Welcome to the Positively Living Podcast. I’m your host Lisa, and today’s topic is a spin on a topic I repeatedly cover here, decluttering. I’ve talked about decluttering in many different ways, which you can find by heading to my podcast page on the website and typing “clutter” into the search bar. But there’s one aspect of it that I think is most often overlooked yet essential for our productivity and well-being: and that’s removing toxic people from our lives.
When you talk about clutter in a closet, it doesn’t seem so bad to talk about removing it, tossing it, and getting rid of it.
Even though I talk about decluttering in different terms–like releasing–it’s still essentially about removing. So when you bring people into the mix–and all the emotional baggage that comes with relationships enough to fill many closets–it hits differently.
Limiting someone’s access to you, especially if you are deeply caring and loving, can sound really uncomfortable and, to quote Cher from Clueless, “way harsh”.
Boost Productivity and Well-being with a Toxic People Detox
I originally touched upon this idea in episode 118 about 7 things we do to sabotage our happiness and productivity. It was number 6: Spending Time with Negative People and I brought it back up again in episode 152 when I talked about 3 things you need to spring clean from your life. In that episode, I somewhat jokingly said if you want me to do an episode about decluttering people, let me know. And you did let me know.
So here we are…
Even if we strive to be modern-day hermits–I’m talking to you, my tech-loving, event-dodging introverts–people still factor into our lives. Whether it’s people we live with or people we see online, we’re influenced by those around us. And just as messy environments affect our productivity, so too can messy relationships (or even interactions) can.
Today I’m sharing how to recognize toxic influences and ways to remove them. We’ll go over the impact of toxic people, how it connects to codependency, warning signs to watch for, and practical steps to go about this kind of detox, so you can make space for both what and who lights you up.
Understanding Toxic People and Their Impact
Toxic people are those who consistently exhibit negative behavior and undermine your well-being. They may be manipulative, critical, overly demanding, and generally unsupportive. While they may do these things obviously and may even be known as negative people, they may also look like people you know and love who seem really nice and who claim to support you but don’t do or say things to back that up.
People can pay lip service to want what’s best for you, but their actions tell you all you need to know. Even if they’re someone who seems so nice, they make Mary Poppins look like a thug.
If you’re not supported by them or, worse yet, sabotaged by them, that means they are toxic to YOU. And that is ultimately up to you to decide.
I want to make it clear that this doesn’t mean that all negative people are toxic. Sometimes people are negative due to life events. Grief and trauma can change how we interact with the world and with others. Clinical depression doesn’t mean someone is toxic. But I do want you to consider how much energy you have available versus how much anyone needs from you, toxic or not.
Truly toxic people keep you from positive and productive activities and drain your energy.
Have you heard the term energy vampire? You show up and interact with them, and instead of feeling energized, and upbeat, and encouraged, you experience stress, anxiety, and maybe even a hit to your self-esteem.
You may feel incredibly tired after an interaction…not the introvert tired after peopling…the weary kind of drained, to use a term that fits the vampire title.
The Codependency Connection
One of the emotional traps that keeps us connected to toxic people is codependency, which we discussed in episode 53. I highly encourage you to listen to that conversation with my amazing guest, Mallory Jackson, who also covered living a trauma-informed life (in episode 29). These are foundational episodes and the top 10 of all episodes.
Codependency is a focus on other people’s problems, feelings, needs, and wants while minimizing or ignoring your own. Codependents see other people as more important than themselves and prioritize taking care of them to feel needed, loved, or worthwhile.
If you’re codependent, you may even see a toxic person as a challenge and find tending to their needs satisfying to you. And toxic people may exploit these tendencies, which perpetuates this negative cycle. This is what we want to break you free from.
Identifying Toxic People In Your Life
In order to identify signs of toxicity in your relationships, ask yourself these questions after you interact with someone:
- Do I feel emotionally drained? Or generally exhausted by them specifically?
- Do I justify their negative or problematic behavior to myself or to others?
- Do I feel like they disregard my needs and boundaries?
- Do I sense jealousy at my accomplishments (or maybe feel the need to downplay what I achieve in front of them)?
- Do I feel anxious or on edge in their presence?
- Do I feel unsafe with them?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s worth reflecting on your relationship and your interactions with this person and it might be time to consider a Toxic People Detox. Also, if safety is an issue, I urge you to seek help soon as possible.
How to Remove Toxic People
How do you go about detoxing when it’s actual people? First, you need to get clear on what’s going on. Take time to assess your relationships. Ask the questions I provided. Write them down and journal your thoughts.
You may be surprised by your assessment. You may find patterns of toxicity you didn’t know were them. You’ll want to evaluate who the person is and what role they have in your life. You’ll have choices to make in terms of how much to limit people and that will be different for a boss versus family member, versus a fellow parent or co-worker or volunteer. Some detoxing is a little easier than others.
The most important step after getting clear on what you need is to set BOUNDARIES that protect you. Be clear, calm and firm as you communicate your expectations. You need to be certain about what you’re doing, what you need, what limits you have because pushback is common; toxic people often resist your attempts to redefine the relationship. Even people who aren’t intentionally toxic can be unnerved by you starting to make changes to the status quo.
One of the simplest ways to detox is to find a way to limit contact with those that drain you. When you reduce the time and energy you invest in toxic relationships, especially if they are ones you cannot completely remove (e.g., family members, someone in a job you need to keep). This may involve minimizing interaction–emailing instead of meeting, or finding new routines that keep you from seeing them.
This will also involve creating emotional distance. That means detaching yourself from their reactions and ideas. It means reminding yourself that what they think is none of your business, which is great life advice for anyone with an opinion about you.
Understand that this is a practice and you may need support, so find friends and co-workers, therapists, coaches, and others in your community that can lift you up as you build these assertive muscles. I have spent many coaching sessions helping my clients reflect on the people in their lives and then shift their approaches and routines to match their needs and it isn’t always easy. This is especially true when you’re in a season of your life and you’re growing and feeling like you’re leaving people behind. But I promise when you honor where you’re going, relief will come, things will get better.
Remind yourself that you are prioritizing your well-being. Removing toxic people from your life is an act of self-preservation, not selfishness. Guilt has no place here and you are not responsible for their actions or responses.
Speaking of the support side of things, as you practice this new protection, and surround yourself with positive, supportive individuals who uplift and encourage you, this includes focusing on building new connections with those who support you in the way you need. The more you can find that support, the easier this will be.
Although the focus today has been on people and relationships, I want to add that you can experience toxicity in interactions online with those whom you follow. This is especially true with influencers and any mentors you may have. It could even be the case with business coaches.
This is where we overlap with comparison, and we look to align our values with our surroundings. If you follow someone on social media who doesn’t represent what you value, or seeks to take from you without considering your best interests…if you follow someone who consistently makes you feel less than or makes you question what you know to be true, this might be a toxic situation for you.
I’m not talking about people who challenge us and make us think. That’s making sure we’re not in some kind of echo chamber and we’re experiencing the world and growing.
That can be good, and you’ll also know the difference because that can be energizing. If you answer yes to my questions for anyone you follow online, I encourage you to use the power of UNFOLLOW or at least block or limit notifications.
When you take these steps and remove toxic individuals from your life, it really is a form of decluttering vital for productivity and well-being. You free up mental and emotional space to focus on YOU. This means more clarity, reduced stress, and even a self-confidence boost.
You can now use your precious time and energy to focus on what matters to you, like your growth, your goals, and living well…and may I remind you that includes YOU. You matter. And you deserve to feel safe and supported. Removing toxic people from your life is a way to honor that need and carve out a path for a more fulfilling and productive life.
To close, I want to remind you that this kind of work we do here together…building habits, prioritizing ourselves, simplifying and setting up systems that serve us and our greater goals…it’s not easy. And I’m so proud of you for being open to this and for taking these steps. You are supported here and I welcome you to share your experiences with me. I respond personally to every message sent to me.
The easiest way is to hop over to my Connect page on the website https://positivelyproductive.com/connect/ and leave a message. If you’d like to work through this topic or any of the others we chat out here, be sure to book a Discovery Call with me (which you can do on the Connect page too) and we’ll talk about what it would look like to work together and how I can continue to support you.