3 Messages to Give the Toxic Person in Your Life a Reality Check

We all know people who can be difficult to get along with, or who try our patience at times. However, there are also some people out there who can only be described as toxic – people who seem to thrive on upsetting others, causing arguments, manipulating friends and family into taking sides, and generally causing emotional mayhem and unhappiness wherever they go.

They like nothing better than a big family bust-up or not being on speaking terms with someone in their inner circle of friends, and manipulation and emotional blackmail is second nature to them. If someone like this comes into your life, the sensible option may be to sever all ties with them and move on to a more peaceful life.

But if the toxic person just happens to be a family member, a colleague or someone who is embedded in your group of close friends, ditching them completely may not be an option. If that’s the case, you may need to find a way of explaining to them that their behavior is unacceptable, without causing even more upset to all concerned. Here are some suggestions for how to send them a brief message to give them a little reality check on their behavior.

Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.

Message Template 1 | Show You Understand, but There’s a Line


I understand how you feel, but let’s set some boundaries. If your behavior crosses the following lines, I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you get on with things without my help.

I appreciate your frustrations but speaking to me in that particular tone is only going to make the situation worse.

I can completely sympathize, and if you want to talk feel free to reach out, but I’m unavailable during working hours/the weekend. 

People who thrive on emotional instability want people to challenge them, and to suggest that they are behaving badly. Doing what they want will inevitably lead to more conflict, feeding the toxic person’s needs even more. Suggesting that the toxic person is exaggerating or making things up will have the same negative effect, so it’s important to show empathy and respect, even if you don’t feel like it inside.

By saying that you understand how they feel, you are acknowledging the validity of their emotions, without endorsing their actions and behavior. Suggested boundaries might include not bringing personal issues into the workplace, discussing grievances in private rather than in front of all your friends, or agreeing to avoid certain topics of conversation at all times.

If your toxic friend or relative behaves even more appallingly after a glass of wine or a beer, work out a plan that removes opportunities for drinking from your social calendar – replacing evenings in the pub for example, with a group baseball game or a swimming session.

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Message Template 2 | Don’t Let Things Get Too Carried Away


We all look at the world through a different filter, so it’s better to stick to the facts if we want to come to a solution.

It might help to take a step back and look at your problem as though it’s somebody else’s. What do you think the other party was trying to acheive by doing what they did?

I doubt you are the only person to have experienced this issue, so perhaps there’s someone who’s been in your shoes and is better equipped to help?

So I feel you’ve identified the worst case secenario, but that doesn’t appear to be happening right now. Let’s focus on what’s happening right now.

Carefully pointing out that things would be better if the emotions were taken out of any important discussions could go a long way to reducing the pressure-cooker environment that the toxic person is so good at creating.

Ask the toxic person if they want to resolve the issue that is making them so unhappy – no one can really reply ‘No, I want to continue being miserable and making everyone else miserable at the same time,’ so they have no choice but to agree to work on resolving the crisis.

When you have that commitment, you can then move on to explain that the only way to do this is to stick to the facts, and then work through those facts in a calm manner, so that everyone can be heard and have a point of view.

With some careful arbitration, you should be able to get all sides calmed down and working more productively through their differences.

Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Message Template 3 | Divert Attention From the Problem to the Solution


You’ve told me how you feel. What do you think the best possible sceneario could be? How would you fix things?

How exactly would you like me to help you with your issue? Is there anything you need that would help you with your problem?

Have you considered seeking professional assistance? Have you considered talking directly to the person you are having an issue with?

What would you be willing to do to put an end to this situation?

What would you tell a loved one if they were going through the same issue as you?

Again, this approach works by acknowledging that the toxic person feels hurt, angry, or upset, but then turning things around to identify an acceptable solution. Rather than letting the toxic person continue on and on with their destructive behavior, you get down to business with the specifics of exactly how to fix things.

If they can’t identify what they want to happen in order to fix things, then perhaps they don’t really have a problem, after all. It’s likely that with a little coaxing, your toxic friend or relative will have no choice but to spell out exactly what is bothering them and what they want to happen.

Once they do that, you have to either ensure that their requests are met (if they’re reasonable), or explain to them why they cannot get what they want on this occasion.

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If you do have to deal with a toxic person on an ongoing basis, there are some other ‘golden rules’ to consider, to avoid making things worse. Never be tempted to rise to provocation and argue back with this kind of person, as that is exactly what they want you to do.

People like this thrive on dividing friends, sowing seeds of doubt and confusion in families, and generally wreaking emotional havoc wherever they go. As soon as you start fighting back, they have got exactly what they want, and they will find it easier and easier to provoke you in the future.

Another good rule is to tackle their behavior privately. A toxic person is skilled at working a crowd and individuals, of course, but if you choose to try to call out their bad behavior in front of friends and family, you run the risk of half the group siding with the toxic person, and you also give them an audience for their self-indulgent dramas. Make sure you get them on their own, where you won’t be interrupted before you try to discuss their behavior with them.

You may not be able to remove a toxic person from your life completely, especially if they are a close friend or relative, but you also don’t have to put up with the constant negativity and disruption that this kind of person brings with them.

Act with confidence, calmness, and consideration for their feelings set personal boundaries, and set a good example through your own behavior.

At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.   

If you’re interested in further reading, we’ve also included links to our trusted resources and related posts below. To find out more about NTRW and our recommended tools, you can do that here.  

Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!

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Never the Right Word

Never the Right Word

Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation. Learn more about me here.

In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.

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