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15 Quotes About Toxic People that Will Help You Heal

Do you have friends, family, or co-workers that bring you down? These toxic people quotes will help you rise above their negativity.

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What does it mean to be toxic?

You know those people who are genuinely rooting for you? The ones who don’t make a habit of questioning your happiness or saying “I told you so” when you’re down? They are the ones you want to keep around—they’re not toxic people, explains family physician and integrative health expert Wayne Jonas, MD. He believes the healthiest way to define “toxic” is to contrast it with behaviors that make you feel good. As you might guess, there isn’t a clinical definition of toxic behavior, says Jessy Warner-Cohen, PhD, senior psychologist with Northwell Health. But most people can understand toxic traits and patterns of behavior—they stand in the way of healthy relationships. A short list includes:

  • emotional manipulation
  • neediness
  • excessive criticism and/or extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • one-upmanship
  • lacking a sense of accountability
  • lacking the ability to offer support

Toxic interactions will frustrate you and deplete your energy, says John Sovec, a licensed marriage and family therapist and coach in Pasadena, California. “I define toxic people as the ones in our lives who drain away our belief in ourselves.” The good news is there’s no shortage of astute “toxic people quotes” to remind you you’re not alone, you’re not imagining it, and you’re not powerless in the face of it. Here are some of our favorites.

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If it seems toxic to you, you’re right

“When you notice someone​​ does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it.” —​ Shahida Arabi

Author of Becoming a Narcissist’s Nightmare, Shahid Arabi, encourages people to trust their gut when it comes to identifying toxic people and behavior. “You never have to justify your intuition,” she says; don’t hang around to see if the toxic behavior is just an anomaly. (Here are 16 funny motivational quotes to make you smile.)

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It’s not your fault

​Some people are in such utter darkness that they will burn you just to see a light. Try not to take it personally.” ― Kamand Kojouri

Author of The Eternal Dance, Kamand Kojouri points out that toxic behavior stems from something within the person engaging in it. According to California clinical psychiatrist Julian Lagoy, MD, most toxic behavior stems from unmet childhood needs. What we don’t get from our caregivers in childhood, he explains, we often try to extract from others in adulthood. (Here are 22 tips to stop feeling guilty all the time.)

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Ignore toxic words

“Pay no attention to toxic words. What people say is often a reflection of themselves, not you.” ― Christian Baloga

Christian Baloga, an author of fiction, observes that toxic words reflect only on the person who is speaking them—not on you. Psychiatrist Leela R. Magavi, MD, explains that some toxic people, particularly those whose relationships with their parents were insecure, “lack empathy and insight with regard to how they affect others.” (Now might be a good time to read these 16 self-care quotes to inspire you to do some good for yourself.)

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You’ll never “win” with toxic people

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can defend yourself against this. You can’t. Just walk away. Don’t try to make your case.” ― Christiane Northrup, MD

You can’t beat ’em, and you don’t want to joing ’em, points out women’s health expert and author (Dodging Energy Vampires) Christiane Northrup, MD. Trying to convince toxic people to see things from your standpoint is virtually impossible. (This expert advice could help you learn to stop fighting with your loved ones.)

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Don’t apologize for toxic people

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” — Anne Lamott

These are the words bestselling author, Anne Lamott, has to say in her memoir/advice book, Bird By Bird, about the toxic people who might recognize themselves in her stories. (Just in case: here are three secrets to an effective apology.)

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Look for the light

“Don’t let toxic people infect you with the fear of giving and receiving one of the most powerful forces in this world… LOVE!​” — ​Yvonne Pierre

Yvonne Pierre’s powerful memoir about her recovery from abuse, The Day My Soul Cried, urges readers to rise above toxic behavior. (If you’ve had a traumatic experience, you may want to consult these 11 steps to recovering.)

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Don’t take it on

“If somebody is looking for a bin to throw all their trash into, make sure it’s not in your mind.” — Dalai Lama

“Let go of negative people,” the 14th Dalai Lama advises in this often-quoted aphorism. “They only show up to share complaints, problems, disastrous stories, fear, and judgment on others.” (These depression quotes may capture what you’re feeling.)

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Steer clear of the doubters

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.” — Mark Twain

Author Mark Twain may be funny, but he’s also profound: Belittling the dreams of others is toxic behavior. “Small people always do that,” Twain observed, “but the really great make you feel that you, too can become great.” (Here’s how to develop a positive attitude in just six easy steps.)

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Love can survive a toxic relationship

“I still love the people I’ve loved, even if I cross the street to avoid them.” – Uma Thurman

Actress Uma Thurman was speaking of her ex-husband, Ethan Hawke. As Shmois points out, “you always get to choose who you spend time around.” Sometimes, the choice is motivated not by love but by a desire to live a healthier life. (Here are seven myths about a good marriage.)

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Letting go may be the only option

“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.” — Deborah Reber

Bestselling author and parenting activist, Deborah Reber, gets it: Control what you can control. (These 15 types of arguments end relationships.)

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Toxic relationships can be hard to leave

“Toxic people attach themselves like cinder blocks tied to your ankles, and then invite you for a swim in their poisoned waters.” ― John Mark Green

An apt metaphor from poet John Mark Green. Sometimes bad behavior stems from a person trying to get their needs met, explains clinical social worker Janika Joyner, owner of Higher Elevation Psychosocial Services in Chesapeake, Virginia. “In many cases, what we are calling a toxic person isn’t a bad person so much as a person engaging in unhealthy or unsafe coping behaviors.” (Please heed these 15 signs a relationship could turn abusive.)

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Toxic love can be addictive

“I’m addicted to you, don’t you know that you’re toxic?” — Britney Spears

In her mega-hit “Toxic”, pop star Britney Spears sings that toxic relationships can be equally torturous and addictive. If her observations about the human condition don’t convince you, a published in 2017 in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse confirms not only that it is possible to become addicted to unhealthy relationships, but also that such addictions actually resemble substance addictions. (Here are 25 more surprising things could become addicted to.)

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The pain of not feeling safe

“I lose my way, and it’s not too long before you point it out. I cannot cry, because I know that’s weakness in your eyes.” — Kelly Clarkson

Pop singers can make a lot of money off toxic relationships, apparently. These lyrics are from Kelly Clarkson’s hit song, “Because of You,” which she wrote when she was just 16. One of the building blocks of a healthy relationship is a mutual sense of safety, according to Dr. Jonas, and one of the questions worth asking yourself about any relationship is, “Do I have to be on guard against being hurt by this other person?” (Check out these 13 tips for a happier, healthier family life.)

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Don’t let them in

“I will not allow anyone to walk in my mind with dirty feet.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Toxicity can take political form as well: Gandhi’s words and actions have inspired countless non-violent protesters and leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr, and Nelson Mandela. (Don’t miss these 10 short rituals that can boost your feeling of well-being.)

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Seeing the beauty in life might be the best antidote

“Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays are full of life lessons that are as true today as they were in the first half of the 19th century when he wrote them. Build on the beauty of the good with these quotes about positive thinking.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.