How To Deal With Difficult & Toxic People
By Leo Gura - September 10, 2014 | 72 Comments
Strategies for cutting toxic people out of your life or limiting their influence
Hey, this is Leo for Actualized.org. In this video I’m going to talk about how to deal with difficult and toxic people.
You Are Who You Surround Yourself With
Let’s talk about how to deal with people in your life who are bringing you down. These are people that I call either difficult or I like the word toxic. What’s the secret with dealing with these types of people because these types of people can destroy your life? There’s really a spectrum of toxicity of all the people in your life. Sometimes you have mildly toxic people who are just more like an annoyance or a frustration but then it can get so bad on the end of the spectrum that it really gets into abusive territory, just like very dysfunctional territory.
One of the things that is really key to understand about your life is that you are like a sponge. No matter how personally developed you are, how successful you are, how happy you are, how optimistic you are, if you are living in a negative environment, whether it’s a negative physical environment but here we’re talking about negative relationships, if you’re living in this kind of negative environment then this is robbing you of your potential. It’s basically making you miserable.
These people are dragging you down because they are constantly feeding you with negativity, pessimism, limiting beliefs, anger or other things and these are rubbing off on you. You’re the sponge so you’re soaking it all in and it’s affecting your psyche. You have to work really, really hard to counteract these effects. In this video what I want to do is I want to cover some of the ways that you can go about handling these kinds of people and to give you different techniques and strategies.
Basically my philosophy on this is really simple. It’s the philosophy that life is too short for dealing with difficult and toxic people. Why make life more difficult for yourself? Life’s already pretty challenging. You’re already working really hard on your own life, on your own self, why are you bringing yourself down with these toxic people? There’s no reason for it.
My strategy here and my solution ultimately is to get rid of these people out of my life. I want to live a life where the people that are in my life are supporting me, encouraging me, bringing in positivity. They’re building something with me rather than going against me. That’s kind of the ultimate solution.
I want to really get to the root cause of it here because a lot of people what I see them doing they’re still stuck in the social matrix. They are so worried about relying upon various social relationships that they are not willing to get rid of these toxic people out of their lives. What this does is it creates this spiral of negativity that goes down and down and it brings you with it. There’s no need to live a life like that.
In fact, what I’m going to argue is you can’t really self-actualize. You can’t really create a powerful and happy fulfilling life if you’re surrounding yourself with these types of folks. Jim Rohm, love Jim Rohm, he has a lot of great wisdom. One of the wisest things that he said was that, ‘You are the average of the top five associates that you hang out with’.
What this means is if you take and make a list of all the people in your life and you write a number down for how many hours per week you’re spending with each one of those people and you then rank everybody according to the number of hours you spend with them, the top five people that you spend the most time with, these are the people that have the most influence on you. It’s a very simple theory. Basically whoever you hang out with is who you’re going to absorb into yourself and you kind of become the average of all that.
If this principle is true then who do you want to surround yourself with? Positive empowering people or negative disempowering people? If you do this exercise, you actually write this out and you actually tally up the numbers, you might be shocked to discover that you hang out with some people a lot more than others. You might also be shocked to discover that some of those people that you hang out with and spend five, ten, even twenty hours a week with, that those are super negative, super pessimistic, super miserable and depressive anger-prone type of people.
Maybe that’s why you’re not getting the success you want in your life, is because you’re around these types of people all the time. You’re stuck in this kind of environment. If that’s the case then we’ll help you sort that out right now.
Types Of Toxic People
Let’s talk a little bit more about the types of people that we’re talking about here. I want to get very specific. Take the abstract, bring it down into the concrete. Here are some of the people that qualify as being toxic. It can be anybody but here are some categories you want to look out for.
Your boss, your coworkers and/or business partners that you have. These are people that you usually spend a lot of time with because you put a lot of time into your work. If these people are negative you really want to look out for that.
Next are clients or customers that you have. If you’re self-employed, you’re working with clients or customers or if you’re even working for somebody else you might be working with clients or customers who are really toxic. You might want to watch out for those.
Of course you want to watch out for your friends. What kind of circle of friends are you keeping around you? You have a lot of choices about what kind of friends you keep.
Next is, of course, your intimate relationships. Girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband. You’ve got to really watch out for that because of course your intimate relationship is your most intimate relationship so that’s where you get the closest to the other person. It’s also probably your relationship that you spend the most time in or one of the most so toxicity there is very damaging.
Finally, and this is the most difficult really, is family. Your mom, your dad, your brother or your sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and of course your own children. This category is pretty broad and there’s a lot of stuff in here that’s difficult to deal with because family issues tend to be the most sticky and thorny issues. These are the people that are the most difficult to cut from your life, these are the people that you grew up with, these are the people that you probably want to keep around for a long, long time to come.
Those are the categories. Anybody that we didn’t cover, other types of people, they can also be toxic. Basically anybody can be toxic but these are the people that are the most important to look at.
Breaking Down Toxicity
The next thing that I want to get really clear on is what do we mean by ‘toxic’? What does ‘toxicity’ actually mean? This can mean different things to different people. It’s a pretty subjective term. Let’s break it down a little bit.
Here’s what I consider toxic and these are the things you really want to watch out for. One is depression; people who are very depressed, feeling really down on themselves. Two is negativity and limiting beliefs. There could be people that aren’t per se depressed, but they’re always pessimistic, they’re always casting doubts, they’re always talking about how stuff can’t happen, stuff won’t work, they are always playing the victim role. They’ve got all these sorts of beliefs about how life can’t allow them to do what they want to do and how it can’t allow you to do what you want to do. It starts to rub off on you.
Next are really dogmatic and closed-mind people. These are folks that are really, really set in their ways. They have certain sets of beliefs maybe religious beliefs, political beliefs, business beliefs, life beliefs.
They just have to have it that way and they want you to fit into that one particular mold that they’re playing. They’re playing the role and they want you to play the same role. Really closed-minded people.
Next are anger-prone people and violent people. Anger can be a spectrum. You can have mild forms of anger and then you can get worse and worse and devolve into full out violence or fights, throwing objects… that kind of really toxic stuff.
After that comes drama. Drama is horrible. You know those people there’s always something happening in their life, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are they always make it dramatic.
They always take a mole hill and make a huge mountain out of it. It’s always up and down and it’s predictable. These people just have a very turbulent and dramatic lifestyle. That’s just how they live but that’s not how you want to live.
Finally, criminal activity. Maybe your friends are involved with criminal activity, maybe someone in your family is, maybe someone at your job, maybe your company is involved in some sort of shady activities that you don’t want to be sucked into. Criminal activity is a really dangerous one because once you have those types of people around you, you tend to get more and more sucked into that and then you’re prone to get involved with that even though you didn’t intend to from the very beginning. Those people can be real leeches on your life because their life is so upside down that it can help rubbing off and affecting you. So that one is really important to consider as far toxicity goes.
Lastly I would say people with addictions. It could be hard core addictions but even soft core addictions. Of course if you have people around you who are using drugs and really involved with something pretty heavy like that that’s obviously very toxic, but even more milder forms of addictions.
Maybe your friends are addicted to television or video games and they suck you into it too. Maybe they are addicted to food, they go out and eat all the time. Maybe your family is addicted to food. I know that’s how my family was. That stuff can be really toxic to you and keep you from progressing and breaking out of those negative habits.
So what’s the ultimate solution? We’ve talked about the types of people, we’ve talked about specific types of toxicities, what’s the ultimate solution for how to deal with this? It’s actually pretty simple. It’s to cut people out of your life. It’s so simple that sometimes people forget that this is an option.
Literally what you do is you take a scalpel and you cut that person out of your life like a tumor, you excise a tumor from your body. This is a very apt metaphor for what you’re doing. This is what’s happening: because of this sponge-like effect of your mind it soaks everything up. Because of this averaging law that we talked about from Jim Rohm it really is the case that once negativity seeps into your system it just builds and builds and it metastasizes like a cancer and it spreads throughout your whole body, spreads through your mind and then sooner or later it starts to affect your habits, it affects your behaviors, it affects your ways of thinking, it really colors your perspective of the world.
This can be a dangerous thing if it happens over prolonged periods of time, months and years go by. What you’ve really got to do is you’ve got to build the courage to cut these kinds of people out of your life. Simply cut them out.
One of the things I want you to acknowledge and admit to yourself right now is that it doesn’t matter who, if someone is violating your standards, your principles and your values in life, then that person can be cut. It doesn’t matter who it is. Bosses and coworkers, friends, customers… they can all be cut. Even family can be cut.
This is where sometimes people have trouble is with family. They’ll say, “Leo, family, you can’t cut family”. You might even say something like, “I have this really good friend, old friend from middle school. I’ve known them for decades now. I can’t cut him. I can’t cut her. I can’t cut this client, it’s a really important client. I can’t cut my boss off, my work off”.
There’s all these sorts of excuses and stories about who you can and can’t cut and why there’s certain people in your life that you can never cut. You’ve got to accept that everyone can be cut. You have to have boundaries. You have to have principles as a human being. You hold yourself to principles. You hold other people to principles.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be a stickler and just for any stupid reason you cut someone off, that’s not what I’m saying. If somebody violates an important of yours they get cut. Of course the closer the person is to you, the more important they are, then the more leeway you can give them. Even with people like your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, even with your own children you still have to have boundaries because if you don’t set any boundaries, subconsciously people realize that you have no boundaries.
Even people that are really close to you, what they’ll do is they’ll basically see what they can get away with and they’ll get away with more and more. Especially these toxic people, they are not really self-developed people. They are not operating from a place of high consciousness. They’re just kind of running their life almost like an animal. It’s a very animalistic type of lifestyle.
Very low consciousness, just kind of doing the lowest in life. That type of person they’ll tend to demand more and more life out of you and they’ll be a bigger and bigger drag. I find that with those types of people boundaries are even more important.
Right now acknowledge yourself that there are circumstances under which you will cut anybody, even someone that’s really close to you, even a child of yours. At some point if your child starts to behave in such a ridiculous way, just doing some totally wrong things, after a certain while you have to set some boundaries and you have to enforce those boundaries. Those boundaries have to have teeth. You can’t just be issuing idle threats because people quickly learn that it’s just empty threats and then they just keep breaking those boundaries of yours.
Some people you’re going to cut as a last resort. That would be your family. Other people maybe you’d have less reservations to cut.
How To Cut People Out Of Your Life
How do you cut someone out of your life? It’s actually pretty simple. Depending on the type of person, how close they are to you, how important they are to you, there are different situations but here are some ideas.
One is you sit down with the person, you really tell them the problems you have with them and then you tell them that that’s it. It’s over. Don’t contact me anymore, I’m not contacting you. Then just draw a line.
The other thing you could do is you could simply delete the other person’s number if it’s someone that’s more of a casual acquaintance. Delete their number, don’t contact them anymore. Block their number, block their emails, block whatever means of communication there is. Literally block it or stop responding to them.
If it’s the case that you’re in a relationship and it’s an intimate relationship that you’re dealing with then break up with that person. Breakups are really tough but sometimes you’ve got to do them even when they are really tough. If you’re in a marriage and the person is really toxic, consider divorce.
That can be a long, nasty and grueling process, but hey, it’s better than sitting through a toxic marriage for ten, twenty, thirty years. You’re not going to be able to sit in that for a long time. It’s going to rot you. It’s going to rot your soul. You’ve got to cut it off before it gets even worse than it is.
If it’s with career and business, consider quitting your job, changing jobs or transferring to a different department, doing a different type of job within the company if you’re in a bad department. If you’re the boss or self-employed and you have employees then consider firing bad employees. If you have contracts with customers or clients that are bad, cut off those contracts, say no to those contracts even though they are going to bring you business.
If worst comes to worst and you are in a really negative environment, maybe you’re in a really bad part of the city, part of the state, part of the country, you’re in a really toxic or dangerous country even somewhere in the third world, then consider relocating. Worst comes to worst find a new part of the city or go to a new city, a new state or a new country if you have to do that because your environment is very influential on the kind of life that you have, the kind of emotions you’re going to feel and the kind of success you get so take this stuff seriously.
Of course you don’t need to cut everybody, sometimes it’s possible to do a reform, like a reaffirmation. You can sit down with somebody who’s really violating your values if you’re really fed up with all the toxicity, negativity, anger and all that stuff, then you can sit down with that person and you can resolve what your principles are, what your expectations are. It’s going to be a difficult talk but you could have that talk and then you could see what happens.
Sometimes that kind of talk will really change that person. It will be kind of like a light bulb in their head and they’ll say, “Wow, I didn’t even realize I was hurting you so bad. I didn’t realize I was messing up your life with my toxicity and my negativity. Let me see if I can change something”.
Become A Good Judge Of Character
Sometimes they’ll do that because they value their relationship and they know that you’ll cut them off if you don’t. There’s that seriousness to you. Then of course some of these people are in such a low consciousness state that they can’t help themselves.
Maybe they are addicted to stuff, maybe they are chronically depressed, maybe they are just so negative, maybe they have a lot of bad habits. Maybe they don’t want to change. Maybe they don’t care about changing.
This is actually probably going to be the most common case. These people simply don’t care they don’t want to change, they don’t want to accommodate you. They are going to keep violating your values, not really going to listen to you even if you sit down and talk to them, they’ll just continue running on auto pilot and continue breaking your boundaries.
You have to be smart about this. You have to become a good judge of character. This is something you develop as you grow older as a human being is you get a good eye for who is a good character in life and who is a bad character according to your own values. It’s not an objective thing it’s a subjective thing, but you get a good eye for that and then you can see which kind of people will keep on those bad habits.
Usually human beings we run on patterns. We’re very simple-minded creatures. When we’re stuck in a bad loop of habits we just kind of keep going down that road and it gets worse and worse. Some people they just can’t help it. They are incorrigible. You’ve got to look out for those and then when you see that that’s the type of person and you think there’s no way that guy is going to reform then steer clear. Those are the people you’ve got to cut. Then of course if your boundaries keep getting broken repeatedly then you just decide to cut that person off.
That’s as far as cutting goes. What happens if you can’t cut the person off? Why would this happen?
Here’s a metaphor for you. I think it’s a good metaphor. It’s a chess metaphor.
Imagine that I’m playing white you’re playing black. We’ve got a chessboard like this. In chess they have a scenario that you can get yourself into, it’s kind of a pickle of a scenario, and it’s called skewer. What is a skewer? You’re the black player, I’m the white player.
Let’s say your king in in the middle of the board right here, your queen is in the corner and it’s on a diagonal from your king. I’ve got a bishop. A bishop is a piece that moves diagonally. I’m white. What I do is I put my bishop here in the corner and it’s diagonally right across and it checks your king and your queen is right behind it. This is called the skewer.
Why is it a skewer? What happens is because your king is in check you have to move your king, but if you move your king then I can take your queen because now your queen is vulnerable. The queen is the most important piece but you can’t move your queen first because your king is in check.
Basically in this situation what happens is that you really exposed yourself. You left yourself very vulnerable. Now because you did that from a strategic standpoint now I can just position my bishop right here and I’ve basically got you by the balls.
This is ultimately the most fundamental reason of why you can’t cut people from your life so easily. You’ve exposed yourself and you’ve put yourself strategically in a bad position and so now you’re there and they’ve got you by the balls. What does this mean?
If You Can’t Cut Them, Redesign Your Life
One solution to figure out how to deal with toxic people when you can’t cut them out is kind of a long term solution. This is to actually sit down and redesign your life so that you’re no longer vulnerable, you’re no longer exposed and you’re no longer relying on these people then you can cut them off. Here are some problems you might have.
Maybe you can’t cut off that person over there but you can’t because you rely on him financially. He literally pays your bills or he pays your rent, he pays for your food. What can you do? You can’t really cut them off because you’ve got to eat, you’ve got to pay the rent. You’re not financially independent basically.
What about with intimate relationships? There the thing that could have you by the balls is you either want love, companionship or sex. That’s the thing that you want and you feel like you’re getting it from this relationship. So you can’t cut her off, you can’t cut him off because you need that exchange that’s going on there. You don’t really have relationship abundance, you don’t have sexual abundance. That’s the problem you have there.
What about with work, with employment situations? Maybe you’re relying on someone who’s giving you employment opportunities. Maybe you’re relying on someone to grease the wheels of employment and make stuff happen there and so that’s important to you and you don’t want to cut that person off because you’d lose something that’s very valuable there. Well, that shows you that you’re relying on bad characters in business and you’re not independent with your business or with your employment.
What about with your friends? Sometimes you really like your friends. You have a whole history built up with your friends, sometimes your friends are a good shoulder to cry on so they give you emotional stability. That might be something that keeps you attached to a friend who’s being toxic to you and there again you’re kind of putting yourself in a compromising situation.
Also with business, you might have a client or customer. Maybe you have a big client who’s going to give you millions of dollars to make something happen but this person’s also toxic. On the one hand you don’t want to do it, on the other you do want to do it and so you’re in this bind.
What you really want to avoid is you’re thinking about how to reengineer your life is these kinds of binds and skewering situations. Long term the root of this problem is solved here is you think about, “How do I make myself independent? How do I make myself have financial independence and abundance?
“How do I make myself have relationship and sexual abundance so I’m not needy there? How do I get myself abundance in my business and abundance with my friends?” Once you build up all this abundance then actually it’s very easy. You can enforce your boundaries very easily because you don’t need any particular individual in your life.
That’s a powerful place to come from. This is not something you can create immediately but this is something you can start to work on.
If you have a situation where you feel like you’re trapped the bright side there is that you can sit down and say, “Okay, I’m trapped now but over the next year or two I can un-trap myself. Let me see the kind of steps I need to take to un-trap myself”. Then go ahead and take those steps.
Limit Your Exposure To Toxic People
The next thing you can do is if you can’t cut a person simply limit your exposure to that person. Sit down and ask yourself, how many hours a week am I spending with this person? Is it five hours, ten hours, twenty hours? If it’s something like twenty hours, let’s say with a coworker you’re spending twenty hours, that’s twenty hours of toxicity, that’s a lot of time. If you can reduce that to fifteen hours or ten hours, or even five hours, that would be pretty good.
Maybe you can’t cut that person off entirely, you don’t have that authority at your job, he’s a coworker, but maybe you can do what you’ve been doing. You can just limit your time and exposure with that person. Cut in in half, that’s going to half your toxicity. It’s pretty simple, kind of obvious thing but you can find a little creative ways about how to limit your exposure even to your family, to your kids if they are really toxic to your life, even to your spouse, even to your girlfriend or boyfriend, for now al least to hold things over. Hopefully in the long run you’re working to solve that stuff more at the root like I was talking about earlier.
The other thing you can do is add more positive people into your life. Let’s say you’ve got someone who’s really negative in your life, you can’t cut them out for whatever reason you’re in a bind, what you can do is you can add more positive influences into your life. These could be people but also the next thing is you can add influences that aren’t just face to face people. They could also be like digital media for example listening to self-help videos, self-help audios, reading quality books, going to seminars… this kind of stuff.
This can be one of your associations. When Jim Rohm was talking about those five associates that you hang out with the most, if you spend a lot of your time reading, or watching these videos or somebody else’s videos, stuff that is positive, uplifting and inspiring to you, then that’s like a virtual associate that you have. That can help you to pull you out from a negative situation that you’re in face to face with somebody. So if you can’t cut the negative influences at least raise the positive influences. Good. So those are some ideas for if you can’t cut somebody.
Lastly what I want to cover here is what do you do in the heat of the moment? Let’s say that you’re dealing with a toxic person and everything we’ve talked about now is kind of like long term strategy. What if somebody literally blows up in your face?
Let’s say you’re sitting there at home, watching TV clicking through the channels and somebody, let’s say your spouse, your girlfriend or boyfriend bursts through the door and it’s drama, it’s anger, they’re throwing stuff, they are yelling out you… this is happening. Now you’re in the heat of the moment, what do you do? How do you handle that situation?
The problem here is that you’ve allowed yourself to be in this situation in the first place. I really want you to realize much earlier in life, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Why am I in this situation in the first place? Why am I allowing this kind of person to be in my life?”
Simply Walk Away
Let’s say it’s too late for that now, you should have thought about that before but let’s say you didn’t so now what do you do? Really these types of people the best thing to do, and this is difficult, is not to engage them. Don’t engage them mentally and definitely don’t engage them physically. Try not to engage them verbally either because what you’re going to do if you engage them is you’re going to get into a mudslinging contest. Because they are in a low consciousness state and you get into a low consciousness state it just starts to devolve into something nasty and nothing good ever comes from that.
You’re not going to get any piece of gold or some beautiful piece of wisdom from that kind of interaction with somebody. That only comes from a high consciousness type of interaction. The best thing to do there is kind of distance yourself as much as you can. If you can, walk out. Walk out of the house, walk out of the car, walk out of the office, walk out of the building. Just leave.
If you’re on a phone call hang up the phone. If it’s a text message just block the texts. If you’re shooting emails just cut off that email thread. Very simple, very obvious but a lot of people what they do is they get triggered into it.
It’s difficult because you’re trying to work on yourself, you’re trying to do the best you can, this person comes in, maybe they’re totally in the wrong, they are violating your standards and your boundaries, maybe you’ve already talked to that person a lot of times about it and they still keep doing it so you’re very frustrated obviously. This is going to take the most from you to maintain that kind of equanimity or evenness of mind. That’s the best way to handle this situation is to not react emotionally at all, to be detached from the outcome, totally emotionally unreactive, just cool, collected and practicing mindfulness.
This is where mindfulness practice really helps, where meditation really helps. I have a lot of different videos out there that tell you how to deal with stress, anger, negativity from other people and how to calm your own emotions. There are very different techniques when you use them to calm yourself down in the heat of the moment.
Of course if you practice meditation every morning like you’re supposed to be doing and you’ve been doing that habitually for weeks and months every single day then that makes you grounded, that makes you even keeled, that makes it easier for you to deal with these kind of difficult people simply by not reacting to them. You see that when you don’t react to them these people just settle down or even if they don’t settle down at least you don’t feed into their anger and their negativity. A lot of times that’s the worst thing is when you start to feed in to it and it creates this cyclone.
Practice walking away and practice mindfulness. Don’t engage these people. Also, don’t be too judgmental of these people. A lot of times what we’ll tend to do is we see someone doing something very wrong in our life and we’ll say, “How could he? How could she? What are they doing? What are they thinking?” Then we start getting into this kind of judgment mode.
That’s also a low consciousness trap that you don’t want to get caught in. In fact I have a video called ‘How to Exploit People to Grow Yourself’, which tells you an advanced technique that I’ve learned about how to reframe in your mind these situations where people are doing stupid stuff, stuff that isn’t right according to your values, how to reframe that instead of judging them, how to use that to actually build yourself up to develop wisdom and see, “Okay, they are doing something weird there, how am I doing something similar in my own life?”
Basically what you do is you use those people as a mirror to show you how you can improve yourself. You always want to be focused on yourself versus focused on trying to control and manipulate and fix other people because that tends to backfire a lot. These people that are toxic they can actually be important reminders for you of your own personal development needs. If you keep all that in mind then I think that’s going to help you a lot to fix some of these toxic people, cut them off or to minimize their effect on your life.
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