Toxic People: 16 Practical, Powerful Ways to Deal With Them

Toxic People: 16 Practical, Powerful Ways to Deal With Them

Even if toxic people came with a warning tattooed on their skin, they might still be difficult to avoid. We can always decide who we allow close to us but it’s not always that easy to cut out the toxics from other parts of our lives. They might be colleagues, bosses, in-laws, step-someones, family, co-parents … and the list goes on.

We live our lives in groups and unless we’re willing to go it alone – work alone, live alone, be alone (which is sometimes tempting, but comes with its own costs) – we’re going to cross paths with those we would rather cross out.

With any discussion of toxic people, it’s important to understand that you can’t change anybody, so it’s best to stop trying. Save your energy for something easier, like world peace. Or landing on a star. The thing is though, when you do something differently, things can’t help but change for you. If it’s not the people in your radar, it will be their impact on you.

[bctt tweet=”Personal power is everything to do with what you believe – and nothing to do with what they think.”]

Co-existing with toxics means going around them to set your own rules, then accepting that you don’t need them to respect those rules to claim your power. Here are some powerful, practical ways to do that:

  1. Be empowered by your motives.

    Sometimes toxic people will trap you like a hunted thing – you know you don’t have to give in to them but you also know that there will be consequences if you don’t. The secret is to make your decision from a position of power, rather than feeling controlled. In the same way there is something they want from you, there will always be something you want from them (even if it is to avoid more of their toxicity). Decide that you’re doing what you’re doing to control them and their behaviour – not because you’re a victim of their manipulation. Personal power is everything to do with what you believe and nothing to do with what they think.

  2. Understand why they’re seeing what they see in you.

    Toxic people will always see in others what they don’t want to acknowledge about themselves. It’s called projection. You could be the kindest, most generous, hardest working person on the planet and toxic people will turn themselves inside out trying to convince you that you’re a liar, unfair, nasty or a slacker. See it for what it is. You know the truth, even if they never will.

  3. They might get worse before they leave you alone.

    Think of it like this. Take a little human who is throwing a tantrum. When you stand strong and don’t give in, they’ll go harder for a while. We all have a tendency to do that – when something we’re doing stops working, we’ll do it more before we stop. Toxic people are no different. If they’ve found a way to control and manipulate you and it stops working, they’ll do more of whatever used to work before they back off and find themselves another target. Don’t take their escalation as a stop sign. Take it as a sign that what you’re doing is teaching them that they’re old behaviour won’t work anymore. Keep going and give them time to be convinced that you’re not going around on that decision you’ve made to shut them down.

    [irp posts=”1086″ name=”Teaching Kids How To Set & Protect Their Boundaries (And Keep Toxic People Out)”]

  4.  Be clear about your boundaries.

    You can’t please everyone, but toxic people will have you believing that you can’t please anyone – so you try harder, work harder, compromise more. It’s exhausting. Toxic people will have your boundary torn down and buried before you even realise you had one there. By knowing exactly what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t – and why – you can decide how far you’re willing to let someone encroach on your boundaries before it’s just not worth it any more.  Be ready to listen to that voice inside you that lets you know when something isn’t right. It’s powerful and rarely wrong (if ever). Whether someone else thinks it’s right or wrong doesn’t matter. What matters is whether it’s right or wrong for you. Let that guide your response and when you can, who’s in and who’s out.

  5. You don’t have to help them through every crisis.

    The reason that toxic people are often in crisis is because they are masterful at creating them. It’s what they do – draw breath and create drama. You’ll be called on at any sign of a crisis for sympathy, attention and support, but you don’t have to run to their side. Teach them that you won’t be a part of the pity party by being unemotional, inattentive, and indifferent to the crisis. Don’t ask questions and don’t offer help. It might feel bad because it’s not your normal way, but remember that you’re not dealing with a normal person.

  6. You don’t need to explain.

    No is a complete sentence and one of the most powerful words in any language. You don’t need to explain, justify or make excuses. ‘No’ is the guardian at your front gate that makes sure the contamination from toxic people doesn’t get through to you. 

  7. Don’t judge.

    Be understanding, compassionate, kind and respectful – but be all of them to yourself first. You can reject behaviour, requests and people without turning yourself into someone you wouldn’t like to be with. Strength and compassion can exist beautifully together at the edge of your boundaries. It will be always easier to feel okay about putting up a boundary if you haven’t hurt someone else in the process.

  8. Own your strengths and your weaknesses.

    We are all a messy, beautiful, brilliant work in progress. Once you are aware of your flaws, nobody can use them against you. Toxic people will work hard to play up your flaws and play down your strengths – it’s how they get their power. If you’re able to own your strengths and weaknesses, what they think won’t matter – because you’ll know that your strengths are more than enough to make your flaws not matter, or at the very least, to make them yesterday’s news.

    [irp posts=”793″ name=”Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them”]

     

  9. Don’t expect change.

    You can’t reason with toxic people – you just can’t. That’s one of the things that makes them toxic. Decide where you stand, and then stand strong. You don’t need to do any more than that. They will try to make you bend, flex and break at the seams. Because you have an open heart, the thought that someone might misunderstand you, disapprove of you or dislike you might get to you, but remember that you’re not dealing with someone who is motivated by what’s good for you or your relationship. It’s always about them and it always will be. Decide that sometimes you’re going to make it about you. It’s what you deserve.

  10. Choose your battles wisely.

    Dealing with toxic people takes an enormous amount of energy. You don’t have to step up to every battle you’re called to. For many toxic people, conflict is the only way they can connect. It’s the way they feel alive, noticed and important. Save your energy for the people who matter.

  11. Don’t be the victim.

    People can be a pity sometimes, but you’re not one of those. Decide that you won’t be anyone’s victim. Instead, be the one with the boundaries, the strength, the smarts and the power to make the decisions that will help you to thrive. Even if they’re decisions you’d rather not be making, own that it’s a move you’ve made to get what you want, rather than to bend to someone else’s will. You’re amazing, you’re strong and you’re powerful – which is why you’re nobody’s victim. Nobody’s.

  12. Focus on the solution rather than the problem.

    Toxic people will have you bending over backwards and tied with a barbed wire ribbon to keep you there. What will keep you stuck is playing over and over in your head the vastness of their screwed up behaviour. It will keep you angry, sad and disempowered. If you have to make a decision that you’d rather not make, focus on the mess that’s it’s cleaning up, not the person who is making your life hell. Don’t focus on their negative behaviour – there’s just too much there to focus on and it will never make sense to you anyway.

  13. Surround yourself with people who will give as much as you do.

    You might not have as much freedom in certain parts of your life to decide who’s in and who’s out but when it comes to the ones you open your heart to, you absolutely have the choice. Choose wisely and don’t be afraid to let them know what they mean to you. 

  14. Forgive – but don’t forget.

    Forgiveness is about letting go of expecting things to be different. You’ll never be able to control the past but you can control how much power it has to impact your future. Forgiveness doesn’t mean accepting the behaviour or approving of it – it means that you’re not going to be controlled by it any more. It’s something done in strength and with an abundance of self-love. Don’t forget the way people treat you – for better or worse – and use that to help you live with clarity and resolve.

    [irp posts=”1021″ name=”The Rules for Being Human”]

     

  15. Understand the cycle.

    There is a pattern many toxic people follow. First they’re charming. This is when they’ll get you. They’ll be attentive, loving and impressive – but all of it will be to get you into position. Next, when they have your trust you’ll start to see the cracks. There will be mounting demands and a rising pull on your emotional resources. Then there will be the crisis – the test. You’ll feel stuck – whether or not you give them what they want, you’ll feel compromised. Finally, you’ll do what they want – because you don’t want to be ‘unreasonable’ or cause more drama – and then they’re back to charming you and giving you just enough of what you need to make you stay. The problem is that this never lasts for long and always comes at a cost. Be aware of the cycle and use it to build your boundaries on an even more solid foundation. If you can’t get out of the relationship, know that you’re not staying because you’ve allowed yourself to be fooled or blindsided, but because you have your eyes on something bigger that you need.

  16. You don’t need their approval. You really don’t.

    Don’t look for their approval or their appreciation – you won’t get it unless it comes with conditions, all of which will dampen you. You’ll constantly feel drained because they’ll draw on your open heart, your emotional generosity, your reasonableness, your compassion and your humanity – and they will give absolutely nothing back. Give what you need to, but don’t give any more than that in the hope of getting something back. There will never be any more than minimal, and even that will come with conditions. Whatever you do, know why you’re doing what you’re doing and make sure the reasons are good enough.

The world is full of people whose behaviour is breathtakingly damaging. That doesn’t mean that we have to open ourselves up to the damage. The secret to living well means living deliberately. Knowing the signs of toxic behaviour and responding deliberately and in full clarity to toxic people will reduce their impact and allow you to keep yourself whole and empowered – and you’ll always deserve that.

469 Comments

Walter

Wow
Excellent article
This article reflect my ex partner
And defo I read this too late 😔
The main problem is bigger now .
But thanks because this article help me to not continue with that toxic problem
I was very close to start another one again

Many thanks 🙏🏽

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MorningStar

This article describes my aunt to the T…it had me nodding to every sentence!!

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Jay

Your articles on toxic relationships have been incredibly helpful as I’ve recently transitioned to 1 year with no contact from a toxic ex. They still call from their blocked number and every once in a while I get the urge to answer — even knowing it will lead down the same path. I’ve seen my situation reflected so many times in your advice. It really helps me stay strong and focused. Thank you so much!

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Beata

Thank you for your kind, powerful words. I am so grateful that I found you in my path. I have 2 sisters who I cut ties with and still grieving for the relationship we could have had. Love you and big thank you!

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Yvonne C

I to have had to cut ties with a sister and brother who have been absolutely horrific to me it has been breathtaking..
And my sister has been manipulating a situation that my brother has been taking in by..
I know there is 2 sides to a story but there is also the truth , and hopefully one day that will be proven..
but it the mean time I can’t forgive and I certainly won’t forget the wickedness that I have had to endure for years ..
they have lost me forever.

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Nat-a-tat-tat

Thank you. This is so helpful, and gives me hope, as I feel I live next to quite possibly the most toxic people on this planet.

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Tracey

Married with 3 adult sons all by my husband there grown and out of the house we are grandparents now things just never seem to get better hes disconnected on every level with me our sons and our grandkids he just checks out and doesn’t participate with any of is I’m left to be a mom by myself and a grandma by myself he refuses to communicate on any level with me period he does work but he throws that in my face for an excuse of his like I owe him something because he works I’ve also worked over the years he still was the same way so it cant be that just because I dont work he can he has a reason to no be a part of anything that has to do with us on a healthy level I’m always by myself when I have my grandkids our grandkids he doesnt take part in nothing it’s sad and very lonely I get such joy from them and our kids but when your married to someone that’s toxic its exhausting if I need help with something he refuses to help its always a struggle so I just give up on it its draining to much from me so I try to just stay clear from him so he can live in his head by his self I dont want any part of his dysfunctional ways that he seem to think is ok it’s a will turn for me to look at a 53 yr .old man that has no want to participate with us in a healthy way I leave it god to deal with him and his situation that I want no part of .

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Helen

Life really is too short, take control and get out of that marriage so you can enjoy your children and Grandchildren! You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely, you will manage so much better without him.

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Jude

Thanks for posting this
I actually have an extra toxic uncle who would do everything in his power to make sure other people see u as a bad person

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Rachel

Hi, thank you for this. I really needed this in my life and thank you for taking the time to read this comment.
I grew up with Catholic narcissism parents who controlled eveyaspect of me and showed me failure was not an option. Molded me into always being perfect. I realized as I became an adult that I have freedom. I can choose to be me. Find myself. Something I’ve always struggled with. My heart is vulnerable and generous. My first relationship was a teenager kind. Was young, naive, and didn’t know that I could hurt or be taken advantage of. So I ended the relationship because that person cheated on me. Found out with through an app he was calling a girl cute. Ect. So it was hard enough to leave the relationship because it was almost 4 years together. I ended the relationship gave myself 4 months to try and find myself focus on me. Then I had a friend in college who I knew would go to him and vent my issues from my ex relationship. He always was their to listen and comfort me. Here me out. I told him I was single. He waited. We dated. After 6 months we were engaged. We had great fun times. He made me feel like I could be free and do whatever. However sometimes we had huge arguments over little things like jealousy issues. Both of us. Our communication at the time when I wasn’t aware. Looking back Was not mature or let’s just say we always argued about who had better points we both were smart but we couldn’t just listen to each other when we argued. We would walk away in silence. He would come and try to talk things through we forgave. We were married.
At the time I had no freedom to have any relationship or sexual things with anyone since my parents were strict. They believed in virginity. I sneaked around doing things with him. My parents didn’t approve when we married or were engaged. My father screamed at him. Ignored him. My mother always silenced in her marriage. Doesn’t disagree with my father. He was an alcoholic and abused my siblings. I ran away and moved in with my in laws. My mother in law at the time was super nice to me. Treated me well. I lived their after being married we had not very much money to live on our own at the time. She helped pay for our wedding and my husband at the time paid some..I felt guilty and had to deal with my parents and our drama. So I stayed their thinking everything would go well. We married. All this to say now that I am a mother. I’m working on setting my boundaries with my in laws. I’m afraid of my in law sometimes because I can see she shows aggressive, narcissistic and manipulative behavior. She is judgmental. I don’t know if she is aware because her mother would treat her like that. She always comments or scolds me or my daughter. To her eyes it may seem funny or cute but I don’t see that nice. My mother in law changed when I stood up to my boundaries around her. She doesn’t acknowledge me. When I’m around it’s always about her son or her kids. Took some time away from her. Her grandchild is now all grown. She shows that she misses her but every time we have a nice moment. She says one comment that rubs of rudely or judgmental. I am super stressed because I try and go to my husband and talk things through to try and have him support my views. He sees it like his parents are nice they aren’t wrong. They love the grandchild. However, I don’t like how she is treated around my mother in law. She doesn’t even seem interested in asking me what I would like for respect for the grandchild. I practice Montessori, I’m always practicing gratitude and mindfulness. She is almost the opposite. I get a gut feeling I don’t trust her because of the way she coddled me and scolded me once I became more aware of her actions and how she was manipulating me to get her way in things. I felt guilty for everything she helped me with so I would things for her to make her feel happy. I never valued myself or set boundaries for me. I’ve been controlled all my life. I feel like she took advantage of my innocence at the time. I don’t trust her because of the way she is aggressive with her tone of voice she gets angry quickly. I don’t want that kind of behavior around my child. She is to kind and sweet. I’m happy she says no know. She sets her boundary. My mother in law called my legs fat when I was pregnant. She always criticizes people for conversations. I have struggled explaining this to my husband because he sides with them. He tells me that I have issues with everyone. I’m always finding something to fix or like if I’m on the look out to attack back. I’m only trying to defend my rights and be a better human. I want respect as well. I deserve that. I feel belittle around his family all the time. I see that they are overly critical and they always think their way is the best. It’s scary. I didn’t see this going into this family. I married my husband not his family. I didn’t get to choose the family. I have felt like taking my own life because I don’t feel worthy. I feel like a mistake. The only reason why I am alive is because I’m aware that I’m valued by my daughter. I feel enormous love from her. She needs me as her mother. It would be selfish if I take my life and she doesn’t have a support or mother in her life. Something I didn’t have growing up. I want better for her. I would do anything for her. I don’t know if my husband will ever see my heart. My mind.

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Fatima A

I have an extremely toxic MIL. We have moved out of my in laws house due to husband job transfer and now she is extremely angry. And she blames me for everything. Now we have to visit them and they will come with us to our new place. Em extremely afraid of her and it knocks me out by thinking how i would handle her. please some advice for dealing her.

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Myinlaw

I have a sister in law who is conniving she does very hurtful things then gaslights and turns it on me when I’ve done nothing but to have emotions on her actions toward me it is a cycle if it isn’t me it someone else in our family or hers. I’ve now lost my brother due to her lying deceit and manipulations. It is just so sad to me that someone can be this insecure and evil and not care how badly they hurt someone. I don’t feel empowered but I know I had to shut the door if she didn’t own up to what she has done. I am just over it forever it just feels like a horrible grief in me but I’m afraid of her and what she’ll do to me next. Now she’ll hurt someone else but I just can’t take it anymore.

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Melanie O

At 60 years old, and after being abused mentally, emotionally, and yes, physically by mother I’ve decided to let her go. My own mom. She has spent her entire almost 90 years beating up on first my father, who died young I believe because of her, me, and my younger sister who let our entire family go a few years ago. She has set my twin sister and younger brother on pedestals that I cannot reach, no matter how hard I’ve tried. They are both toxic as well. I have spent hundreds of dollars and hours in therapy. 60 years of heartbreak is more than enough!

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roms

I cannot believe that i’m still living with my toxic mother. She enjoys the drama and she always pin points only what’s wrong and negative. She gets usually irritated and mad most especially if you don’t give her money or at least something for that matter. She would always constantly nag about the past and predicts future without evidence. All i wanted is to live a life of positivity. Her negativity pushes me down at times. I wanted to flee from home but i have my younger niece living with us and i feel pity sometimes when she would get a taste of some of my mom’s tantrums 🙁

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angel c

thank you so much for writing this article, your kindness is really appreciated, thank you. ❤
i’m only 15 and in this complicated world i am just trying to be myself. and it is hard.
but i feel good because i know that at least i am trying. i am not giving in.
i am proud with who i am and i love myself, so so much and i’m not going to let some toxic people that haven’t started healing to take those golden, pure, and beautiful pieces of myself away.

they don’t deserve that.

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Bernadette Y

In our common routine of every day, we met different types of people. Some of that people are toxic and also we face difficulty to face such toxic people. All the ways that you describe in this post are outstanding and by following these ways, we surely deal best with toxic people.

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Gargi B

Thanks. It explained many things which I was trying to figure out. I had and have toxic person in life. With long time misbehavior & mistreatment from that person off lately I feel much less caring towards him and to all my surprise that fellow has starting praising me in all the way. I was trying to figure out why he is doing so ? Now i understood it is just a trap to make me fall in the same situation. Thanks for enlightening. Feeling much better. I will no more lift the boundaries I have set and let myself feel miserable again. Thanks from India.

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francine

What about when the person is your adult child? How do you cut off your child? I feel like I must try until my dying breath to show love and acceptance to my child even though that 40ish-year-old child constantly blames me for ruining the adult child’s life by the life decisions I have made. I stayed married to the child’s father, my only marriage. Child thinks father is worthless and father has given up on any relationship with the child, which disappoints me greatly. We provided more than the basic food, clothing, and shelter. We gave our children lots of enriching activities, sports, clubs, music lessons, plenty of everything. This child’s main complaint is that we moved too much and that his parents are of 2 cultures, which resulted in an identity crisis for the child. I get yelling, blaming, criticism, constant conflict. This adult child has cut me off numerous times for months and more than a year at a time. Without antidepressants, I cannot function. This child gets along with nobody on either side of the family, cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, nobody, but blames everything on everyone else. I am at my wit’s end. I vowed to never give up on this child, but it is draining the life out of me. The child hints at suicide every once in a while. I am terrified. I know my child is in pain but I am also in pain and I can’t fix the child and I can’t stand the verbal attacks. This has been going on for years and years and years.

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Anon

Sounds like codependency. I’ve been there. Sometimes if a person helps too much ..that person u r helping lacks the skills to help herself. I think you need to really ask yourself are you really helping or providing lifetime crutch / excuse to act this way.-You can’t do anything if she is unwilling to accept help. If in her 40s I’m sure she knows what she’s doing. You have your own guilt /issues to deal with and letting her grow up and be accountable is the best thing you can do. Life is messy.
You are not abandoning your child you’re asking your child to grow up. Nothing is perfect. Sorry my opinion and good luck. I could relate.

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Shana

Have you considered going to therapy together, you and your son? It might do a world of good. It might help him understand that no parent is perfect and it might help you understand the source of your son’s pain. If your son has threatened suicide then something is very wrong (and you’re not the one to blame for that)- maybe he has clinical depression or other mental health issue. Even if he won’t go you should go by yourself for support in dealing with what you’re going through. My heart breaks for you.

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Karla

I deeply love my sister how could I not? She’s my blood and I enjoy the times we spend together. But lately she has changed, I don’t know if it has to do with her job, or her boyfriend, or something stressful in her life. But whatever it is, she is taking it on me and our mother. For the past week she will come home and during the whole day she will just yell and complain. To my mother, for misplacing things or not making food for her or demanding her to do things. And also to me, for thinking I touched her stuff or stole something or broke something. I know this is a normal thing to go through when it comes to siblings, however it’s leads to the point where she repetitively does it constantly throughout the day and gets really mad, yelling loud enough that the neighbors can hear. Afterwards she will talk shit on me to my mother, saying hateful words. Saying she wishes I was dead, and that she is happy she is moving out and is never gonna visit me. It used to have an affect me, but it got the the point where she does it everyday and I got annoyed and I didn’t let it get to me anymore. I assumed she was always gonna act this way now and I didn’t wanna be apart of it or deal with it. I plan on keeping my distance away from her. It will be hard to do considering she lives here too and our place is rather small. But I’m tired of her putting me down and making me think everything is always my fault, making me feel like I’m not good enough. I will always love my sister and I wish her the best, but I am done trying to fix my relationship with her.

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Kim

We’re in a similar situation. My sister tried to kill me 2 times with a knife. I know she is depressed somehow. She would just sleep for the entire day, waiting for me to do everything, if there is something she wants she would command me to do so. If I don’t agree she gets angry, like a barabaric woman. She also uses suicide to gain sympathy and agreement but now I don’t want to do it anymore. Life is so good to be thinking of her. If she dies, she dies. I have my life and so she does. My mother would always teach me love and compassion, I am not perfect but it’s time to be selfish.

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Cam

I know this may come across as typical, but I am living with my father as my mother and my uncle live in my grandmother’s house and that house is a very stressful and depressing environment. The environment at my dad’s house is not as bad, but still not far off. My dad isn’t around often, so I basically live with my step mom. My step mom and my mother’s brother (who also lives with my grandmother) are both are very inhospitable. My step mother is always so loving and then she when ever I trust her and talk to her, she only exploits what I said and uses it against me, on top of that she tells everyone that I’m a lier and gives me no privacy. She forces me into conflicts, and I can’t avoid them as she conners me I yells at me for ages. My room has no key, and I’m not allowed to leave the house without saying where I’m going, I also have a strict curfew. I’m 18 and 2021 will be my matric year, but i can’t live at my grandmother’s house because it’s a worse environment and they can’t afford to take me to school. My father is the bread winner and a very level headed person. His job is high stress and so I have never told him of my problems with living with his wife (my stepmother), until recently when she tried to kick me out, I called him. But he thought I was exaggerating. I convinced my stepmother to not kick me out, and I’m still living here. I can’t live like this anymore, the only option I can think of is too go to boarding school, which my school may or may not have a space for me. I hope you can give me some advice.

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Mokgadi

I guess she has her reasons for acting in that manner. Sometimes other family members swallow too much to an extent were when they burst out of angry all things points to her. U might find ur saying she’s putting u down and u find that your also having other issues with her or u lack understanding. Some family members do push others buttons looking for someone to blame at the end. Some people leave together in a small place but still manage to tolerate each other. But where some people sits and discuss one member of the family in his or her absence it normally causes conflicts.. peace of advice if ur letting go make sure its permanent and make sure u will never need anything from ur sister. I believe when u walk out on someone u completely cut ties.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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