Hiram College

By: Erin Brown 


Step one: realize that they’re probably not that toxic (in most cases, anyway). 

When caught in a difficult or uncomfortable situation, it’s not uncommon to want to believe that we are the one being wronged; that we are the victim of someone else’s behavior. We’ll reel at our friends about how unfairly we’re being treated, or how utterly ridiculous the “toxic” person’s behavior is. Simply put, we want someone to say we’re right, grab a pitchfork, and be angry with us. 

The truth about so-called “toxic people” is that while their actions are their own, our reaction is always within our own control. Being an emotionally sound grown-up is challenging and sometimes even the pits. However, in realizing our own responsibility, we can retain our power rather than hand it over to others.


The first step to dealing with a “toxic person” is to figure out what your issue is. 

In most cases someone we experience as being challenging either triggers us or mirrors us. In order to move past the disempowerment of feeling victimized or wronged, must look to see under which of those scenarios that person falls.


Do they trigger you? 

The more you understand your personal triggers, the less likely you are to feel disempowered by another’s presence. As soon as the trigger begins, you can identify it and deal with yourself. Does their behavior trigger you feeling small? Patronized? Unimportant? When you identify the trigger, you suddenly have all the power to handle yourself. If you are feeling small you can build yourself up. You can give yourself what you feel is being taken from you, by acknowledging that it’s your own story that is the problem.


Do they mirror you? 

Usually, the people we are hardest on remind us of ourselves. It makes sense. We are with ourselves all the time, we spend a lot of that time second-guessing our choices, trying to “fix” ourselves in all different ways. When we experience someone as being like us, we are just as hard on them. We usually experience them as being “difficult,” but it’s really just that looking in a mirror is difficult for us. Again, the better you know yourself, the easier it is. 

Instead of justifying your own behavior, try looking in the mirror with curiosity. Are they talking over others? Is that something you need to work on? Whatever it is, use the opportunity to learn about yourself and perhaps grow in new ways. But don’t attack the mirror, it’s just a reflection. 


Once you’ve identified the real issue, it’s time to set a better boundary.  

You don’t have to make a big announcement about setting your boundaries. You can simply make a declaration of it to yourself. It’s as simple as not choosing to spend time with that person. Stick to necessary conversations in working relationships. Let your actions speak for you. And when the situation calls for it, be honest. 

We can’t expect others to treat us differently if we don’t speak up for ourselves. Own your part. It doesn’t have to be a knock-down-drag-out-brawl to effectively tell someone that their behavior is challenging for you. In fact, if you can be honest without attacking them, you might just spur a personal growth opportunity for them. Again, trying to change them isn’t your job or purpose, but it can occasionally be the outcome of a healthy and honest conversation. 

The hardest part of dealing with people who create a challenge for us is letting go of the idea that we are right and they must be wrong. On the surface that perspective feels powerful, like we “won.” But the truth is, as long as we blame others for our own emotional responses, we are behaving as the smallest version of ourselves. 

By knowing ourselves well enough to know what causes the response, handling our own difficult emotions and setting boundaries with people who don’t fulfill us, we can take total responsibility for ourselves. We can stay intact no matter what arises.


That is power.


*Adapted from GirlsGoneStrong.com, 2015.