Toxic People

Last weekend, I attended the Central Iowa Pagan Pride gathering in Des Moines. It was a great gathering ; I met some great people and there were wonderful conversations. One of the topics that came up was that we sometimes encounter people who want to be part of our groups but are just too toxic. I thought this required more thought.

You have probably encountered toxic people before. These are people who are always negative. They tend to say or do offensive things. They dislike lots of other people, even if they claim to like you. Sometimes they are angry. Sometimes they just tell jokes or say other things that are inappropriate for the situation or just in general. If you let them, these people will let their negativity spread to you or other people around you.

Obviously letting the behavior continue in your presence is not an option. These people will pull down your energy. They will make it harder for you to work with other people. They make it harder for you to convert others to Asatru. The question is: should you just make them go away? I would suggest not starting with that approach.

You are an Asatru person and you should strive to be strong and respectable. Part of that is making an effort to make not just your area better, but the whole world. If you just kick out the toxic person, it may benefit you but did it help anyone else? The first step, then, should be to try to detoxify the toxic person.

The Root of the Problem

Try to find out why they are like they are. Are they angry about a life experience or two? It can be difficult to be a member of a minority religion when you are surrounded by a religion that has, historically, been hostile to yours (and still is in many ways). Many of us can relate to this kind of anger; I still get a little tetchy when I think about the Saxon Wars and the Massacre at Verdun. If the person hasn't learned to deal with this, they probably need your help to learn how.

A lot of general offensiveness can be because of upbringing. It may be that their entire household or community was like that when they were young and, as a result, they don't know any better. It may be that being offensive was the only way to get attention from adults or the only defense the person had against hostile forces in their life. In most cases, these people have the potential to be redeemed and helped along.

Of course, there are persons whose damage may be innate. There could just be something about the physical makeup of their brain that leads them down a bad path. I would assume these cases to be more rare. Though such a person may still be able to overcome their nature, it would probably require a far greater effort and possibly the interference of medical professionals.

Not to be Confused With

When looking for a venomous person, you have to make sure you are being objective. For example, a person who simply has a different opinion from the one you hold is not necessarily toxic. It might just be that you don't get along.

Likewise, a person who makes a statement of fact about a sensitive subject may not be toxic, unless the person regularly does this at times when it seems intended to cause harm or discomfort to others. The same can be said for observational comedy, which is often used to introduce a topic that might otherwise be difficult to bring up due to a sensitive nature.

Another thing to look for is differences in communication based on cultural or generational differences. A word or phrase in one culture may not have the same connotations as it does in another culture. Each generation also has its ways of doing and saying things that don't always set well one or two generations later. Keep this in mind because your grandchildren may not approve of your way of doing things.

What to do About It

Modern psychology has done a lot of research about this subject. Business journals are full of article on toxic coworkers. Basically, a simple web search should bring up plenty of resources to help you along. As part of being a strong person, you should know how to handle these things. If you plan on being a leader, it is even more important that you develop these skills.

Here are some recommendations for handling a toxic or disruptive member of your group. The group, in this case, is presented as though it is a formally defined group with a clearly defined leadership, but the ideas can be applied to a loose group of people just as well. Use this as a general guideline, but adapt as needed.

Step 1: Talk to the Person

There is a chance that the person doesn't understand what he or she is doing wrong. Have a talk with them. Try to have the talk in private or with just one other trusted person in the area. This talk is trying to be communicative, not confrontational.

Be very specific about what the person is doing and focus on the behavior instead of the person. You are hoping to convert the person to your way of thinking, so attacking them makes it harder. If you are welcoming of them but hostile to the behavior, you make the behavior a common enemy to both of your.

Step 2: Access to Resources

Try to make sure the person knows where to go to get help. Should they come to you with questions or just to talk? Is there a person who plays the counsellor role in your group. Can you help this person find professional help in the community?

You may also want to recommend helpful books or meditations. Try to get the person involved in community activities where everyone can reinforce positive behaviors. Don't just push the person out on their own or they will just revert and possibly grow hostile toward you. No one needs more enemies.

Step 3: Set a Plan

If the issue is serious enough, you may need to set a formal plan. This would be similar to an employee probation plan you would see a Human Resources department use with an employee who is on the verge of termination.

In such a plan, you formally lay out what is wrong and what you expect the person to do about it. You also set a timeline for actions. For example, you may have a three month plan where you will meet every two weeks to discuss complaints about the person. The person would also discuss situations where he or she recognized the stimulus for their negative behavior but was able to avoid it (with a description of how). If, by the end of the three months, the issue would be considered resolved. However, if the person were unable to change behavior in an appreciable way, the relationship would be severed.

Step 4: Follow Through

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to follow through with it unless there is a really good reason to change course. Toxic people are sometimes very good at manipulation, so they may try to convince you that things will get better. If you have followed the earlier steps, you can be fairly sure that things will only stay the same. Allowing the toxic person to stay is only inviting trouble; they will know they can get away with more.

That being said, sometimes being ostracized can be the catalyst that someone needs to initiate their own change. If it is a real change, though, it will be long lasting. Watch the person's reputation for a very long time, possibly years, before considering letting them back.

Step 5: Apply it Evenly

In the case of a formal group, this is extremely critical. You must apply your rules to everyone equally. If you play favorites, then no person can be truly sure of where they stand with you. This makes you unreliable, implying that you may be a toxic person yourself. The rules have to be the rules or they aren't rules at all.


The main thing to remember is that you have two goals here. The first is to protect you and your group from toxic people. The second is that you want to make the world a better place, and that means trying to make toxic people into better people.