On my clinic blog, an old post called “Psychopath or Narcissist?” often gets the most hits. I’m not an expert in personality disorders so it’s somewhat surprising. A likely reason is that many people are interested to learn more about or understand the toxic people in their lives. They suspect that something is up due to the extreme behaviors of a family member, colleague or acquaintance.

Mostly, people want toxic people to stop doing their toxic stuff. I know that’s been my initial response when faced with these types of repeated behaviors. The tough part is, the best chance we’ve got of a healthy outcome with a toxic person is changing our response to them. Below I detail the strategies that I recommend to deal with toxic people.

Before I begin, first consider if this person is really toxic. Ask yourself, are they abusive or just making life difficult? Are they just irritating and annoying? I suggest this because sometimes people who are not truly toxic can respond to compassionate action and become less difficult. Underneath difficult or annoying behaviors can be feelings of desperation, a longing for connection with others or feeling misunderstood.

For people who are truly toxic, in that they are abusive and intend to control or cause you harm such as the narcissist or psychopath, I suggest the following.

Have no contact or limit contact

This is often the best strategy to stop an abusive cycle. Children of narcissistic parents and ex-partners of narcissists often use this with success to escape from abuse. It involves not responding to any form of communication or meeting with the abusive person.

This strategy is not always possible such as in the situation in which you have to share the care of children with an abusive ex-partner or you are required to work with a toxic person and are unable to leave your job. In this situation, keep contact at an absolute minimum and use one of the two methods below.

The Grey Rock Method

The grey rock method involves a number of behavioral choices that you use in response to the abusive, controlling or manipulative behaviors of the toxic person. The idea is that you keep your head down like a grey rock and blend into the landscape. The toxic person will move on to someone else to get what they need instead. These behaviors include:

  • speaking with a neutral voice
  • giving short, unemotional answers to questions
  • talking about boring or inconsequential subjects
  • not engaging with the abuser’s taunts
  • not making eye contact with the toxic person
  • not giving away personal information
  • not displaying any interest in the toxic person

Grey rock takes practice and preparation. I have used it effectively but it does not come naturally for me, because of my warm, empathic and somewhat chatty persona.

If you choose this technique, it is important that the toxic person does not become aware that this is a technique, as sometimes it can backfire, leading to an explosion of abusive behaviors. So keep grey rock on the down low. Avoid telling the toxic person you’re going to “grey rock” them, or any other such announcement.

Psychological forcefield

Creating a psychological forcefield is something I often teach people in my clinic if they are being bullied at school or work. To get the idea, think of the forcefield that the spaceships in Star Wars have to stop meteors and other dangers penetrating the ship.

In a range of exercises beyond the scope of this post, we create a forcefield around the client against which the abusive person’s words and actions will bounce off. The goal is to stop the abusive person’s behavior from getting into your heart.

My clients visualize their forcefield prior to meeting with the abusive person or entering the environment they share. I advise them that they must always have their forcefield up when dealing with the toxic person.

Let me know how you go in the comments. Join my mailing list to receive the latest from me by visiting my website unshakeablecalm.com