Ep. 20: Identifying and Removing Toxic People

At the last public speaking event that I attended and spoke at, I briefly touched on the topic of removing toxic people. And towards the end when we opened up for questions, a lady said to me, “How do you remove toxic people from your life?” And we got into this very open, candid conversation and I saw eyes light up and heads lift and pens write faster than they actually could. And I realized, you know what? This is a pretty hot topic.

This week on The Gutsy Podcast, we’re going to talk about one, identifying toxic people and two, how to create healthy separation boundaries between you and them.

Let’s face it, approaching toxic people and saying, “You know what? I’m good. We’re not going to do this anymore,” is probably one of the more harder things to do as a human. Anytime that you have to create a separation between you and someone else, there’s sometimes confrontation, worry, guilt, and all these other emotions that come along with it. So sometimes it’s just easier to deal with it. But I know just as much as the next person it’s really not easy to deal with toxicity no matter where it’s coming from. It’s emotionally draining. It takes you away from your focus of positivity or goals that you’re headed towards and it’s just downright unhealthy. So before you can even get to the point where you start removing toxic people from your life, you first have to identify what is toxic behavior.

Unfortunately, throughout the course of my life, I’ve had my fair share of toxic people come in and out of my life. This could be friends, family, neighbors, clients, vendors. I mean really any person that you come in contact with that just doesn’t make you feel awesome on a regular basis. I’m not really known to be a hard ass, so to speak. I have a really soft, pretty bubbly personality and this often gets mistaken as a doormat syndrome. People think that they can walk all over me or because I’m happy most of the time that they can take advantage.

Now, don’t get me wrong, when shit gets real and push comes to shove, I can flip a switch and get into like serious mode. But it really takes pushing me a lot to get to that point. I’ve also learned though that sometimes that point needs to come a little sooner in the conversation, and I’m not a doormat. I mean, it’s taken me a really long time to realize that I don’t have to take other people’s shit just because I’m afraid.

It kind of comes down to the concept of ‘don’t mistake my kindness for weakness’ and now I protect my energy better and higher than I ever have in my whole life. But it’s taken me a lot to get to that and I hope by sharing a couple of stories with you that you’ll be inspired to protect your energy. Maybe even a little bit sooner than I did.

One of the biggest mistakes that I have made with relationships is hanging on for too long in hopes that people will change. I always see the best in everyone for sometimes far too long and to a fault. But I really believe that there’s something special inside of everyone. But the thing to remember though is that special inside of them may not be your kind of special. That may not be the right treat for you in your life.

Throughout the course of my years and what seems like more recently than not, and I kind of attest that to me ‘growing a set’, so to speak, I mean I just kind of realized that, um, you know, people were making me really unhappy and causing a lot of turmoil and anger and anxiety and even depression in my life. And one day I woke up and I was just like screw this noise. I’m not doing this anymore.

I’ve had to remove toxicity through friendships, through employees, through vendors, through partnerships. But I think the ones that hit the hardest and took the longest was my boundary setting with my parents. Now, when you start talking about family and toxicity, it gets really muddy really quickly. A lot of things are going to go through your mind like, “Oh, they’re my blood family. I should love them more. I should do something more. I should be more forgiving. It’s okay. I’ll just excuse it. I’ll laugh at it in the moment, let it roll off my shoulder. But really I’m going to go home and vent to my husband or wife for the next three hours about it.”

When you’re talking about removing toxic people or setting super heavy boundaries with toxic people within your family, man that can do some mind Ninja stuff.

I pushed back and allowed for way too long. Now I want to preface these next couple of stories with, I don’t go around bashing my parents. I do love them and I have absolutely learned and grown through lots of different variations of our relationship together. I honestly don’t know that I would be the person that I am today without the way that things have played out.

I can’t really say that I’ve had a healthy relationship with either one of my parents for longer than a couple of weeks or months at a time. My parents were super young when they had me. They were 15 and 16 years old and when I think back to when I was 15 to have an infant at that time, I mean just utmost respect for the fact that not only did they have me but they kept me and they did their very best to make sure that I was in a healthy atmosphere.

When I was two, they split and went their separate ways and that’s a whole story that we don’t really need to get into, but I grew up with my mom and from the age of two to the age of 30, I had not had any one on one contact with my father. It wasn’t until about my 13th birthday that I got my first birthday card from him and it was like a whole realm of my world opened up. He gave me his phone number and I’ll never forget the very first phone call that I ever had with him. It was like a part of my soul had opened back up and I was able to get some answers to questions that had really bothered me for the last decade.

But as the weeks went on, the conversations got shorter and as the conversation got shorter, the time between our calls got longer. And before I knew it we were back to not really talking anymore.

Now, unfortunately, my dad went down a really challenging path and got wrapped up into a lot of things that created some really unhealthy habits and looking back it was honestly the best thing for me to not have contact with him.

And a few years went by and I got another birthday card and we would talk a little bit and we would kind of go through this cycle. And I was at an age, I was a teenager, and I was at an age where I was really just starstruck. I was excited that he was there and that he wanted to talk to me, but then we got back into that path again. And there was a really solid decade and a half or so that we didn’t speak again.

Fast forward a couple of years, by the grace of God, we were able to find one another again. We talked on the phone for a couple of weeks. We started to build the relationship again and then to my surprise, on Christmas morning in 2016, he called me to let me know that he was flying from Washington state to BWI airport in Baltimore, Maryland to come see me.

This would literally be the first time that I had physically seen him since I was two years old. We spent a week together. We had lots of laughs, lots of cries. I got reconnected with a whole portion of my family that I didn’t even know was literally in my backyard. And by the time he left, we had created a really amazing bond. Unfortunately, the first phone call that we had when he had got back home, I realized that he had picked right back up where he left off with some of his really negative habits and the downward spiral.

That little girl inside me feeling started to relive all over again and on father’s day in 2017, which was supposed to be a pretty cool day in our world together, ended up being the worst phone call that I’ve ever had in my life. And it was at that point that I realize that this was a toxic relationship and as much as I wanted it to work, it just wasn’t going to. It was a conversation where I had to set the boundaries to protect my own energy.

On the other side of the story, my mom and I have always had a very challenging relationship. And while she doesn’t have any of those negative habits, we quite literally just see the world through different lenses and after years of being built up one moment and torn down another, you’re just kind of get to the point where emotionally and spiritually you just can’t do it anymore.

After my son was born in 2007 I really started to realize what a parent-child relationship could be like. This was kind of the point in our relationship where I started to push back and really start to stand up for myself and let’s face it, when you stand up for yourself, it’s not always well received. We went through years of loving, caring, getting together, and inevitably we would always end up back in the same challenging places.

Last year there was a phone call that resulted in an undesirable outcome, which led to a really unfortunate conversation, but it was also kind of a blessing because it was really raw. It’s hard to be told things that you’re not. It’s really challenging when people make accusations about you, even though you know deep down to your core that’s not who you are and it’s also really shitty to be gossiped about. This conversation ended in me standing up for myself and who I know that I am and the truth behind the whole story. This is when I learned the power of healthy boundaries between people.

Regardless if they’re blood or not, you don’t have to take toxic behavior from other people. My mom and I have a mutual relationship now. I’m really happy that we can be in the same room and go to the same birthday parties and attend the same events and there not be issues or challenges. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say I was bummed with the way that things turned out, but I also know that that’s not in my control.

I’m sure that you’ve had your fair share of toxicity in your life as well. These could be people who are super close to you or people that you just kind of come in contact with every once in a while, but the behaviors really start to stand out. Which takes me back to my original comment of first to rid of toxicity, you have to be able to identify what toxic behavior is for you. What some people will tolerate or will not tolerate is different than what yours may be.

We didn’t come with a manual when we were born, right? We weren’t given the book of here’s how to live, so I want to share with you at least a couple of things that I have learned and they may resonate with you or they may spark something else in you to say, “Yep, you know what? This gives me an idea to know one, how do identify, but then also how do we start to eliminate toxic behavior or things that just feel negative on a regular basis.”

Now, I’m not talking about a bad day or a bad week or a bad season, right? You’re going to come in contact with people or you spend time with certain people that maybe they just get under your skin or maybe they’ve got a weird habit that you don’t like or maybe somebody’s in a bad mood and you have an argument – that doesn’t always define toxic behavior. That just might mean it was a shitty day. Toxic behavior goes on and on and on. You’ve had conversations. Sometimes there’s fights, sometimes there’s tears. Sometimes it’s literally just silent and they have no idea that they are making you feel like this.

A couple of different triggers or a couple of different identifying markers for toxic behavior are things like people that just spread negativity all the time. They’re just, the glass is always half empty. They’re always seeing things for the darker side and after you’ve spent time with them, you always just feel drained. These might be people that criticize you all the time. No matter what you do, you’ve done something wrong. Most of the time they also don’t value your time. They’re not really present when you’re together. They could care less how long you’re together, when you get together, they’re always showing up late or leaving early. They just don’t value the time that you have together. Sometimes they’re undermining you and your accomplishments.

If you pick up the phone to call someone and tell you how proud you are of something that you’ve just done and they find a hundred reasons why it’s not good enough or why you should have done something different, that’s really toxic behavior and at the end of the day, most of the time you feel just completely let down every time you interact with them.

I do believe that there is a period of time where you can give people a chance. Again, sometimes they don’t even know that they’re causing problems in your life. So the first step is to have a conversation. These conversations are not always super easy and they’re not always the most comfortable to have, but you at least owe it to yourself and that other person to lay all the cards on the table face up and say, “Hey, this is what’s going on.” You may find that they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that this was going on. Thank you for telling me.” And they’ll reroute and you won’t have this issue anymore, and then you get to keep that relationship.

In other scenarios, you tell them, they acknowledge it, and they say they’re going to fix it, and then inevitably it comes back around and then they fix it and it comes back around. And in the worst case scenario, you tell them how you feel and they completely deny it.

The thing is, I would bet that you don’t really have to sit down and think about, “Oh, who is causing really just havoc in my life?” I would bet these people come to surface. It might be one or two, it could be five or 10. However many there are, I would bet that they come to surface immediately. When I say, “Oh, this person is really toxic in your life,” boom – there’s their name.

One of the harder lessons that I have learned and I want to share with you is it’s not your job to fix other people, especially to become the person you want them to be. I’m a natural fixer, which has gotten me into a lot of the scenarios where these people have been around for far too long, but whatever they’ve got going on, whatever personality traits they’ve absorbed, whatever is in their DNA, it’s not your job to change those things because to someone else, they could be the greatest person alive.

And that’s one of the most important things to remember too, is just because you find this person toxic doesn’t make them a bad person. It doesn’t make them wrong in life. It just means that the energy and synergy that you have between one another is not a good fit.

You’re also not required to give in to their drama. So a lot of times toxic people come with drama, gossip, talking about things or people, heightened conversations. Whatever drama they’re stirring up on a regular basis with you, you don’t have to contribute to it. So the best thing to do in this type of scenario is just to not respond. What they’re looking from you is a reaction. They want to get a rise out of you. They want to see how you’re going to react and if you’re going to play into the game.

You can try changing conversations. You can try saying, “You know what, I, it’s not really my place to get involved in that.” And if they continue on and you can’t get out of it, I want you to just simply stop, turn around, and walk away. This sends out the signal that, “Hey, I don’t want to be involved and I’m not going to be involved.” This is setting a healthy boundary for you and your energy.

You also have to pick your battles, right? Sometimes there are conversations worth having and sometimes the conversation is just way more draining than what it’s worth. So if you’ve had this initial conversation, you’ve said, “Hey, this is how you make me feel. This is what’s going on. Am I interpreting this wrong or is there really a root issue that we can work on together?” And they simply don’t do anything about it or revert back to their old ways – you get to pick your battles. You don’t have to fight a war that you don’t belong in.

One of the best ways to create a healthy boundary with these relationships is to limit your time with them. You don’t have to go to every family function. You don’t have to go to every networking event. You don’t have to go to every meeting. You really get to set the bar to say, “Hey, I’m going to be there and if I am, I’m going to set up my boundary wall. And if we’re going to talk about something shitty, I’m going to walk away from you.” Or you can say, “I’ve been around this person way too many times recently and I just simply need a break.”

It’s so easy to feel bad for not going to things, right? There’s, there’s pressure, there’s obligations, there’s expectations, but really at the end of the day, your time is your time and you don’t owe that to anyone.

I realize a lot of these things are not easy. They really aren’t, but they’re obtainable. And you absolutely can do them. It all starts with the decision to do it. Here’s one of the tougher ones, and this is a bit of self reflection. Oftentimes, the things that we find annoying or disruptive in other people, they can be honestly a reflection of some of the behaviors that we have ourselves. I’m not saying that you’re like every toxic person in your life by any means.

But I really want you to think about, so let’s say if someone in your life is just always gossiping and you find that their most annoying and toxic behavior. Just take a hot second and think back to yourself, “Do I gossip about other people and is that a behavior that maybe I can minimize as well?” If you can’t change their behavior, which you can’t, you can start to shift some of yours.

But let’s just say you’ve done all these things, right? You’ve had the conversation, you’ve addressed some of the issues, you’ve even gone into your own self reflection. You’ve made the list of what the toxic behaviors are. I mean, it’s all laid out on the table. It’s super obvious to you and these things continue then, then what do you do then? Well, this is where you really have to start to evaluate is it worth continuing this relationship? Are these behaviors that I want to continue to tolerate and how much do they emotionally affect me?

I’m an empath by nature. I feel everything to the nth degree. So when I’m around negative toxic people, I unintentionally absorb that behavior. Not saying that I start to do what they’re doing, but I’ll get really inverted and I’ll get quiet and I’ll get emotionally distressed and I’ll get anxious, and then I start to eat a lot of shit. And you know, it’s just a downward spiral. It’s not a place where I want to be and it’s not truly who I am. There isn’t a single relationship in your life that is worth you feeling like that on a regular basis. So if you’ve gotten to the point where you know that this relationship has got to go, there’s a couple of different things that you can do.

First of all, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. It doesn’t have to be this hallmark movie where you’re standing out in the rain and everyone’s having this like emotional conversation and you turn around and walk away dramatically. No, it doesn’t have to be like that. It can really be as simple as not conversing with this person anymore. You don’t call them, you don’t talk to them, you don’t interact with them, you don’t make plans with them. You just kind of quietly sift into the night.

Now, of course, all these options are based on your relationship with that person and one might be right for one and you might need to do something completely different with the other. But if you’ve had all the conversations and done everything that you can, you literally have the right to just stop talking to them.

In other cases, sometimes there is a conversation, sometimes there’s an interaction. Sometimes it’s an argument or fight or something has happened where one of you has just gotten to the last straw. I’m not promoting or pushing that you should have a fight. I mean, that’s kind of worst scenario, right? But sometimes it just happens. And here’s the thing: When you call people out on their shit, they tend to lash out because they get scared or embarrassed or insecure about themselves. They don’t want to own up to the mistakes they’ve made. They don’t want to own up to the fact that they’ve let you down. They don’t want to own up to any of the stuff that’s been going on.

When other people’s weaknesses are brought to their attention, they get defensive and oftentimes want to protect themselves to not appear weak. And guess who they’re going to take it out on? Probably you. But here’s the thing guys, when that happens, again, you have every right to stop, turn around, and walk away. That’s the best thing that you can do for yourself and as you do that, I want you to also remember that anything that they are saying is way more about them than it is about you. The lashing out, the negativity, the crappy words that they’re saying, it’s all a reflection of something that they have not dealt with and it’s way easier to point the finger than to point it at themselves.

People will always act out the most when you’ve hit on an area of insecurity that they have yet to deal with. The thing is, if you aren’t willing to step up and stand up for yourself, then why would they ever stop when you allow them to continue coming back and allow them to continue making you feel the way that you feel? You’re unintentionally enabling them and telling them that it’s okay to continue to do it. This is hard stuff, guys. I mean, this is really not a fun topic and it’s not something that’s easy to deal with, but you owe it to yourself and the loved ones around you to stand up for yourself.

One of the best ways to overcome this is to surround yourself with healthy relationships because for every one toxic person in your life, I would bet that there’s 25 amazing relationships that’ll stand behind you no matter what’s going on. I personally love to weed out negativity with positivity. I just do my thing, live my life, and eventually a lot of that shit just falls from the tree. When you have an army of amazing people around you, it’s way harder for the negative ones to penetrate. Honestly, they can’t keep up with it and eventually it just sifts out.

Start spending time with people that fill your tank, people that you laugh with, people that challenge you in a healthy way, people that celebrate your accomplishments and are the first people that you want to call when something amazing is happening. There’s a lot of really incredible people that surround you every single day that have untapped potential. Allow them to celebrate with you, allow them to live alongside you. It’s in those healthy relationships where you get to be the best version of yourself and when you go home at night you’re not angry and upset. You can go to bed smiling knowing that you had a great day with amazing people.

Here’s the thing, guys, Target and Walmart, so really awesome doormats I mean I have a really cool one from Target. I think it was like 19.99, it’s teal and it says hello and it’s really cute. The point is, people sell doormats and you are not one of them. You are worth way more than 19.99. You are worth way more than people wiping their muddy, wet feet on you. So leave the job of the doormat – for the doormat, and let’s let all those naysayers go where all your lost hair ties, Tupperware lids, and socks go. Okay. It may not be easy, but it is absolutely positively possible for you to create healthy boundaries and live an amazing life full of people that support you along the way.

Join me this Thursday as we take our power back by choosing happiness in life: You don’t have to chase happiness, but you can most certainly pursue a lifestyle where the byproduct of that lifestyle is happiness.

Until then, follow The Gutsy Podcast on Facebook and Instagram or for more business insights, follow me on Instagram @thatlauraaura. See ya next time!

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