5 Steps to Identify & Reduce the Power of Toxic Relationships

Detox Toxic Relationships in 5 Steps with Woman Shouting into phone

Relationships are essential. We're wired to connect—and we literally need connection to others to survive. So who we spend our time with has a big impact on how we feel—both about ourselves and about life.

In this exercise you'll help your clients identify their toxic relationships. And you'll also help your clients identify, appreciate and take steps to spend more time with relationships that are enjoyable and supportive.

Plus, as coaches we already know that who you spend your time with significantly impacts your experience of life. In fact almost every book about what it takes to succeed will tell you that if you want to be successful: hang around with successful people.

But how do you know if a relationship is working for you—or not?

  • Well, the big question to ask is: "After spending time with this person, how do you feel about yourself?"

Do you feel energised, inspired, uplifted, supported or encouraged OR do you feel drained, let down, discouraged or somehow worth less?

Then, once we have an awareness of how someone leaves us feeling, we can decide whether to spend more or less time with that person.

So, we created one of my favourite coaching tools: a coaching exercise called Detox Your Toxic Relationships. This gives people an easy, yet powerful way to score and review the 20 people they spend most of their time with.

And it's incredibly simple. Use our tool (see below) or simply make a list in your journal. Read on to learn how it works!

Check out our Detox Your Toxic Relationships Tool:

Here are 5 Steps to Identify & Reduce the Power of Toxic Relationships

Try this toxic relationships exercise now yourself to see how powerful it is, then try it out with your clients!

Part 1: Make a list and score

STEP 1) Make a list of the people you spend most of your time with

  • Consider friends, colleagues, family and anyone else you spend time with on the weekends etc.
  • Make this list should be as close to 20 people as you can.

If it helps, imagine a week in your life, skimming through a day at a time. Who do you spend time with?

STEP 2) Consider each person leaves you feeling

  • For each person on your list, pause and ask yourself: "How do I feel after spending time with this person?"

STEP 3) Score each person on your list

  • Now add a score against each name from +5 to -5 to represent how you generally feel after spending time with them.

A negative (-) score means you feel somehow less or negative about yourself and your life, and the positive (+) scores represent feeling better about yourself and your life.

Part 2: Review and make a plan

Once you've scored everyone on your list, now it's time to review, learn from your answers and make a plan!

STEP 4) Review the list for learnings

Ask your client questions like:

  • What are the scores for the people you spend most of your time with?
  • Are you generally spending more time with people who are 'pluses' or 'minuses'?
  • How much time are you spending with your "boosters", the +4s and +5s on your list?
  • And how much time do you spend with the "drainers" (toxic relationships), the -4s or -5s on your list?

STEP 5) Make a commitment to You!

  1. Look at your plus or "booster" relationships. Ask questions like:
    • How could you spend more time or deepen your relationship with them?
    • If you don't have any +4s and +5s on your list, how could you develop some relationships that will be that support and boost in your life?
  2. Look at your minus or "drainer" / "toxic" relationships:
    • In theory, these are people we should be finding ways to spend less time with—and setting firm boundaries. However this is not always possible if it's a work relationship or a close family member.
    • IMPORTANT NOTE: Any healthy relationship will have rough patches. Everyone has difficult times, so we shouldn't discard someone simply because times get tough.
    • Instead, ask your clients to consider the following:
    • What is your gut telling you about this relationship?
      • If your gut is telling you to move on, that this person isn't right for you, it may be time to pay attention and let go.
      • Perhaps you gut is nagging you to take some action to mend things?
      • Is there a wound or grievance that needs to be brought into the open and discussed?
      • Or do YOU have some 'processing' to do because it's YOU doing the judging, not them?
    • Only once you've truly reviewed and considered your "toxic" relationships, can you make an informed decision about how you want to spend your time...

Give those Fabulous Relationships an Extra Boost!

For people who are there for you, who support, encourage and inspire you, as well as finding ways to spend more time with them, can you find an opportunity to recognize them?

  • What about them do you love and appreciate?

And then whether it's a heartfelt thank-you with a hug, words of appreciation and meaningful eye contact over a cup of coffee or glass of wine, a card, letter, email or a spontaneous gift—make sure THEY know how much YOU love and appreciate them!

What about Toxic Relationships that No Longer Serve us?

When we identify a "toxic" relationship that no longer serves us, we have some thinking to do.

If you can't bear to let a friend go, or you have to spend time with a family member, find ways to be with them where there will be less opportunity for the negativity to come out. For example, you could go to the cinema with them where you’ll interact less. Or you could decide not to discuss areas of your (or their!) life that draw criticism and judgement. But crucially, if it is necessary to see them, set your boundaries and find ways to make the relationship work on your terms.

And this is where coaching can come in extremely handy. As a coach, you can coach people to set meaningful and helpful boundaries to protect themselves, and minimise the negative impact of these people in their life.

The Detox Your Toxic Relationships Tool is also found in:


It's just not possible for us to like everyone. Or for everyone to like us—even our own family! Instead, we need to find and cultivate "our people". These people love us, see our best qualities and leave us feeling great about ourselves.

Here's a quote I have always loved:

The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself. George Bernard Shaw

When we spend time with people who do this, not only do we feel good, but we aspire to be that person.

And when we spend time with people who constantly remind us of our faults and failings, it is literally depressing. It's easy to think, "Well, if that's how they see me, then why bother changing?" or to spend our time being defensive or trying to prove them wrong. Either way, it's exhausting and unpleasant.

Instead, why not do what you can to maximise the time you spend with your "plus" people and minimise the time you spend with "minus" people?

If you liked this article on toxic relationships you may also like:

And this is just one of our many coaching tools! Learn more about what coaching tools are, when to use them and how they can help in our Complete Guide to Life Coaching Tools & Exercises here >>

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Woman dealing with toxic relationships frowning in the phone receiver by Dean Drobot via Shutterstock


  1. Wendy

    Great article Emma. One of the first things I do with clients is identify whether there is a toxic relationship in their work or personal space because being at the effect of this can be crucial in how effective the coaching is. In my intake I ask the question something like this "Is there anyone in your life who is constantly, if subtly, putting your down and you have to be careful around.

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Wendy, thank-you for taking the time to comment! And interesting that you look at toxic relationships so early on. It can have a powerful impact! 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

  2. David B

    Great read, Emma! This is important to note so we can give clients the most effective approach. Identifying which relationships are toxic may be tricky but your tips are truly enlightening!

    • Michela Phillips

      So glad you enjoyed the article, David! We hope you can implement this into your coaching practice.
      - Kindly, Michela

  3. Donna Norton

    This post really struck a chord with me. It's so true that the people we surround ourselves with can significantly impact our well-being and outlook on life. Taking the time to assess how each person makes us feel after spending time with them is such a valuable exercise in self-awareness. And I appreciate the reminder that it's okay to set boundaries with toxic relationships, even if they're with family or close friends. Thanks for sharing this insightful article, Emma!


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