Removing Toxic People From Your Life: Easier Said Than Done

“You could get on a bus right now. I’ll come with you.”

I was 16 years old, and I was standing in the gift shop of Chicago’s Field Museum with my best friend, J. She was visiting from out of state for the week, and we were making the rounds doing typical tourist stuff.

But her visit wasn’t a happy one…because I wasn’t happy. A year earlier, I had attempted suicide, and although I had lived, the biggest problem in my life hadn’t gone anywhere.

My family.

J knew I was still depressed and hopeless. As we stood in the store surrounded by plastic dinosaur models and archeology books, she tried to convince me to run away. Right then. With just the clothes on my back.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t cut ties with my abusive family members until 7 years later.

Why didn’t I get out earlier?

Well, that’s complicated.

Sometimes people want to oversimplify these types of situations:

  • “I would never stay with a man who cheated on me.”
  • “She’s not your friend if she treats you that way.”
  • “Who cares if you’re related? That behavior is unacceptable.”

Toxic people are those individuals who poison your life with their negativity, gossip, abuse, selfishness, and other evil behavior. And just like a real poison, after ingesting their “venom” you become sick and weak.

If you’ve ever had to deal with a toxic person, you understand that removing them from your life is easier said than done.

That said, it CAN be done.

Here are some steps to help you break free. Obviously, if you are in a truly dangerous situation, please get professional help.

First, are you the problem?

I know, I know. How could I say this? So-and-so in your life is the problem, not you. They’re the terrible ones! I get it, and I believe you, but sometimes we can think that people are being hurtful when really it’s just our misperception.

I tried to fix myself first. I acted kinder to my family members, and treated them how I wanted to be treated. I focused on living a happier future together with mutual respect and love. I did this for YEARS, even after they continued to hurt me. I made an effort, and I realized that I was not the problem.

Then I knew I could continue without hesitation.

Choose your time

Timing can be important. Me running away with J with no money, no food, and no place to stay would have been really stupid. I didn’t want to live on the street. I knew I needed more resources, so I waited.

Because I waited, I was able to finish high school and then graduate college without any student loans. I gained a lot of strength by living on my own in college; strength that I would need later. Some people may think it was cruel of me to bide my time and have my parents pay for my college education in full, and then cut them out of my life. Well, I would gladly return their tuition money…as soon as they return my childhood.

What time is best for you to say goodbye to the toxic people you know? Do you want to avoid spending time with them at an upcoming event? Do you need them out of the way before you can move on to your next goal?

Get as much support as possible

I relied on Chris A LOT after I decided never to see my family again. He was a rock of strength in my life. He knew what I had been going through, and he made it much easier for me to pull myself together and create a happier future.

Warning: there will be people who won’t agree with your choice to remove the toxic person from your life. Expect this to happen and plan for many sources of support.

Do you have support in your life? If you’re ditching a toxic friend, do you have more loving friends to turn to? If you’re removing yourself from a toxic work environment, do you have a support network of friends and family members to help you look for another job? Are you seeing a therapist? (FYI, I’ve been in therapy on and off for much of my life, and there’s no shame in seeing a professional.)

If you think you have no one to support you, remember that you always have me. My life isn’t perfect either. Send me an email at if you want to talk.

Decide how you want your life to be now

You could run into other problems once the toxic people are out of your life. You might need to find new friends or activities. You might need to get a job to support yourself. You might need to do some serious soul searching to figure out how you can avoid letting other toxic people into your life.

Take as much time as you need to figure out how you want to feel every day. Do you want to feel happy and respected? Seek out people who make you feel that way.

It’s easy to judge those in a bad situation and say that they should “just get out.” I hope you can understand why people need to remove toxic people from their lives at their own pace.

Want more help ditching those toxic jerks? Check out my free ebook How to Remove Toxic People From Your Life.

How do you handle toxic people? Have you ever had to cut someone out of your life?

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  1. Tinfoil Tiaras on April 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Sage you look so beautiful and serene in the first photo, miles away from the abuse and hardships of your past. My father was emotionally abusive to my mother and I remember thinking “why does she let him treat her that way” but now as an adult, I’ve worked for years with female survivors of abuse and know it’s a lot more complicated than that. You and Chris make a solid support system and you have removed the toxins (even the food toxins as a vegan) and that’s so admirable!

  2. Molly on April 3, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Wow, Sage, what a terrific post. This really hits home for me. I ran away 1000 miles away from home when I was 17, yet I still have those same toxic people in my life that I was running away from over 20 years later….. It is really hard to cut them out of your life and I really admire you for doing so.

  3. Cara on April 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Sage, this is one of those incredibly special and personal posts that really reveals the person behind the blog, thank you for sharing it with us. I truly can’t fathom what you went through in your early years but it has clearly molded you into a highly intelligent, mature and compassionate woman full of positivity, humor and love.

    College really is a place where you can gain strength in the person you are and want to be. I’m glad it gave you the strength to move on. For me, some of the relationships I formed in college were not the most positive (not necessarily toxic but negative nonetheless) and finally years later, away from that environment I’ve finally cut ties and feel so much better about my life and outlook for the future.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!

  4. Megan Gann on April 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    It’s really hard to ditch toxic people. It’s harder still to recognize them in your life. I had to really pull away from people over my life. However I think we also have to recognize while some people can be toxic because of Reasons, people can also change. My mom and I often didn’t have the best relationship as Mother/Daughter. Now that I’m an adult, she’s at a very different point in her life. I’m thrilled with where she’s at and proud of her progress. She’s remade herself. That doesn’t happen for everyone. I’m eternally grateful that she made her own choices to overcome her own past and be a positive person in my life instead of a negative one.

    However I’ve broken off many toxic friendships/family relationships. It sucks, but it’s like a breath of fresh air when someone else’s negative attitude isn’t bringing you down. I have fewer friends than I did 5 years ago, but I am much happier overall and made new friends through the blog scene.

    I congratulate you on your strength through really hard times. You are such a wonderful person who deserves to be surrounded by good people who will allow you to blossom. And besides, the best family we have are the people we choose to be our family. Blood or legal relation doesn’t always have to apply for people to be “family”.

  5. Andy on April 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Sage – first of all, hands up to say that I work professionally in the area of toxic people, so you may decide not to publish this comment.

    I’d just like to say how refreshing it is to hear someone on the web recognizing that ditching toxic people without thought isn’t a good idea. There’s some excellent advice in your post that will help anyone going through the process – and it’s all the more powerful because it’s based on your own personal story.

  6. xvavaveganx on April 3, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Wow Sage, such an incredible story and even more incredible how you’ve not only overcome such hardship, but you are now thriving. The fact that you can be so reflective on your experiences and then use that to help other people is incredibly admirable and absolutely appreciated. I always value every piece of advice that you give and I know it comes with love… even for strangers and people you have never met. Please know it is appreciated.

    As for this topic, I have a habit of inviting toxic people into my life and only realizing it after it is too late (meaning I feel like crap about myself). I have a habit of befriending really competitive people that try to make themselves feel better by making me feel like crap. I’ve become really guarded, closed off and a bit of a loner because of it. You are right though, we all deserve to be happy and respected and it is something I work for every day.

    • Sage on April 3, 2012 at 9:04 am

      Thank you so much, Sarah. I want people to feel like they’re not alone because I felt alone for a very long time. It’s hard to recognize when toxic people are creeping into our lives. I can be overly generous, and that’s caused some people to take advantage of my kindness.

      People who want to make you feel small are insecure about who they are. It takes more strength of character to build someone up than to tear them down. Here’s a question I ask myself after I’ve spent time with someone: Do I feel better or worse about myself than I did before I spent time with him/her? How you feel after an encounter is a good gage of whether you should continue to let them into your life.

      I know, easier said than done!

  7. Shybiker on April 3, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Okay, I finally understand. You impart such exceptional wisdom, on such important topics, with such manifest generosity. I wondered how you got that way… and here you answer it.

    Facing hardship as intense as yours is a crucible. It forges us. Either we die or we get stronger. You did the latter. And, even more impressive, you did it with a generosity of spirit that makes you want to help others. Your offer to be available to strangers reading your blog, even giving your e-mail address, is amazing.

    I admire you, Sage.

    • Sage on April 3, 2012 at 8:56 am

      When I was at that self-help conference last month I was thinking, “Wow, these people have a lot of issues.” Many of them were abused, had drug addictions, illnesses, or other tragedies in their lives. But they overcame their problems in order to help others. And that’s how I feel about myself! I want people to know that we can find happiness no matter what we’ve been through.

      I’m an overly happy person now because I wasn’t happy for a long time. Thank you for your nice comment. I admire you too!