How to deal with a toxic person (according to Buddhism)

Toxic people. We’ve all met them before, and unfortunately, many of us have had to deal with them regularly. They can leave you emotionally drained.

A question almost all of us have pondered at some point is: What’s the best way to deal with them?

Is it to fight fire with fire? Or ignore them and hope for the best?

Well, according to eastern philosophy wisdom, none of those strategies take the cake.

Instead, a better technique is to practice what Buddhism calls “loving-kindness“.

This a technique that I’ve personally tried over the past months and I think it is highly effective for not only dealing with toxic people but for protecting my emotional health as well.

Below I’ve described what “loving kindness” is and why it might help you deal with toxic people.

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4 things to understand to deal effectively with toxic people

Religious traditions from across the world—including both Buddhism and Christianity—have developed seemingly nonsensical attitudes of compassion and forgiveness toward enemies.

Why should we “love” our enemies or wish that “no harm” may befall them? Why should we wish them “success” in their endeavors—when those endeavors might very well include attacking us?!

From a Buddhist perspective, there are several explanations for the injunction to wish toxic and negative people well.

First, it does you no good to hold onto anger or resentment, even if the other person deserves it.

Carrying around your enmity for another person leads to tension and unhappiness within you, so it is best to set aside grudges, if only for your own sake.

Check out this quote from Bhante Henepola Gunaratana which describes what this attitude represents:

“May my enemies be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.”

Second, appreciate the opportunities that your enemies provide for you to practice your patience and loving kindness!

There’s nothing challenging or unusual about treating people you love kindly—that comes naturally.

People you dislike, however, give you the chance to deepen your practice.

Third, ask yourself why you consider certain people your enemies.

Are they rude, short-tempered, selfish, or boastful? Likely, these unpleasant characteristics stem from various problems in their own lives.

Perhaps they’re rude and impatient because they hate their job; maybe they’re boastful because they’re deeply insecure about themselves.

In any case, by wishing that your enemies be “well, happy, and peaceful,” by wishing that they encounter no “difficulties” or “problems,” you wish to remove the conditions that made them your enemies in the first place.

As Gunaratana writes:

“Practically speaking, if all of your enemies were well, happy, and peaceful, they would not be your enemies. If they were free from problems, pain, suffering, affliction, neurosis, psychosis, paranoia, fear, tension, anxiety, etc., they would not be your enemies. The practical approach toward your enemies is to help them overcome their problems, so you can live in peace and happiness.” – Bhante Henepola Gunaratama, Mindfulness in Plain English, 94

In other words, by practicing loving kindness even toward people you don’t like, you help create a better, happier, more peaceful world for everyone.

If this practice is something you struggle to do, I suggest incorporating it into your daily meditation practice.

Begin your meditation session by mindfully reading and reflecting on the verses above (“May my enemies be well…”).

Remind yourself of these principles throughout the day when you catch yourself falling into familiar patterns of uncharitable or unkind thoughts.

Fourth, remind yourself that you see hostile people and situations only from your perspective and do not know the whole story.

Are you open to the possibility that you could have misunderstood something or misjudged someone else’s actions?

Have you taken some perceived slight too personally? And even if you are convinced of your righteousness, are you at least open to the idea that returning hatred with hatred does nothing to improve the situation?

Finally, keep in mind that if you decide to struggle against your enemies, your struggles will be endless:

“Although you may spend your life killing, you will not exhaust all your foes.” – Nagarjuna

How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation 

Person with a deep personality meditating
Image Credit: Shutterstock –
Yuganov Konstantin

To nurture a spirit of compassion and friendliness toward others, you can perform a meditation on loving kindness.

You will begin by feeling love and kindness for yourself, then direct these feelings outward—to family, to friends, to colleagues and acquaintances, and even to your enemies.

Here’s how:

• Settle into your meditation posture, for instance by sitting on the ground cross-legged. • Focus first on your breathing, counting each inhale and exhale, noticing the nature of the breaths (are they short or long, smooth or staccato?).

• Imagine a warmth emanating from your heart and filling your torso. You might imagine a bright light glowing within your body, growing brighter with every inhale. Or you might feel a ball of energy that steadily grows warmer. This is the bright warmth of loving kindness. Let yourself sit with it, as if basking in an internal sun.

• Repeat simple thoughts for focus, such as “May I be happy. May I be free from hatred. May I be free of problems. May I feel loved and accepted.” Essentially, you wish good things for yourself in this moment.

• Let this feeling of loving kindness emanate outward toward others. Visualize, say, your partner, your children, your parents. Imagine the light and warmth spreading out of your face and fingertips and reaching them.

• Again, you can repeat similar verses, “May they be happy. May they be free from hatred,” and so on. Wish them good things. Perhaps you’ve had a minor argument or misunderstanding recently. If you feel ready, forgive them and accept them as they are.

• Direct this feeling of loving kindness wherever you choose. Send it to people you’ve never met, to people who suffer from famine and war, to animals on the brink of extinction, to the entire world and all the life it sustains. You may send it even to your enemies (more on that below).

• Finish your meditation by returning to your breath. The meditation itself is simply about noticing yourself and others, accepting them as they are, loving them, and wishing good things for them.

Do not feel compelled at this moment to do or try to do anything. Just exist with a mindset of love and friendliness.

Once the meditation ends and you return to your daily activities, you may very well feel moved to apply these feelings of loving kindness in your actions.

This is great! Fostering love and acceptance in our minds and hearts often leads to outward changes in behavior that make the world a better place.

How to Spot Toxic People So You Can Keep Them Out of Your Life

If you are trying to change things about your life and be a more positive person, you’ll find that these toxic people seem to come out of the woodwork and are front and center in your life.

Once you’ve crossed over into a positive-focused lifestyle, you will notice that toxic people have no idea how destructive they are of their own lives as well as the lives of people around them.

You might find that toxic people get in your way of change, or that you have had to do a lot of work to overcome toxicity in your own life and don’t want to go back to a life of negativity and despair.

What toxic people don’t realize is how much control over their despair that they have and they like to blame others for their misfortune.

To keep toxic people out of your life, you need to be able to recognize them.

Here are things I believe make up a “toxic person”. They might not all be accurate for you, but I think they’ll provide food for thought for you to consider what toxic people might be in your life.

1) Interrupt Much?

Toxic people love to be in the spotlight, but not in a good way. They’ll interrupt anyone and everyone to be heard.

If you find yourself in the presence of toxic people, they’ll be trying to steal your thunder and take credit for your ideas, thoughts, and even actions.

They’ll make your words their own and be sure that people hear them over you at all times. They will correct you, and try at every turn to be physically louder than you.

They don’t care to hear about your life. Toxic people just want to be heard, at any cost.

2) Control Freak?

If you have someone in your life that needs to have their finger on the pulse of everything, it’s likely that they have some form of toxicity in their own lives.

Toxic people use control mechanisms as a form of controlling those around them because they have no control over their own lives.

They will comment on your life and try to control you in ways that seem really inappropriate at times.

They’ll seem outwardly fun and outgoing, but when you get to know them, you’ll see that they are just trying to maintain control over something that is not theirs to control.

Hypersensitive to details, they think that if they can control things and other people they are overcompensating for lack of control in their own lives.

3) Positivity Sucker?

There’s no doubt that toxic people are positivity suckers. It can get so bad that just being in the same room as other people make it hard to concentrate or get things done.

As the saying goes, toxic people have a problem for every solution. They cannot see the light, no matter how bright it may be.

It’s exhausting to be around these people for any length of time.

They not only can get down on themselves for things that might otherwise be seen as positive, but they love to suck the life out of anyone around them.

4) Drama Queen?

Toxic people love to dramatize everything from the grocery shopping to the breakup of a relationship. They play the victim so well.

They love to tell people how nothing is their fault and how everything that happens to them was brought about by someone else’s incompetence. Sound familiar?

If you have toxic people in your life, you are probably well acquainted with this one.

Toxic people need to make everything about them and the best way to do that is to dramatize their entire lives.

5) Judge and Jury?

One defense mechanism that toxic people employ is that they tend to judge other people relentlessly.

This is a distraction tactic that they use to keep people from seeing just how chaotic their own lives are so that they will point out the faults of other people.

They openly judge people without apology and tend to add in the preferred outcome as well.

These are the “should” people. “She should just leave him. He should get a better job.”

They love to tell other people what to do and decide ahead of time that they are right in their judgments and opinions.

6) Lies like a Rug?

Sometimes you don’t see toxic people for what they are because they are very good at lying about who they are.

They go out of their way to keep you from finding out the truth because the world they have created is the one they want to live in.

To control perceptions, they lie about anything and everything. Sometimes, they lie so much they don’t realize they are lying.

They lie about money, work, relationships, drama, success, failure. Nothing is sacred. They lie to serve their purpose, and they don’t care about you.

7) Heavy Hauler?

Someone who is toxic will think they are the smartest person in the room. They’ll think they have the most to offer.

They will go out of their way to snowball people, so they benefit from the fallout. Toxic people are sometimes referred to as tanks because they will move people, things, and opportunities to get what they want.

Toxic people will stop at nothing to make themselves feel good, even if it is at the cost of someone else’s happiness. Tank, as it were, is a fitting description.

The bottom line? Use this insight to help you expose the toxic people in your life so you can get on with your happiness.

You can’t fix these people, so don’t waste your precious time trying to make them come over from the dark side.

NEW EBOOK: Buddhism can teach us a lot about becoming emotionally resilient. My new eBook, The No-Nonsense Guide to Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy, is now Hack Spirit’s #1 selling book and an extremely practical, down-to-earth introduction to essential Buddhist teachings. Check out my eBook here.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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