5 Ways to Detect Toxic People.

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To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.” ~ C.S. Lewis. 

When you finally start to open up and let people in how do you protect yourself from people that aren’t healthy for you?

Since the skills of open-heartedness, feeling and connection aren’t nearly as practiced as putting up walls there is a greater possibility that toxic people make their way into your life. Being open-hearted requires practice and a new skill set.

When you start to exude the yoga glow people are attracted to you. I wouldn’t go so far as to say yogis turn into gods or goddeses but for people who take on a serious practice of getting rid of their walls, self awareness, connection and spirituality start to radiate a quality of being that attracts others to their light.

This can lead to some problems.

Begin to open your heart and you start to let people get close to you. Not all of them belong there. Some of them just aren’t a good fit and some are downright toxic. Some have problems of their own and may be looking for someone to fix or distract them rather than create true relationships. Some may have begun their own spiritual journey but still have some serious bricks to take down before they can truly connect. Some toxic relationships come from your own bricks and insecurity yet to be excavated and removed.

Toxic people can work their way into your life at any time walls or not, but an open heart, by definition is going to let more people in.

For years I had an incredibly thick wall around my heart. It took the love and trust of a wonderful man, beautiful friends and countless kind encounters over many, many years to start to make a crack. Then came yoga teacher training and a huge part of the wall exploded. When I try to describe it to anyone that hasn’t experienced a Baptiste training it has to seem crazy. Yes, we learn about asana, philosophy, anatomy and all of the other things you can learn at any teacher training. But the one thing Baron teaches more than anything else is connection and how you begin to create that from where we are now.

The problem is you can’t have an open heart and truly connect with a bunch of bricks between you and the world. It’s when you first begin to get rid of those bricks that trouble can arise. Unfortunately, the bricks and walls do serve a purpose. They are the product of the poor yet effective coping skills many of us employ.

Which brings us to where I happen to be for the last few years: committed to taking down bricks and creating authentic connections.

It’s while you’re still learning the skill of being open-hearted while protecting yourself from toxic people that there is the most opportunity for trouble.

Here is what I’ve learned so far about detecting toxic people while in the process of being more open-hearted.

1. Learn to own and express your feelings.

It’s pretty hard to get rid of your bricks when you’re still holding back self expression. Learn to express your needs clearly. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you feel without pushing it out of the way or devaluing it.

Women are conditioned by society to be nice and always take care of others. Men are conditioned by society to be strong, “manly” and never express their feelings. As one of my connections recently said “Men are really good at talking about nothing.” Women are good about talking about everything except with some of the key people who matter most in their lives. Many women are conditioned not to hurt someone’s feelings at great emotional cost to themselves. Women will talk about anything with people with whom they feel truly safe, where they can open their heart without fear of pain. I suspect it is the same with men although it may be even more difficult for them with the societal conditioning…I’d love to hear some male perspective on this topic.

Start to notice these qualities in yourself and begin the work. Start to express your feelings and needs in safe situations and gradually move on to situations in which it is difficult or scary to express your true feelings. Even when you feel stuck, keep putting in the practice. Notice how relationships begin to take on a greater authenticity when you do this. I have created some incredibly connected, supportive relationships through this practice. Relationships that weren’t meant to be weaken even further as you speak your truth. Some of these weaker relationships don’t deserve a description as strong as toxic, but you may still choose to let them go.

Learn to say no to relationships or situations that don’t work for you. Life is short. Surround yourself and spend your time with quality people. Owning and expressing your true feelings will expose people that are toxic for you.

2. Trust your heart and your gut, your head comes last.

In the last two years I’ve had some especially strong gut reactions to people and situations. It’s as if I have a built in warning and safety system that’s getting stronger but I chose to ignore it. Trusting your heart and gut is especially hard for someone who is intellectually driven. Yoga and other spiritual/awareness practices will help you get in touch with your heart and gut more but you have to be open to actually listening to them! It’s a practice. If you are committed to meaningful connection you first need an open heart. Once you are committed to meaningful connection it becomes much easier to trust your gut and detect toxic people.

3. Notice actions much more than words.

Is the relationship one sided? Are you the one always putting forth effort? Does the person only call or see you when they want something from you? How do their actions make you feel? Empowered or disempowered? People like this can be sweet talking charmers and it’s easy to get sucked in by their big ideas and promises. This is why I say value words less: actions speak volumes and can be trusted way more. In the situations where my alarm system kicked in, the lovely words were followed by disingenuous action or no action at all. Again, maybe toxic is too strong a word for some of these people but inauthentic for sure. Notice who is there to comfort you when you’re at your worst, not with their words but with their presence and attention. These are the people you want more of in your life.

4. Who are they being?

Again, attention to action. Are they kind to strangers, kids, animals, friends, parents and siblings? Are there interactions that seem out of character? If an action is mean or violent  consider this may be a big part of their true being and the person you thought they were is a mask. Or maybe they just had an incredibly bad day. Either way who someone is, especially under stress, is worth noting if you already have other signs pointing towards toxicity.

5. Who are their friends?

The older we get the less patience we have for nonsense. We’re less likely to tolerate toxic relationships. As we grow, evolve and change so do the people with whom we surround ourselves. If a person has a group of kind, loving, fun, genuine and caring friends it’s likely they are too. If they have no friends or toxic friends there may be a good reason for that.

These are my experiences with detecting toxic people. I hope you’ll share yours as well!




4 Telling Signs that a Relationship is Toxic.


7 Signs Your Friendship May Be Toxic.

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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson / Ed: Catherine Monkman


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anonymous Aug 30, 2015 1:24pm

I would never call someone “toxic” because I myself wouldn’t appreciate hearing that someone said that about me.

I think we can go through life surviving amongst one another and still maintain a little tact. If someone gives you bad “joo joos” don’t hang out with them. Don’t you think it’s rather toxic to judge them and call them “toxic”, instead of just letting it go and going about your business? If they aren’t going to be in your life then wouldn’t it be easier to just live and let live.

This whole ” toxic ” business sounds like a great way to create drama in your life. That’s all I’m saying.

anonymous Sep 17, 2014 8:09am

I'm always suspicious of people who have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook. Even if I know the person can be charming and fun, there's no way anyone has THAT many real friends. I find that highly manipulative and calculating.

    anonymous Nov 1, 2014 1:29pm

    Funny, i find Facebook to sometimes be the toxic place i have to be careful about. Your right i probably only personally really know a third of my Facebook friends others are maybe ones i met briefly or have mutual friends so you don't want to be rude and accept their friend request before you know it your news feed is full of chatter from all these people you don't know. I am on the brink of deleting my account now my newsfeed is almost always more depressing then happy all the horrible news of the world topped with peoples complaints in their lives its too much to take in for the few funny stories or actual friends photos. I figure really close friends can email and instagram is enough these days!

anonymous Sep 16, 2014 12:51pm

Hi Cheryl, this was great timing. Thank you

anonymous Sep 15, 2014 7:35pm

Sometimes those toxic people can be relatives or married to relatives. As a woman, one of the toughest things I had to do was distance myself from a toxic sibling by moving far away. I then had to cut the cord of communication from a distant but meddlesome spouse of a late toxic parent. I listened to NPR today, a horrible story about the spy gadgets available to stalkers that make it unbelievably easy to track a victim, right down to the point of disabling incoming phone calls from someone who is either trying to help the victim or is in a new relationship with the victim. These devices are relatively inexpensive to obtain and use, and the companies that sell them take zero responsibility or culpability for their use. So very sad and real. Toxic people are one thing, some people are just downright dangerous and refuse to take no for an answer.

    anonymous Sep 16, 2014 5:34am

    The relative issue is a tough one for me. When this is your Daughter-in-law and you know you should distance for all the healthy reasons discussed, not so easy to do in this situation.

      anonymous Sep 16, 2014 4:48pm

      Yes, I understand. My son had a live in girlfriend who was a good person overall but extremely rude to me, and they were living under my roof! I walked on eggshells constantly and endured misery for the sake of my son. She ultimately did some nice things but there were some times when I couldn't contain myself and blew my stack at her.

      You are in a very tough situation. Prayer and meditation, as much healthy stress relief as you can find. This too, shall pass. Nothing lasts forever, good or bad. Best wishes to you.

anonymous Feb 20, 2014 11:19pm

Hi. I myself am in a transitional period (after some rough time in life) towards more authentic relationships and I am happy to embrace the temporary process of bullshit detecting my frenemies and being in healthier company by myself. I have naturally outgrown most of my peers early in life and gravitated towards lonerism because of imperative to stay true to my authentic values. But everybody is my friend until proven otherwise and I give people the benefit of a doubt (for too long) and avoid tagging them as toxic. (Un)fortunately I am sensitive to the point of serious health deterioration when I am forced to interract with insincere people of discordant frequency to mine (lower, I guess). I dread elitism, but some discrimination is health imperative to me. Still, I was sad to let some people go.

While this article is helpful and offers wonderful insight, there are some subtle dangers in that approach. I believe there is nothing particularly spiritual and certainly not evolved in regression to more primitive modes of perception. They may seduce us by their swift impulsiveness into believing they are equally right for us. Maybe to our primitive survival driven self. But is that right for our modern self, equipped to tolerate more social complexity tactfully and without radical measures. If we have a functional prefrontal cortex, I don’t think it’s healthy to put your reasoning powers last. They make you fully a human being. Which is tough, sensitive and complex but highly rewarding. Evading the human condition by spiritual escapism is becoming a trend. It’s like saying “f**k this, I’m becoming a yogi”, meaning that being human is just too demanding and exhausting for (post)modern man, so that leads to this whole neo primitivism return to mother nature fad. Most of new age trends are just nostalgia for adolescence, but regression is not the answer, we must cope with our responsibility to become fully human. But that is a whole new chapter.

What is important is that we must honour every aspect of our self and allow and balance the expression of all.

anonymous Feb 9, 2014 5:08pm

"I’d love to hear some male perspective on this topic."
Ok, to be blunt for brevity's sake, but with love…

You lost me at the second paragraph under point 1, where you start defining women and men with unfortunate cliches…
In my mind I heard myself say, "she knows nothing about men". But more to the point, no one knows how someone (male or female) has perceived their world and allowed it to 'condition' them. It would be arrogant and stupid (possibly dangerous) for me as a man to approach women with the notion that they are more likely to be pleasers than to be defensive.

My male perspective, my human perspective, on what you wrote is that you could take out all the gender assignments to conditioning in that second paragraph. It is incorrect and unnecessary. Without this, the article can serve much more.

Thanks for you writings.

anonymous Feb 9, 2014 10:27am

"Some toxic relationships come from your own bricks and insecurity yet to be excavated and removed." Ms. Kemp, that line speaks volumes. Thank you.

anonymous Feb 4, 2014 3:11pm

Funny, I ended up with a toxic couple in my circle. My gut check told me so early on, but hubby wanted to "give it another go." My instincts were right, really self centered people, who ironically have more friends than I could ever imagine. And they didn't even want to be our friends. They just keep us close enough to lean on. I am getting pretty good about saying no.

anonymous Sep 14, 2013 9:53am

Wow…thanks everyone for reading and your comments! So well expressed and so many excellent points. Setting healthy boundaries and expressing feelings always a work in progress for me.

anonymous Sep 13, 2013 9:34am

Hi, and first of all, thanks for this article, I was actually talking about that kind of stuff with a friend when I saw this in my mailbox.
You asked to have some male opinion on this, so I'll try to give mine, but that may not be really clear, part because I'm asking myself many questions about that subject right now, which isn't easy for someone fully rational and science driven like me, and also because english isn't not my native language.
The fact is I locked myself up with thick walls as a teenager, and it was really hard to put them down, thinking of the pain that incitated me to protect myself like that (criticism, low self-esteem, discrimination, social issues…), in fact, I don't really know if I actually broke all of them, or just a few amongst many, which may be the most probable answer to my questions.
I agree with Auki, about the mutual attraction of toxic people and open hearts, the first ones want some love from the other, and the second want to help the other to abandon their "toxicness".
I would not categorize myself as a open heart, because like toxic, it has a strong meaning, but I'd say "not closed heart".
Having overcome my early issues made me want to help people I'd call "non healthy" (that would replace toxic, but lighter), but I finally understood that trying to bond with these people may be dangerous for me and for them, and that these relationships certainly won't be healthy.

About the "talk about feelings" part, that means you have to truly undestand them, that's the hard part in my opinion, no one teach you how to know what is true and what you think is true, "am I in love with him/her or just used to be with him/her ?", "Do I like to go out with this one, or is it just a drinking buddy ?"
Like you said, the head should come last, but it's the head that translate our guts/heart language for us to understand, so there could be errors in this translation.
Then, to talk about something, you have to talk to someone, and that adds another level of difficulties.
That someone may misunderstand what you're saying, talking about a relationship with someone that has self-esteem issues is really hard, they generally think that it's their fault even if it's not, after all, men too don't like to hurt other's feelings, when you care about someone, it's really hard to talk with them, knowing you're gonna hurt them, even if you need it, and the more you postpone it, the more painful it'll be.
Depending on the people, they may not understand at all why you're even asking yourself that question.
When I have questions or doubts about a relationship, I usually talk about it with a third person (what you said about talking to someone with whom you feel truly safe really got it), and I find it really hard to find someone to talk to, that would understand you and not judge.
Some examples of answers I got, from people that are good friends, but that I don't think I may talk with about feelings again :
"You don't know ? then leave her and get on with it, you just have one life, go get laid, travel, get over it !"
"Three years and you're not thinking about engaging and having babies ? what is wrong with you ?"
"Oh, you know, I don't ask myself question, it's simplier that way, nothing changes and it's cool, no problem"
Each of them was a bit right and a bit wrong, but their answers were too extreme, and too personal, they didn't try to understand, and just threw me a bone.
So, yes, I'd say it's pretty hard to talk about feelings, but I don't think it's just for men, society made so many guidelines, that most of people thinks is strange to ask question now, and think outside the box means you have to dig very deep, and most oft than not, on your own.
When I try to answer a question, I feel like a lonely speleologist in a big cave, not knowing where to look at.

Thanks again for your writing, it's very inspiring.

    anonymous Nov 1, 2014 1:22pm

    I can see it being more difficult for a man to talk to his friends then a woman because even as a woman i have experienced those kind of responses from friends. So 1 dimensional that don't get the whole scope and are quite dismissive in their answers. Although even still i have 2 good girlfriends that are great with these kind of talks but even with them they are coming from their own life and personal preferences. It does help to get feedback and then reflect on your own thoughts again. I can see how with other male friends how difficult this could be i have some male friends that don't tell not 1 person such personal issues they go through either out of embarrassment or not feeling open enough to go there. In those cases and mine i found therapy really helpful, not only do you get real personal attentive feedback but its also objective since they don't know the people in your lives or you so well they can come from a truly outside trying to help point of view.

anonymous Sep 13, 2013 12:29am

Establishing healthy social boundaries is a lifelong learning process. Toxic people seem magnetically attracted to those with open hearts (and oftentimes the reverse is true too)… that is, until the open-hearted ones learn to set wise boundaries. When we try to "love everyone unconditionally" the way we are taught that a good highly-evolved spiritual person should, often it means learning to say "no," "go away," "please remove me from your email list," etceteras and practicing our love for our toxic "brothers & sisters" from safe healthy distances.

anonymous Sep 13, 2013 12:19am

Establishing healthy social boundaries is a lifelong learning process. Toxic people seem magnetically attracted to those with open hearts (and oftentimes the reverse is true too)… that is, until the open-hearted ones learn to set wise boundaries. When we try to "love everyone unconditionally" the way we are taught that a good highly-evolved spiritual person should, often it means learning to say "no," "go away," "please remove me from your email list," etceteras and practicing our love for our toxic "brothers & sisters" from safe healthy distances.

Having grown up in a family that had few healthy boundaries this is certainly a lesson that I've been faced with trying to learn over and over again. Wanting to be liked or admired by everyone makes boundary setting especially tricky to learn.

anonymous Sep 12, 2013 5:33pm

I find "Toxic" to be a large transitory state of mind, and when in this state, only unconditional love releases this state fairy quickly.

anonymous Sep 12, 2013 3:27pm

This was a really timely message for me, and it was well-said. Thank you for sharing your insights.

anonymous Sep 11, 2013 11:54am

I noticed that people's eyes tell a lot. If someone is nice and smiling, but the eyes are always static and a bit sad, this can be a sign that he or she is not in touch with their true feelings. I neither trust smirking people.

anonymous Sep 11, 2013 5:47am

Excellent point Mark. You'll notice I said who are their friends not how many. And if you're noticing who their friends are you'll have insight as to what kind of person they are…maybe they have a few or just one awesome friend or maybe they have several. Maybe some are in crisis at the moment and may need extra attention. Again, these are just tools and my personal experience on this journey. Obviously the amount or even who their friends are is not the end all judge of who a person is. Just maybe an indicator that when grouped with other tools give some insight.

    anonymous Jan 21, 2015 4:02pm

    Actually you said, "If they have no friends or toxic friends there may be a reason for that."

    anonymous Jun 14, 2015 8:35pm

    I have just dumped my friends because they are toxic. So I guess that means that there is something wrong with me because I have no friends. I have no hope of making new healthy friends if everyone follows your advice. I also wonder how my child or the children that I teach with autism will ever have any hope of making friends if having friends is the criteria for gaining new ones. Maybe if a person has only toxic friends or no friends they are in need of healthy relationships not judgement or abandonment.

anonymous Sep 10, 2013 9:25pm

If they have no friends, maybe they are changing their lives and distancing themselves from their old 'toxic' friends. If people judge us or our worth on the amount of our friends, that is in itself toxic. Who wants friends like that, friends who judge peoples' worth by the amount of friends they have. Is there some guideline for exclusionists on how many friends are acceptable? Is three good ones enough to befriend them? Would a large amount of acquaintances but no real good friends qualify them? Can we simply check their number of Facebook friends and extrapolate from that? Just wondering…

Still and all, pretty well said and ultimately fairly true…ish.

    anonymous Jan 21, 2014 10:25am

    Exactly. Maybe they OUTGREW their old friends, and are trying to find NEW ones that will truly HELP them grow as a person. We all go through phases where we have a lot of people, some people, or no people. Life is in a constant state of flux. Maybe if you gave that "lonely" person a chance, you'd see that they're truly a diamond in the rough.

    Maybe they are unjustly misunderstood by others. God knows this has happened since the dawn of time.

      anonymous Jan 21, 2014 11:18am

      P.S. I'll be honest: this is me right now. I used to have, to borrow your phrase: a "group of kind, loving, fun, genuine and caring friends". And I still COULD, totally! But a year ago, after lots of time thinking about it, I thought: "Do I wanna spend the rest of my life with these people?" Just 'cause they're nice doesn't mean I belong with them. They don't challenge or appreciate the full breadth of my person, among other things. Sometimes people grow apart, and to borrow a cliche: "It's better to be alone for the right reasons, than be with people for the wrong reasons."

      Life isn't that simple.

    anonymous Nov 30, 2014 6:40am

    Amen 🙂

Francesca Emilia Papale Apr 15, 2016 8:30am

and if having toxic people around was a sign for us to better understand who whe are and what we need to work on? everything has a reason. We maybe should thank our toxic friends because they are our teachers, without knowing it. Whan we understand the lesson behind their precesence in our life, hey will go away because they won't be a match anymore for us.

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Cheryl McColgan

Cheryl McColgan is the founder and editor of Heal Nourish Grow, an ultimate wellness, healthy lifestyle, and advanced nutrition site. The pursuit of personal health, wellness, and athletics made it a priority for Cheryl to study nutrition, physical training techniques, injury prevention and treatment, Ayurveda, meditation, and multiple alternative therapies for the last 25 years. A passion for teaching, gourmet cooking, travel, and a personal commitment to pursue ultimate wellness is what brought Heal Nourish Grow to life. Connect with her at the site or on Instagram.