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7 Tips for Eliminating Toxic People From Your Life

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We all know how important it is to give our bodies a break from “toxic” food and alcohol, but what about giving ourselves a break from toxic attitudes? "Just like any toxic thing—like food or poison—toxic people are extremely dangerous," Tara Mackey, author of Cured by Nature and founder of The Organic Life, tells mental_floss in an email. “They distract us from our positive or productive habits. They'll be the people who discourage you from exercise or make fun of you for wanting to be a better person. They'll come up with reasons for you to stay in other bad relationships. Toxic people get you stuck in the past and focused on the negative, and in that mentality, you can't move forward and you can't succeed. It is impossible for them to share in your joy."

It's worth noting that there is a difference between people who are truly toxic to your well-being and people who have a negative outlook because they struggle with depression. It's important to let friends and family members who suffer from clinical depression know that you love and support them, not cut them out of your life. But interacting with toxic people who constantly cut you down or manipulate you to their own advantage can take a toll on your own mental health. And yet, it can be difficult to distance yourself from them.

"Toxic people can try to cling on—sometimes for years! They can make you feel guilty and because of that, are not always easy to remove from your life,” says Mackey. To help you detox your relationships once and for all, here are her tips for getting rid of harmful personalities.

1. IDENTIFY THE TOXICITY.

The first step of getting rid of something—or someone—toxic is actually recognizing the fact that it’s harming you. “Toxic people are manipulative and often selfish,” says Mackey. “They're difficult to please and impossible to work with, even when you're trying to help them. They have a hard time owning their feelings or apologizing, and they will consistently make you prove yourself to them."

If a relationship is weighing on you constantly or bringing you down significantly more than it's building you up, it’s time to let go. "Toxic people are a distraction from your true purpose," says Mackey.

2. BE FIRM.

“Toxins have to be met with a powerful force,” says Mackey. “It's likely that they won't just respond to ‘Go away,’ and will perhaps even dig their claws in deeper if you try to create a separation. Don't let this discourage you.” Be very, very clear with the person about your intentions, then keep the necessary distance to make sure your message isn’t misconstrued.

3. SET BOUNDARIES...

… and stick with them. “Stick with your boundaries long-term or [toxic people] will use any weakness over time to sneak back into your life,” says Mackey. “If you told yourself you wouldn't respond to their texts, don't. Block their number and block them on all social media. Don't send them any e-mails and don't check in six months from now.” Once you’ve made the decision to end a relationship, you’re responsible for keeping the guidelines clear after the fact.

4. DON'T BE TOO NICE.

It may sound harsh, but since toxic people tend to take advantage of any kindness that’s imparted on them, being overly nice can be detrimental. “Realize that they get their energy from draining your loving, good nature,” says Mackey. “They thrive on your trust and kindness.” It doesn’t mean you have to be cruel (to paraphrase Michelle Obama, when they go low, you want to go high), but you should stop going out of your way to be overly accommodating.

5. REALIZE IT'S NOT YOUR JOB TO SAVE THEM.

Toxic people are great at showing up when they need something, particularly during crisis moments in their own lives. "They'll ask for a shoulder to cry on or an ear for you to lend. They may disguise it as wanting advice,” says Mackey. “All of these are ploys for your time and attention. Do not give in to them, no matter the circumstance.”

If things are truly dire for your friend, you can direct him to resources that specialize in his particular issues. Solving his problems is not only not your responsibility, it's likely beyond your capabilities.

6. KNOW THAT WHEN IT'S DONE, IT'S DONE.

Toxic people will keep coming back if you let them, so when you decide to say goodbye, make sure you’re ready to make it permanent. “They will always find a way to create a problem or drama in your life,” says Mackey. “When you've decided to move on, move on for good.”

If the toxic person is family, and it's therefore impossible to make a clean break, you can still establish clear limits for your interactions (be it, we will only speak on the phone once a month or you will only visit during the holidays).

7. TREAT YOUR SEPARATION LIKE THE BREAKUP IT IS.

Yes, we need relationships, but we don’t need every relationship—especially ones that bring us more pain than support. “Energy flows where attention goes,” says Mackey. “The more selective you are about where your focus is, the more successful you'll be. The more time you spend away from toxic people, the more time you have for yourself and the people that are positive, uplifting, and important to you.” Make time for people who bring you happiness, and let go of those who bring you anything less.

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What Are Toxins?
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According to the diet industry, toxins should rank high on our list of things to worry about. Numerous health products claim to cure symptoms like headaches, sluggishness, and even chronic disease by flushing the substances from our systems. But don’t be too quick to order a pack of foot pads or drink nothing but cayenne pepper lemonade for 10 days straight: Most health experts will tell you that toxins aren’t exactly the nutritional bogeymen they’re made out to be.

One such expert is Peter Thorne, a professor at the University of Iowa, head of the College of Public Health’s Department of Occupational & Environmental Health, and director of its Environmental Health Sciences Research Center. In a conversation with mental_floss, he said that the first thing most people get wrong when talking about toxins is the basic meaning of the term. “The words toxin, venom, toxicant, xenobiotic—these all have very specific meanings in the realm of toxicology,” Thorne says.

A toxin is defined as any harmful substance produced by a living organism. Some examples are the toxic chemicals injected by animals like bees, snakes, and sea urchins (which are all technically venom, a toxin subset). Other poisons that fall under the toxin umbrella include those produced by a dart frog or the leaf of a hemlock plant.

Toxic substances added to the environment by people, on the other hand, are called toxicants. When diet commercials and health magazines use the word “toxins,” this is usually what they’re referring to. So, by definition, toxins are always “all natural”—though whether or not that label carries any weight is a different story.

Going on a juice cleanse obviously won’t do much to treat a snakebite, but is it an effective way to rid your body of toxicants like pesticides? Thorne says that’s a question most people don’t need to be asking in the first place. “We’ve evolved with a whole cadre of metabolic enzymes that process most of the toxicants to which we’re exposed,” he says. When late-night infomercials warn that toxins (a.k.a. toxicants) can’t be avoided as long you're someone who eats, drinks, and breathes, they’re not entirely wrong. The one part they usually fail to mention, however, is that humans have evolved to become pretty good at dealing with these substances on our own.

The majority of the low-level toxicants that enter our bodies—whether through the air we breathe or the food we ingest—are metabolized and expelled by organs like the liver and kidneys. Urine, excrement, and exhalations are a few of the exit routes toxicants can take from your system. “For the vast majority of what we’re exposed to, it has no long-term effect,” Thorne says.

Complications arise when people come into contact with toxicants in high doses. If you’re the resident of a place with dangerously high arsenic levels in the water or significant amounts of air pollution, for example, then your body may be taking in too much toxic material to process. Fortunately, agencies like the FDA and EPA (Thorne is a member of the latter's science advisory board) exist to determine safe toxicant levels and limit how much the public is exposed to.

Industry regulations are intended to ensure that toxicants are something most U.S. citizens don't have to think twice about. But for a small percentage of the population, even limited exposure to toxicants can be detrimental to their health. People born with certain environmental sensitivities or genetic mutations, for example, aren't as well equipped to handle toxicants as those without them. In these rare cases, doctors may suggest medication or dietary changes as treatments. What they likely won’t recommend is one of the many home “detox” remedies that can be found over the counter.

The health guidelines toxicologists like Thorne set forth are the result of years of rigorous study. Products like detoxifying teas, face masks, and colon-cleansing capsules often have no research to back up their effectiveness. “For the vast majority of people, if you’re living a healthy lifestyle and you have [a well-balanced] diet, you have no need to even think about some of these extreme measures I’ve seen advertised,” Thorne says. “I’ve seen some evidence out there to suggest they’re [in] no way valuable or effective—or needed.”

Toxicology research has brought us a long way in just the past several decades: Lead is no longer added to our gasoline and mercury is no longer a key ingredient in hat-making. As new research broadens our understanding of the area, there’s one thing we can keep in mind: More often than not, detoxing is a job best left to your organs.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Seal Poop Keeps Shutting Down a Cape Cod Beach
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Beachgoers in picturesque Wellfleet—a Massachusetts beach town nestled on Cape Cod—have been disappointed several times this month by the errant bowels of marine mammals. The beach failed multiple water sample tests, which revealed high levels of the bacteria coliform, an indicator of unsanitary conditions. The culprit, according to CapeCod.com (spotted by the killer poop-dar of an Atlas Obscura reporter), is probably seals, who apparently can’t stop pooping everywhere.

Coliform bacteria, including fecal coliform, isn't dangerous on its own, but indicates the likely presence of disease-related organisms. All area swimming beaches are tested weekly, and only Wellfleet failed this recent round of sampling. It’s the first time it’s closed in years, according to the Cape Cod Times.

While scientists can’t trace the fecal coliform back to a specific species—land mammals are just as likely to be responsible as sea mammals, since their poop can wash into the water after storms—they think that in this case, those cute seals are the poo-prit.

“We do have seaweed that floats in and out and traps seal feces so it could be a function of seaweed plus seals,” Suzanne Grout Thomas, the beach’s administrator, told CapeCod.com.

“When it came down, it was fast and furious,” she told the Cape Cod Times of the recent rains, but the description could just as easily be about the animal poop that no doubt rushed down to the water in the process.

The beach passed its third test and opened back up on Tuesday (August 30), so it's safe to go back in the water—at least for now.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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