A man and woman sit in a kitchen having an important conversation; photo via Mikhail Nilov/Pexels.
Health + Wellness

How To Be Assertive to Deal With Toxic People

Unfortunately, we are all likely to encounter toxic people at some point in life; learning how to deal with them can minimise ongoing and future disagreements and difficulties. Assertiveness and setting boundaries can help maintain our well-being while navigating different scenarios and relationships with others.

Toxic people can be found in a variety of settings, so it’s essential we have a clear idea about how we want to tackle behaviours and actions that negatively impact us. No matter where toxicity is found, whether it’s in romantic relationships, from family and friends, at work/educational settings, or within online communities, for example, it’s important to recognize and address harmful patterns.

We are all entitled to experience and encourage healthy interactions and relationships. Speaking up for ourselves and maintaining personal boundaries may not always come naturally and sometimes feel awkward/daunting, but there are things we can implement to get us started.


Why People Are Toxic Towards Others

There are many reasons why people may exhibit toxic behavior, including negative past experiences, personal insecurities and a lack of emotional regulation skills. While toxic behavior is not excusable, understanding the root causes can help identify how best to address and prevent it. Things to be aware of that may cause someone to behave in a toxic way could include:

  • Insecurity: People who feel threatened by others may exhibit toxic behavior as a means of protecting their own self-esteem.
  • Jealousy: Jealousy can lead people to act in toxic ways towards those they perceive as competition.
  • Lack of empathy: Some people may lack the ability to understand or consider others’ feelings, leading to toxic behavior.
  • Negative upbringing: Individuals who grew up in toxic environments may have learned unfavourable behaviors and coping mechanisms that they carry into adulthood.
  • Mental health issues: Certain mental health conditions can cause individuals to exhibit toxic behavior, such as narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder.

Signs That Someone Is Being Toxic

Being aware of the possible tell-tale signs that someone is behaving in a toxic way can support us as we decide on the most appropriate course of action. Depending on how significantly our mental health is being impacted, choosing how to deal with toxic people can range from assertively calling someone out and effectively establishing boundaries to deciding to completely remove someone from our lives.

Toxic people may exhibit behaviors such as manipulation, aggression, and negativity, including but not limited to:

  • Constant criticizing or belittling to emotionally manipulate and drain.
  • Using “just joking” humour to veil personal attacks or abuse.
  • Persistently contributing to an unpleasant, stressful atmosphere by creating conflict; antagonizing or provoking drama.
  • Exhibiting controlling or abusive behavior to manipulate others.
  • Sustained negativity.
A woman in an orange top sits on a black leather couch talking to her colleague.
photo via RDNE Stock Project/Pexels

Assertive Communication and Setting Boundaries

As mentioned previously, setting boundaries and being assertive is not always easy. There may be fear of conflict or rejection, plus cultural and societal pressures that prioritize the needs of others. Consideration for those around us is generally a positive thing to maintain, but if it comes at the expense of our own emotional health, then we have every right to speak up and set limits.

Assertive communication is a way of expressing our thoughts, feelings and needs respectfully and in a direct manner. It involves standing up for ourselves and our rights without violating the rights of others or relying on our own brand of toxic behaviour. To manage assertive communication, we can start by being clear about what we want to say, using “I” statements in a calm, confident manner.

Some people may well pushback against this, especially if they do not perceive their actions as problematic. This can cause discomfort and defensiveness, but assertiveness remains an important communication skill to use when tackling extremely difficult conduct from others.  

Examples of Assertive Communication Statements

A good base to work from when making assertive statements can follow this formula:

“I feel _____ when you _____ and I’d like it to stop.”

However, it does not have to be too prescriptive; whatever seems appropriate for the situation will work as long as the messaging remains clear and forthright. Here are ten examples that may help provide some more guidance on how to use assertive communication with toxic people (in various scenarios): 

  • I’m not comfortable with the way you are treating me, and I need it to stop immediately.
  • I appreciate your input, but I’ve already made my decision and am confident in it.
  • I understand your concerns, but I need to prioritize my own needs in this situation.
  • I feel frustrated when you interrupt me during meetings, please wait until I‘ve finished speaking.
  • Your constant criticism is not helpful or appreciated, please refrain from continuing with this.
  • I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
  • I’m not willing to compromise my values.
  • Please do not make decisions for me without my input.
  • I need you to take responsibility for your actions before we can move forward.
  • I disagree with your opinion on this matter, but I believe we can find a solution that works for everyone.
A woman sits at a table and talks to her friend.
photo via fizkes/Canva

Getting Used To Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are limits or guidelines that define what is or is not acceptable behavior in a relationship, social interaction, or other situation. They encourage us to communicate our needs and expectations as we cultivate healthy relationships that promote self-respect, self-care, and personal growth. Setting boundaries can be applied in any scenario, including:

  • Personal space and touch preferences, including those relating to sexual contact and sexual activity.
  • Levels of emotional intimacy we are confident in sharing.
  • Limits on how much time we are willing to devote to certain activities or people.
  • How our possessions are shared or used.
  • Expressions and protections of personal beliefs and values, including spirituality or religion.
  • Decisions pertaining to finances and how money is spent, saved or shared.
  • Limits on the types of social interactions or events we are comfortable with.
  • Appropriate behavior and communication in work or educational settings.

To set effective boundaries, we need to outline exactly what they are with those who need to be aware of them. Once established, we must be prepared to consistently reassert them whenever someone tries to push beyond them otherwise we are allowing our boundaries to be seen as negotiable (which they aren’t).

Maintaining our health and wellness in this way can take a lot of mental and physical energy so seeking support and practicing self-care as we go is vital.

The Importance of Being Assertive With Toxic People

Using assertive communication and boundary setting with toxic people is necessary because it establishes healthy relationships that support our peace of mind and value our well-being. And although this type of messaging is typically delivered with firmness and respect; it’s essential to note that while expressions of anger are not always productive, it’s a valid emotion and may be exactly what is required.

The aim of standing up for ourselves is all about being clear that disrespectful or harmful behaviour will not be tolerated; dealing with toxic people is not going to be easy, but if we are consistent with how we approach this, it’s worth doing — our emotional and mental health matter.

Have you used assertive communication to set personal boundaries? How do you deal with toxic people?

Further Info:

50 Best Self-Care Ideas for Mental and Physical Well-Being – Good Housekeeping

How to Set Boundaries With a Difficult Family Member – The New York Times

34 thoughts on “How To Be Assertive to Deal With Toxic People”

  1. This is an amazing post about dealing with toxic people. We all come across toxic situations, I find your advice very helpful, especially the exact sentences we can use to address the issue.


  2. I was ready to type that I cannot stand toxic people until this post got to a part where you talk about getting ready to set some boundaries. Maybe I can with some boundaries but one can only take so much toxicity. This is a helpful post!


    1. It’s always good to remember that at no point do you need to or have to tolerate toxicity. A boundary with certain individuals, if appropriate and safe to do so, would be to remove them from your life (particularly if their behaviour is damaging your well-being). Sometime telling people they are toxic is also the wake up call they need (whatever works). Dealing with toxic people is draining so look after yourself as you figure out what will work for you.


  3. Dealing with toxic people is complicated for me. If we identify toxic behaviour early, it becomes easier to set boundaries otherwise it becomes the habit of other person to expect a yes behaviour everytime.


    1. It is definitely harder to deal with if it’s become a seasoned pattern but the great thing about boundaries and assertive communication is that both can begin at any time — especially as toxic behaviour is not always identifiable early on.


  4. This is such a helpful post, especially if people have been struggling with toxic people or unsure whether a person is toxic or not. I like to ensure my own mental health against those people. Thank you for sharing.



  5. Such great advice too many people don’t set boundaries and I think it’s one of the most important things we can do. So many people struggle with being assertive because they think it’s being rude or they are scared of conflict back but I think the results can be pleasantly surprising.


  6. This is such an important post, thank you for sharing. It can be so easy to be manipulated and hurt by toxic people, it’s so important to open up a conversation about it and help people cope!


  7. Great guide – it’s always so hard dealing with toxic people. I find being direct with little room for them to argue or have an opinion about something is the best way!

    Vorinne x


  8. Your advice seems it would be very helpful in dealing with toxic individuals. I like the example ways to respond to those pushing against our boundaries ensuring that we put our needs first.


  9. I learnt the hard way, giving people one more chance, just one more…and then by being disappointed again, I learnt that I do need to set boundaries early on as otherwise it’s just my mental health that suffers… Really good post, thanks for sharing!


    1. It’s a hard lesson to learn as I think we do all want to think the best of people and give them a chance, but if it comes at a mental health cost to us to do that, that is when boundaries are essential. I’m sorry you’ve had to learn it in this way but I am glad to hear that you are now able to put things in place to protect yourself.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s