Advice, Breakthroughs, Empowerment, Kathy Caprino How to Spot a Toxic Individual and Find the Courage To Walk Away Quickly Written by: Kathy Caprino

One enormous benefit of working with thousands of people each year is that you learn to detect in 10 minutes or less an enormous amount about people – their energy, how they operate in the world, their sense of entitlement, generosity and consideration (or lack thereof), boundaries, degree of self-love, values, worldview and much more.

In my line of work, where hundreds of strangers reach out on the phone or online to connect, I have had to develop the capability to discern who I want to move forward with, and who I need to walk away from quickly, in order to protect myself, my time and my energy. If I fall down on that, I suffer, as do my family, colleagues and clients (and my health and well-being).

I’ve learned to see the red flag warning signs of behaviors I know I need to walk away from, and my list of warning signs might be of help to you too. I need to add that even though I walk away from these toxic individuals without guilt or shame, I endeavor to access love in my heart and deep compassion for them. I’m not cruel, harsh or dismissive (at least I try not to be), but I’m as respectful as I can be. I realize that we’re all doing the best we can every day.

But I do know where I end and they begin, and I know when it’s time to end our connection, and fast.

Below are the top 3 signs that help me know when I’m dealing with a toxic individual, and when to walk away:

1) It’s all about them
I’m astounded by people who call me at all hours of the day and night, without a thought to ask for an invitation to talk about their struggles. They launch right in, not checking in if it’s a good time to talk, and it’s all about them.

These types of people are chronically unhappy, stuck in feeling victimized, lacking in awareness of the impact of their own actions and words and that they are co-creating their problems. They’re often angry, frustrated and highly critical of others, and feel that their problems deserve immediate attention, without regard for the world around them. In other words, they believe that their urgency is your emergency.

Anyone who thinks that life is all about them and that their problems are more important or pressing than anyone else’s needs a wake-up call. But the truth is – you don’t have to be the one to deliver that call. Walk away.

2) They have no regard for your boundaries

In my work as a therapist, I’ve connected with many folks with serious psychological disorders, including severe personality disorders. One such disorder is labeled “borderline personality disorder,” and while I’m not a fan of labels, the hallmarks of this disorder are apparent: there is total lack of personal boundaries, and complete disregard for others’ boundaries. It’s virtually impossible to build a positive, mutually-supportive relationship with people who disregard or violate your boundaries, who won’t take no for an answer, and who don’t t even recognize when they’re walking all over you.

Take a look today at the people in your life – do they respect your boundaries? Do they act appropriately and honor when you assert yourself and say “Yes” or “No?” Or do they continually demand of you what you’re not comfortable to give and what you have said you would not give?

Your boundaries are the invisible barriers that separate you from the world around you. They define who you are, and keep you safe and secure, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Having well-developed boundaries ensures that you are shielded from behaviors and actions that are injurious, disrespectful and invasive. Those with healthy boundaries know their limits and are able to express themselves with quiet strength and authority.

Those with unhealthy boundaries push and pull on you in uncomfortable or aggressive ways, and don’t know when to stop. They can’t regulate their behaviors or language to honor and respect the boundaries of others.

Who is trampling on your boundaries today? (BTW, If you have a narcissistic boss who is treating you terribly, check out my Forbes post on How to Tell If Your Boss Is a Narcissist – And 5 Ways to Avoid Getting Fired By One.)

3) There’s no grace, kindness or appreciation

I’m always pleasantly surprised when I speak to a stranger or potential new client or colleague, and they connect with grace, generosity, kindness and appreciation. It’s a beautiful thing – to be greeted by a gentle voice, a kind, open heart, and sincere appreciation for what you do and who you are.

The flip side of this is when people engage with you in ways that are brusque, inconsiderate, demanding, or disrespectful. Givers – who approach life with a generous, giving mindset – are a true blessing in our lives. Insincere, self-absorbed takers, on the other hand, who are always looking for “what’s in it for me” and critically demand of you more than is fair, appropriate or realistic, need to be led out the door of your life.

How do you walk away from a toxic potential client or partner you’ve just met? Here are a few key tips:

1) Be kind and courteous, but make it clear that an engagement or partnership with this individual or his/her business isn’t a good fit for you at this time

2) Be honest – explain what an ideal partnership looks like and why this isn’t it

3) Be BOLD – Thank them for their time, but explain that you have a set of non-negotiables and standards of integrity that you live by. With love in your heart, share that these non-negotiables are just that – immutable rules that help you thrive. Explain your feeling that your non-negotiables would most likely not be honored in this arrangement, and for that reason, you’d like to leave things as they are and part ways.

Who’s toxic in your life right now? What bold, candid conversation do you need to have today to protect yourself from narcissistic, demanding takers and self-absorbed individuals who can’t or won’t respect or appreciate you?

(To learn more about building a happy, successful career, join my free career breakthrough teleclass on April 9th — Make the Right Career Move Now! And to learn how to develop healthier boundaries, read my book Breakdown Breakthrough and check out my one-on-one coaching services.)

11 thoughts on “How to Spot a Toxic Individual and Find the Courage To Walk Away Quickly”

  1. This is a very useful post and a good reminder to be aware of these types, thank you. I unfortunately have a narcissist in my life who I can not be rid of as she is apart of the ‘step’ part of my family. As she lives in a fantasy world (‘her’ world, where only ‘her’ rules apply) the only way to deal with her is through manipulation. Logical conversations do not work as she does not think logically. I’ve also found it useful to openly and directly praise her so that she doesn’t see me as a threat.
    Thanks for your work Kathy it has been inspiring me in my post ‘baby’ time.

  2. Thanks so much for writing, Sandra. I appreciate it, and understand exactly what you mean about how you must deal with a narcissistic family member. Straight, honest and open communication often doesn’work, particularly when the individual feels threatened or challenged. (Here’s a post I wrote on How To Tell If Your Boss Is a Narcissist and How Not To Get Fired By One). I’m thinking of you, sending best wishes in dealing with these challenges.

  3. Hi Kathy,

    As usual you offer great advice, which is invaluable. The turning point and decision to separate from countless people in my life was the day that I was fortunate enough to read 10 Ways That Being More Positive Improves Your Career (and Your Life), including friends and family members. Therefore, each day I make it a practice to read the article above and I feel so good. I don’t receive as many calls or emails, but I am so happy. (lol) I am now connecting with new friends who are positive.

    The amazing thing is that most are upset that I am no longer a door mat to be used-willingly. Therefore, they commence to an all out campaign to vilify my character by utilizing techniques such as rejection. I am standing up for myself by being assertive, and I find that people don’t like it. Kathy, you are right. I am no psychologist. However, I firmly believe that BPD, narcissism, sociopathic tendencies are a few that I am now researching. Yikes, as alot of people that I have disconnected from fit the criteria of these illnesses. So again, I THANK YOU for the confirmation on issues that I experience. God bless you…

  4. Hi Joy – thank you very much for sharing, and I’m so glad to know that my posts resonate with you and you find them helpful. We all must follow what aligns with our heart and soul, and if this material confirms what you know in your heart is true, then certainly let it guide you. Stay the course in erecting your healthy boundaries that will allow in more beautiful, generous givers into your life. All best.

  5. Thank you again for this wonderful insight. This is something we ALL struggle with in our daily lives.

  6. Hey Corey – You’re right. I’ve never met an individual who didn’t struggle in one way or another with this. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I want to sign up for thr April 9 teleconference but the window will not open to join after entering my info.
    So far what I have learned from you is helpful, I just need some more info!

  8. This is a really great, motivating post that rallies up your self esteem. I am struggling with one point though that doesnt seem to be mentioned. I work with a toxic person every day, in the same office, just the two us and I like my job – how do I walk away from that toxic person??

  9. Hi Mel – Thanks for your open sharing. I’m sorry to hear about the challenges you’re facing. The very first thing I’d recommend you do is to seek therapeutic help from a marriage and family therapist (this was the type of therapeutic training I received and it’s powerfully effective). Most communities offer affordable therapeutic assistance, and you need ongoing support to learn how to navigate through these challenges, and to extricate yourself and your daughter if that’s what’s required. A seminar on the topic isn’t enough. Narcissists can’t tolerate being challenged, and make it terribly difficult for you if you choose to leave them or challenge them. Therapeutic support will help. Check out the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists ( as a start to find a great therapist near you. You can get through this. All best wishes.

  10. Hi Kelly – Thanks for sharing, and for your great question. In this case, you can’t just walk away, but you need to erect very strong boundaries so that you can protect yourself from the toxicity. Do your best not to become too involved or too enmeshed with the individual. Be clear, focused, and strong, and do what’s necessary to protect yourself so the negativity doesn’t seep into your life. I’d have to know more about how this individual is toxic (and what exacerbates it) to advise you appropriately (for instance, sometimes people are threatened, insecure and lacking in self-worth and you can adopt new behaviors that make them feel more supported, etc.). If you’d like some one-on-one help with this, please check out my Private Consultations. Thanks, and all best wishes.

  11. am surprised at how beautifully you defined a narcissistic person/boss to the tee. Given how long it took me to recover my esteem even post quitting is what made me realize my previous boss was a narc, saccharine sweet at times initially during the interview process, and then doing an about-turn to show the real person.

    My question to you: how does one identify narcissistic bosses during interview phase itself? Any specific ways to word your questions to weed them out before committing to a job offer? Maybe you could write this out as a separate article in itself. I would rather weed such people earlier on given the toll they wreak on our mental sanity.

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