other than suffer it. In extreme cases we may believe we’re totally trapped by circumstances out of our control.

Trade Off

Finally – we can often suspect (consciously or unconsciously) that it’s worth putting up with toxic behaviour because:

  • we fear the possible consequences and costs involved in dealing with it
  • the good things the toxic person brings to the table outweigh the bad

Can a Toxic Person Really have Positive Things to Offer?

Of course they can – in fact I’d argue that most toxic people either genuinely offer some positives  or at least seem to. The kind of trade off I’m talking about here can be hugely variable from person to person.

Sometimes we may not want to acknowledge these positives because of what it says about us. The toxic person may bring status, for instance, or an affluent life-style. It can often be hard to admit to ourselves just how important the nice car, the holidays abroad or the heated pool actually are. Of course, it may be nothing more than the benefit of not feeling alone.

A toxic person offering these advantages might be a romantic partner, but could just as easily be a parent, a successful boss  – or even a sibling or friend.

And if those advantages extend to others – your children for instance, the cost to them of you dealing with your toxic person may simply feel out of the question.

Toxic Relationships have Unrecognized Complexities

All things considered then – your toxic relationship probably has a little more complexity than you might first recognize. And it’s often this unrecognized web of benefits, needs, hopes and fears that can lead us to toleration of normally unacceptable toxic behaviour. Think, for instance, about the jumble of complications that make the average friendship or the tangle of feelings that can make love so confusing.

Audit for Clarity

That’s why I’d always advocate an ‘audit’ of personal costs and benefits in a toxic relationship before you begin to change it. Such knowledge brings invaluable clarity and strength.

Clarity allows you to better understand your toxic relationship. It helps you see that there are choices you can make. And with strength comes the determination to work out the best way to deal with your toxic person and then make it happen.

With toxic people, I believe we definitely do get the toxic behaviour we tolerate. Understanding that we actually are tolerating toxic behaviour is a first step – figuring out why we tolerate it isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but it can be the key to finally doing something about it.


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Why Toxic People Make Us Stupid

by Andrew Leigh on 12 November, 2012

What is it that makes so many otherwise intelligent people act and feel stupid when their toxic person is around?Why Toxic People make us Stupid. Image: Andy Leigh

You may be just everyday-intelligent – streetwise and getting on with a busy life. You may be highly educated-intelligent – a PhD, a professor, medical consultant, rocket scientist even. Or perhaps a sharp-brained millionaire entrepreneur.

It doesn’t matter, because when the toxic people in our lives are strutting their stuff we can leave all that aside and become (as the saying goes), as thick as two short planks.

How does this happen? Do our toxic people have special super powers that transform normally bright people into clueless dullards? Do our toxic people radiate invisible stupid rays at us?

Hmm… obviously I’m not going to sell that idea as objective fact. But there is definitely something going on.

Why Toxic People Make Us Dumb

Now I could shift at this point into some dense psychological explanations of why this happens (I’m lying here – I most definitely couldn’t) – but I work best using language that I actually understand. I think there are two main factors in play when our toxic people are around us:

  • Our churning negative emotions
  • Our disempowering negative inner voices and inner doubts

When these two combine, the result is often a nastily scrambled head – or to use a metaphor that fits with my cartoon – we get a bad attack of turnip brain. Now, I don’t know what the average IQ of a turnip is – but I’m betting it’s not very high – not even for the bright ones.

Once we accept that toxic people can have this effect on us, it’s no wonder they find it so easy to run rings around us. The trouble is that even when we recognize that we currently have all the addled brain power of a root vegetable we find that the presence of the toxic person (with their stupid rays) makes it difficult to act in a smart and intelligent manner.

But we can be smart around our toxic people.

How to be Smart around Toxic People

The answer is almost disappointingly simple: don’t leave it until you are bathed in stupid-rays to do your thinking and your planning. If you want to build an effective shield against the stupid rays, spend some time on it when you are feeling strong, able and a little more clear-headed. Focus on what makes this person toxic to you; on how other people deal with them, and on any recurring patterns that you feel sucked into repeating over and over. Then think about what you might do differently next time you’re together. Plan to try different things and see how they work out. Then with your new information, modify and try to improve things.

It’s the work you do away from them that will immunize you from those toxic people stupid-rays and allow you to use your brains.

And please remember that if you have trouble seeing new options and strategies you can read about them in my other blog posts. Or, of course, you can invest a small amount of money for a huge return of knowhow and techniques and buy Dealing with Toxic People.

You have nothing to lose but the turnip.Toxic Person Induced Turnip-brain



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Think before Confronting Toxic People.

by Andrew Leigh on 27 September, 2012

Confronting Toxic People can be riskyFollowing on from my previous post, Why I Despair of Toxic People ‘List’ Articles, I’d like to have a crack at another piece of common ‘advice’ that’s out there on the web. It’s the idea that confronting a toxic person is a generally the best way to go. Actually as far as many so-called experts are concerned it’s the only way to go. They’ve apparently spent years working in the field of personal development and then they come out with statements like: ‘Why you must confront toxic people.’

It’s more of the simplistic, one-dimensional thinking that seems to regard all toxic people as the same, all toxic situations as the same – and of course all their solutions and strategies are the same as a result. Am I being a bit too scathing here? Well… no… and yes. But the yes is simply because there’s also more thoughtful and helpful stuff out there too.

However, it’s the ‘must confront’ material that concerns me, not least because it’s obvious from the comments to some of these articles that people do buy in to the whole ‘confrontation first’ mentality and follow it through. Now clearly there are situations where confrontation is a good choice – and I’ll deal with that later in the post. Right now though, let’s look at a few excellent reasons why you should think twice before confronting toxic people.

Hostile and Dangerous

Dictionaries say that confrontation is about facing people in hostility or defiance. Sure there are circumstances where a hostile showdown is very satisfying (yes, okay, I’ve had my share) and it can certainly have an impact. But such hostile confrontations are fuelled with anger, frustration that is at its emotional peak, or perhaps with a burning sense of injustice that becomes too much to bear.

And unfortunately, the kind of impact you achieve in such situations is akin to the impact a hammer has on glass – shards, slivers and whole daggers of the stuff spraying off who knows where, leaving razor sharp edges to injure you, your friends or loved ones, either now or later.

Here are just a few of the negative outcomes that hostile and emotionally charged confrontation can bring:

  • Your ‘toxic other’ may see themselves as the injured and innocent party – and see you as the toxic one
  • Mutual friends may misinterpret events and also consider you to be the toxic person
  • You risk losing or alienating valued non-toxic friends
  • Using confrontation as a habitual tactic is probably toxic behaviour itself
  • You may simply crank up the whole toxic relationship and making things even worse

And don’t forget that most confrontations are also an invitation for the other person to have a blast back at you. Make sure you can take whatever they might throw.

The Right Kind of Confrontation

So what are the alternatives? Never resort to confrontation? Do nothing and let the toxic person walk all over you? That’s definitely not what I’m saying.

In fact I’d suggest that if there is a place for confrontation, then it’s earlier in a toxic relationship, maybe even before you’d label it ‘toxic’ – rather than later when emotions and grievances have built up. Earlier confrontations tend to be much smaller scale– hardly confrontations at all but simply establishing boundaries and making clear what isn’t acceptable. You could argue that this is a simple matter of being assertive – and remember – being assertive is quite different from being aggressive.

When a person sets boundaries with a potentially toxic person early in a relationship, there are two likely outcomes

  1. The toxic behaviour does not develop
  2. The toxic person finds someone else to be toxic with

It’s no accident that friendly, helpful yet assertive people have fewer problems with toxic people, whereas friendly, helpful but unassertive people often seem to attract them like flies.

Established Toxic Relationships

Okay – that’s all fine if you are just getting to know someone – but what about if you are already in the grips of a toxic friend or relative? What then? Then, I suggest, you begin to use your head and get smart. Damaging confrontations often happen because you, as ‘victim’, don’t have the faintest clue of how else to deal with the situation – or perhaps you’ve tried a few things and either they haven’t worked, or they’ve made things even worse. It’s easy in these circumstances to carry a belief that you have no options other than confrontation. But, as I’ve already said above, the confrontation rarely happens until growing tension and anger has you fit to burst. It can get ugly.

Confrontation Cycle

I should mention here that because you often feel better after a confrontational outburst, one outcome can be that apart from feeling temporarily better about things,  nothing actually changes. Gradually your unhappiness builds again and the cycle just loops and loops in a desperate (for you) toxic dance.

So what do I mean by ‘using your head’? Simply that you take time to learn about the different ways that you can successfully deal with the toxic people blighting your life. Learn about yourself – your strengths and weaknesses. Think of your weaknesses as areas for development instead, because implicit in that phrase is the idea that you can grow and develop. And you can. Everyone can and you’re no exception.

This takes work, but it’s fascinating, enlightening and very, very positive.

And it means that should you ever need to confront, you can do so calmly – in control and from a position of strength.


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Why I Despair of Toxic People ‘List’ Articles

May 23, 2012

There’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 […]

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Toxic People: Hindsight is Insight

April 18, 2012

How hindsight can help you deal with difficult and toxic people Hindsight has a bad name. After all, it’s easy to see what went wrong when we look back on events, what mistakes we made, or maybe, how some toxic people manipulated a situation. We say things like, ‘Oh, it’s obvious with the benefit of […]

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Toxic People and Toxic Giving

March 9, 2012

Do you ever cringe with embarrassment, shame or even anger when certain people offer you help or a gift? Are you sometimes baffled by the way their ‘generosity’ can feel so negative and unhelpful? Well, while sometimes we just need to work on our own ability to accept generosity as well as giving it, there […]

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Are You a Toxic People Magnet

December 1, 2011

There are some unfortunate men and women who seem to attract toxic people like a magnet. Or maybe a better image would be like wasps around a jam pot. There they are, buzzing around, and each one with a painful sting they’re not afraid of using. Skewed Perspective Hardly surprising then, that many toxic people […]

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The Toxic People Compassion Trap

November 24, 2011

Does your good nature lead you to giving more time, energy, money or gifts than you feel comfortable with? Have you ever felt trapped into continually giving more than you want to, while the receiver seems to simply take it all for granted and expect even more? Then you may be caught in a toxic […]

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Why Toxic People Don’t Know They’re Toxic

September 15, 2011

I’ve known Mark for years. I get on okay with him (okay, I don’t see him too often) – but I know that other folk find him abrasive, rude and a little too snobbish. To be fair I can see exactly where they’re coming from. Anyway – here’s what I heard Mark say to another […]

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Toxic Friends – Everybody has One! (Almost)

August 24, 2011

Well, it’s official –almost everyone has at least one toxic friend. A recent survey by the Today Show and Self Magazine has revealed that a whopping 80% of women have a toxic friend. Perhaps even worse – 33% of best friends are considered toxic. And if you think men are any different then think again, […]

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