Tips to Deal with Toxic People from Islamic and Counseling Sources

by Sheima Salam Sumer, Ed.S.

“The servants of The Compassionate are those who walk upon the earth in humility. When the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace.” (Al Furqan, 25:63)

Alhamdulillah, there are many kind, moral, and emotionally healthy people in our world. However, most people encounter emotionally unhealthy people and face “toxic” relationships at some point in life. Accepting that this is a common human experience will help you to calmly deal with toxic people and to not feel alone.This article will discuss the signs of a toxic person, the importance of protecting yourself from toxic people, general tips to deal with toxic people and ideas about toxic family members.Signs of a Toxic PersonThere are many types of toxic people with different levels of toxicity. Toxic people might be overly self-centered, negative, controlling or passive. A person is probably “toxic” to you if:

  1. You feel bad after being around him/her, even if you don’t know why.
  2. You feel a sense of dread when you see his/her number appear on your phone, or you feel uneasy when you need to meet with him/her.
  3. The person lacks empathy and feels entitled. He/she would say it’s your fault if you feel bad after meeting with him/her.

Toxic people cause stress in others through their behaviors. They often apologize but later do the same things. This stress causes physical health problems for people who are in the presence of toxic people. Body aches, stomach problems, anxiety, eating and sleeping problems and other illnesses are direct byproducts of stress created by toxic people.If you are dealing with toxic people, remember to be your own best friend and to take care of yourself. The Prophet Muhammad SAWS said, “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”. 1This hadith teaches us to love others, but is also saying that we should already love ourselves in the first place. Would you want your brother or sister to suffer from the stress of toxic relationships? Then why do so many of us allow ourselves to suffer from the effects of toxic people?Also, remember that you are the only person responsible for the choices you make in life.

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Ar-Rad, 13:11).

It is your choice to do something about a toxic relationship, or to do nothing at all.The Prophet Muhammad SAWStaught us to be wary of the company that we keep in the following ahadith:

  1. Prophet SAWSsaid: “A person is on the religion of his companions. Therefore let every one of you carefully consider the company he keeps.” 2
  2. Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari RAu reported: I heard the Prophet SAWS saying, “The similitude of good company and that of bad company is that of the owner of musk and of the one blowing the bellows. The owner of musk would either offer you some free of charge, or you would buy it from him, or you smell its pleasant fragrance; and as for the one who blows the bellows (i.e., the blacksmith), he either burns your clothes or you smell a repugnant smell”. 3

Here are some reasons to avoid or minimize contact with toxic people:

  1. Their negativity slows you down in achieving your goals.
  2. They drain you of energy and add stress and anxiety to your life.
  3. The stress that they cause can affect your physical health.

General Ideas to Deal with Toxic People

  1. Start to let them go. Do what you feel is the best way to let them go. Avoid them. Don’t pick up their calls. You can apologize for being distant but you don’t need to explain why or defend your actions.
  2. Know your boundaries and stick to them. Be firm, since toxic people want their own way at any cost. They may try all kinds of emotionally manipulating tactics to get what they want. So be prepared and be firm.
  3. You may want to talk to them about your problem with them. Keep a record of what is decided. You can follow up a discussion with an email confirmation, inviting correction if anything is wrong. This will help to prevent or expose lying later on.
  4. Be polite and honest and try to adhere to the values of Islam.
  5. Surround yourself with friends who support and uplift you. Also, consult with trustworthy people about your situation.“…And consult them in the matter. Then, when you have taken a decision, rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely (upon Him).” (Al-Imran, 3:159)
  6. Remember to stay calm when dealing with toxic people. Pretend that their is an invisible shield surrounding you and separating you from their negativity.
  7. Pay attention to the signs of Allah’s help, such as an important information that comes and helps you to3 make a better decision.
  8. Learn from your experiences with toxic people so that you can grow and improve your life.

Sometimes, it is difficult to totally separate yourself from toxic people. This is when you need to use coping strategies to help you cope with such people. Coping strategies are actions that help you to remain calm and relaxed during stressful situations. Examples include making duaa to Allah SWT, going for a walk, talking to a caring person or sipping hot tea.Spiritual Prescriptions for Life’s ChallengesOf course, patience and prayer are the best life prescriptions for any problem we are facing.

“O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (Al Baqarah, 2:153)3

One of my all-time favorite hadith is:“How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him”. 4This hadith reminds me that in all situations, I should strive to be either in a state of gratitude or in a state of patience. Often, we can feel both feelings at the same time. We can be patient regarding a toxic person in our lives, and we can also feel gratitude for the blessings in our lives.Patience does not mean that we sit back and do nothing about a toxic relationship. One day, Prophet Muhammad SAWS noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it and he asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered:“I put my trust in Allah.”The Prophet then said:“Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah”. 5This hadith teaches us that we should take actions to protect ourselves from harm.Seeking Allah’s forgiveness is also a spiritual prescription for any problem we are facing in life. peaceblog-imageThe ProphetSAWS said, “Whoever does a lot of Istighfar, Allah will provide him a way out of each concern he has, and will solve all his troubles, and will provide him with livelihood from sources that were not known to him.66Please use your problems, such as toxic relationships, to your advantage. Use them as a motivation to turn to Allah SWT more and to remember Him SWT more.Toxic Family MembersWe all know that maintaining family ties is important in Islam. If you are having to deal with a toxic family member, then cutting off ties with him/her should not be a first recourse.In a famous hadith, Asma RAaa, the daughter of Abu Bakr RAuasked the Prophet SAWS, “My mother has come to see me, although she hates our religion, should I then show affection to my mother?” He said, “Yes, you must show affection to your mother.” 7The best course of action is to use your coping strategies, be patient, and try to avoid too much contact with toxic family members.As the Quran states,

“Bear patiently with what they say (against you) and leave their company in a polite manner.” (Al-Muzzammil, 73:10)2

Often, married people face toxic behaviors from their spouses. Patience is a virtue, but in the long run, ignoring toxic behaviors will eventually erode the marital relationship. Trying to understand one another’s feelings and thoughts is the key to improving one’s marriage. Many problems simply stem from a lack of accurate understanding. Of course, understanding yourself and your own feelings first is critical to understanding others.ConclusionToxic people are a part of life. Remember to take care of yourself and to believe that you are worthy of having healthy relationships. Allah SWT does not benefit from your suffering. Seek out support from people you trust, and of course, pray and be patient.

“…And whosoever fears Allah…He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine.” (At-Talaq, 65:2-3)
  1.   Bukharee, Muslim
  2.   Tirmidhee
  3.   Al-Bukharee and Muslim
  4.   Muslim
  5.   At-Tirmidhee
  6.   Narrated by Imam Ahmad, Sanad Sahih
  7.   Bukharee, Muslim

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