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.

447 Comments

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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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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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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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