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How to Avoid Poisonous Relationships

Poisonous relationships are the greatest danger your financial wealth will face. Toxic co-workers or employers affect your career path; toxic neighbors loathe your success and secretly plot your downfall; family members or friends can become jealous.

The most dangerous toxic relationships happen within families. The old adage is true: the super wealthy only fear divorce lawyers. Yet, it does not have to be this way.

Toxic relationships harm more than financial wealth. They can destroy your happiness or ruin your health. Poisonous relationships destroy lives. How you address each situation will determine the outcome.

As we review several situations where poisonous relationships exist, we will first address avoiding the situation all together followed by steps you can take to get out of the toxic relationship. The key point is the avoiding of poisonous relationships in the first place. Nothing good comes from them. You will not “fix” someone. The worst outcome is you become what you loathe. Therefore, dealing with toxic relationships ASAP is vital.

Poisonous Relationships at Work

Work Environment:

A toxic work environment may be worse than a poisonous home life due to so much time spent at work. A toxic work environment causes more than problems at only your current employer. It is hard to shift gears or tune out the stress when looking for another job.

We will look at the various situations in a work environment. We will start with the employer-employee relationship where first you are the employee and then as the employer. Then we will address co-workers.

Employer-employee relationship where you are the employee:

The relationship you have with your employer starts long before you punch the clock the very first time. Your job search often sets the tone at a new employer.

Before you even apply for a job, you must do your due diligence! A great company that does not share your values will be a miserable work situation for all parties involved.

Research businesses your plan on applying for a job at. Online reviews provide a clue as to what life will be like at your prospective company. What do other employees say? Is turnover high? Or low? Glassdoor can be a good resource.

The trick with research is knowing what is real and what is a disgruntled employee seeking revenge or a competitor attempting to ruin someone’s reputation. There are no hard and fast rules in research. It is a matter of getting the feel about what is true or false.

Good reviews and comments can be as misleading as negative reviews. If all comments on a product are 5-star you begin to wonder if the results were sanitized. No matter how good a product, there will always be a few that don’t care for it. Bad reviews can be a better indicator, but may include instances of people seeking revenge. Still, a large percentage of bad reviews is a warning.

Work-life balance and the culture at your prospective employer are important. Everyone has a different view on what is an appropriate amount of work per week. Some industries have a reputation of grinding people alive. Yet, even within these notorious industries are corporations with a culture that respects employee boundaries. If your goal, for example, is to work in tax accounting, my profession, there are companies that wear employees out, and those that take a stressful job and make it fun, fulfilling, and rewarding.

There is no cookie-cutter answer here. Due diligence is 100% required. It may be a good idea to speak with current employees, too. You will spend a lot of time at work. You will have friends there (hopefully). And it better be more than a paycheck or it is going to be a very long way to retirement.

Work should never have poisonous relationships. If things sour it might be time to make a change of venue.
Work should never have poisonous relationships. If things sour it might be time to have a change of venue.

What if you are already in a toxic work environment? Conflict at work rarely has a simple solution. Human Relations (HR) may help, but sometimes is the problem.

We are focusing on just the employer here. We will address employee-employee conflict later.

Dealing with an employer requires a delicate touch, especially if you love your job and want to keep it. Speaking with a supervisor or HR are a few of the limited avenues to correct the situation. If these efforts are exhausted you are left with two choices: live with it or quit.

Neither of these choices are ideal. There is nothing wrong with quitting a job harming your wellbeing. Living in the toxic environment can lead to health issues, so it is not recommended.

Remember, not all conflict resolution requires the parties to love each other at the end. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it isn’t even a toxic work environment! Sometimes it’s not what you expected or your goals changed. In these situations I recommend a cordial separation. A short conversation with the employer explaining why you are turning in your two-week notice allows the relationship to be positive, even if it is best not to continue it.

There are situations that are critical and need a powerful response. If you are at risk of physical or mental abuse or experiencing harassment it is time to cut ties immediately. Depending on the situation, you may or may not have a conversation with the employer. You will also need legal help. State laws vary. A seasoned attorney on employer-employee law can help you navigate a seriously dangerous work environment.

Employer-employee relationships where you are the employer:

We often think of employees being mistreated by their employer when we consider a poisonous work environment. But the shoe can also be on the other foot.

Just as an employee must perform due diligence before applying for a job, an employer must vet prospective employees. State laws vary so I will not give “what you should do” advice. Still, within the laws or your area, due diligence is vital to avoid toxic employees. Bad employees can poison an entire company, especially if those employees are in positions of leadership!

What if a bad apple got in? Within the confines of the laws of your state, it is best to terminate a toxic employee as soon as possible. It cannot be stressed enough that employers require legal council in these matters. The employer has much more at risk and a vengeful employee can do great harm.

Regardless, a toxic employee has to go. Even if it is expensive to terminate the employee. The cost of termination will not go down, but lasting damage will accrue until termination takes place.

It is of the highest priority if an employee is committing harassment or physical or mental abuse. There is never an acceptable reason for this type of behavior.

Employers are in a precarious position. Disgruntled employees can do long-lasting damage to a firm, harming other employees, customers, and owners. Good management deals with toxic employees immediately!

One consideration. Good employees that turn bad often do so because of a life experience: death of a close friend or loved one, divorce, health issue… In these situations remedies can be offered, but only after careful consideration with your legal council. Laws can be difficult to navigate in these waters. We don’t want a kind heart to become your personal disaster.

Co-workers: The more people in a group, the higher the likelihood of a toxic person in the group.

It is hard to vet a business you want to work for when it comes to co-workers. You might have inside knowledge, but often your focus is on the employer only. Also, the environment can change as new employees arrive. Plus, life happens and once sweet co-workers can become angry or bitter.

One bad apple can be tolerated if the employer takes remedial actions. If the poisonous work environment become chronic there is only one choice. Better to leave a job while your sanity and reputation are still intact. It’s not easy, especially if it is a job you love. A conversation with your supervisor, HR, or the owner can help. But if the toxicity persists, there really is only one choice. Life is too short to waste on unnecessary stress.

Ryan Holiday and author making acquaintances.
Ryan Holiday and author making acquaintances.

Poisonous Friendships

We choose our friends. How we build friendships is not formal. Rarely do we do a deep vetting before we chum up. Sometimes people put on a good facade, only to later expose the poisonous nature behind the mask.

Once we become friends it gets even harder. The desire to help and even to “fix” someone is strong. Yes, there are times we can help. But nobody wants to be “fixed.”

Enter friendships slowly. There are people that prey on kind spirits. Your loving, kind nature can be used against you. You can be loving and kind without being a victim.

Trust is earned, not given. Yes, the relationship of friendship is different from other types of relationships. Still, the possibility for abuse is high. A growing friendship will gradually add higher levels of trust. As the father of two daughters, I am acutely aware of the risks women face. Friends can be cruel. Fake friends devasting. Some are more at risk than others.

It is best to avoid toxic people. But if someone gets into your group of friends action is required.

The problem determines the course of action. A friend with a health issue might mean providing a respectful ear. Same for a death in the family or a divorce.

If addiction is the issue, professional help is required. You can be supportive, but never enable bad behavior. Friends don’t do that.

Anger, jealousy, and other negative traits can be part of a person’s personality. Some love to stir up drama. There are a large number of toxic traits people can have. Some traits are more annoying to you than others. Some you might tolerate; others not so much.

Regardless, if a friendship has turned toxic it is time to move on. If too much toxicity enters your life it could turn you toxic, the worst of all outcomes. It is hard for you to get away from you. Therapy is often needed then.

One-on-one friendships are more personal. You can have a serious conversation in a one-on-one situation. The decision is also easier. You either come to an agreement or go your own ways. Feelings might be hurt, but other interpersonal relationships are not in play.

Not so in group settings.

We often have friends we chum with one-on-one and groups we move within. A regular social gathering on something that interests you brings you into contact with people of a like mind. That doesn’t mean you are a good fit!

Group dynamics are complex. You can leave a group easier in many cases. Still, there are people within the group you are closer to than others and may not wish to leave.

It is possible for the group to break into smaller groups. This is also natural in public settings where groups interact with other groups. People can even move between groups.

The ultimate dealbreaker is abusive behavior. The values of the group can also put you in a bad position. Groups, like work environments, have cultures. Some cultures don’t mesh with everyone. Some are destructive. Bad behavior on any level is grounds for finding new friends.

I’ve danced around the issue with friends for a reason. In our lifetime we will find a small number of people we consider close friends. Depending on your personality, you may have many or few associations, a type of friendship that isn’t intimate. It is those really close relationships that matter and require the most effort.

As with any relationship, if you feel it is toxic, it is time to leave. You can make new friends! Don’t sacrifice your life, safety, freedom, ethics, or integrity for friends. Be especially vigilante in group settings as group dynamics can take over, causing good people to do stupid things they normally would not, only later to regret the choice.

The author and his wife filled with so much hope at their wedding. Life would bring a variety of experiences. To avoid a poisonous relationship our wonderful couple needed to work on their marriage every day. So far, so good. Love is still deep and strong. But it did change an evolve over time.
The author and his wife filled with so much hope at their wedding. Life would bring a variety of experiences. To avoid a poisonous relationship our wonderful couple needed to work on their marriage every day. So far, so good. Love is still deep and strong. But it did change an evolve over time.

Poisonous Family Relationships

Of all the relationship we have, family is the most fraught with danger. Family tends to be really good or really bad, with not much in the middle.

We chose our friends and apply for jobs we want. Family is chosen for us, with the exception of our mate.

There are as many cultures within families as their are in a work environment or in a group setting with friends. There are the intimate relations with our significant other. When there are children there is yet another culture. We deal with our parents differently than extended family rarely seen outside a family reunion.

Extended family is easier to avoid. You may need to tolerate a toxic individual in the family every year or so at a family reunion. You can also pass on the family reunion if the issue is too toxic.

Parents and children are also a unique situation. My wife is my best friend. My adult daughters are right up there. With the kids there is a hierarchy for sure. Parents have a fluid relationship with their children as time goes on, however. My daughters were under my tutelage when they were minors. As they became adults they became more autonomous and the relationship can look more like other friendships. Then, as mom and dad get a bit, ah, older the roles reverse, as the kids now provide growing levels of protection for the parent. At least it should work this way in healthy family.

Let’s turn to the poisonous relationships within families.

Between significant others exists a wide range of behaviors. Some behaviors are so toxic they are dealbreakers. Abuse of any family member requires retreating to safety. If professional help does not resolve the issue it is appropriate, even necessary and required, to leave the relationship. I understand how difficult this can be, especially when children are involved. That is why I harp on getting professional help. You can’t do this alone! It is not a sign of weakness to need help!!! And your safety is paramount.

As sad as it may be, when it comes to parents and children, if the relationship is poisoned it may require you become estranged. Professional help is often required in these situations, as well.

Family is always tough to work with. Interests are rarely in common as among friends sharing similar interests. People can evolve to a point where there is no longer enough in common for a nurturing relationship. In my office I always find it strange to see a couple divorce that still get along fine. They explain they, “just grew apart.” I don’t get it because I never had that in my marriage. But I also think it is the most adult thing they do.

When it comes to family you can still have a conversation with the person involved as long as your safety is not at issue. The success rate can be low and the response can be an escalation of negative behavior. Never accept abuse. If the only issues are attitudes then it is best to avoid each other as much as possible. There are no perfect answers. Yet, there is always hope.

The opening line to the novel Anna Karenina states: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What more can I add?

I hope your family life is as blessed as mine has been. Not perfect, but supportive and fulfilling.


Poisonous relationships are possibly the greatest risk to wealth.

Relationships come in many forms.

• Family is hard to get away from, but can be limited.

• Better to have no friends than poisonous ones.

• Better to be unemployed or searching for a new job if you have a poisonous employer.

• Firing a poisonous employee, regardless their talent or productivity, is a must.

Poisonous relationships can come from many directions and are often times difficult to avoid. Yet, they must be excised or it will spill over into other relationships and eventually harm your wealth and health (see this link for all the types of wealth you can lose).

If too much poison is in your life it can even turn you toxic, the worst of the worst outcomes, where you eventually hate yourself. How do you get away from that?

It is easier to give advice than to practice it when it comes to poisonous relationships. But it is so vital you avoid these people as much as possible because they do so much harm to the people around them. They are miserable and want to spread their self-hate to you. They want you to suffer for their self-failings and refuse to take accountability for themselves. It is rare for a poisonous person to lose their toxicity. You can’t change them or fix them, so the best course is to avoid them.

If you are able, share in the comments how you have dealt with, or are dealing with, a toxic person. And review the forms of wealth you can lose (link above) when poisonous people enter your life.

Be well.