When Someone You Love is Toxic – How to Let Go, Without Guilt

When Someone You Love is Toxic How to Let Go of a Toxic Relationship, Without Guilt

If toxic people were an ingestible substance, they would come with a high-powered warning and secure packaging to prevent any chance of accidental contact. Sadly, families are not immune to the poisonous lashings of a toxic relationship.

Though families and relationships can feel impossibly tough at times, they were never meant to ruin. All relationships have their flaws and none of them come packaged with the permanent glow of sunlight and goodness and beautiful things. In any normal relationship there will be fights from time to time. Things will be said and done and forgiven, and occasionally rehashed at strategic moments. For the most part though, they will feel nurturing and life-giving to be in. At the very least, they won’t hurt.

Why do toxic people do toxic things?

Toxic people thrive on control. Not the loving, healthy control that tries to keep everyone safe and happy – buckle your seatbelt, be kind, wear sunscreen – but the type that keeps people small and diminished. 

Everything they do is to keep people small and manageable. This will play out through criticism, judgement, oppression – whatever it takes to keep someone in their place. The more you try to step out of ‘your place’, the more a toxic person will call on toxic behaviour to bring you back and squash you into the tiny box they believe you belong in.

It is likely that toxic people learned their behaviour during their own childhood, either by being exposed to the toxic behaviour of others or by being overpraised without being taught the key quality of empathy. In any toxic relationship there will be other qualities missing too, such as respect, kindness and compassion, but at the heart of a toxic person’s behaviour is the lack of concern around their impact on others. They come with a critical failure to see past their own needs and wants.

Toxic people have a way of choosing open, kind people with beautiful, lavish hearts because these are the ones who will be more likely to fight for the relationship and less likely to abandon.

Even the strongest people can find themselves in a toxic relationship but the longer they stay, the more they are likely to evolve into someone who is a smaller, less confident, more wounded version of the person they used to be.

Non-toxic people who stay in a toxic relationship will never stop trying to make the relationship better, and toxic people know this. They count on it. Non-toxic people will strive to make the relationship work and when they do, the toxic person has exactly what he or she wants – control. 

Toxic Families – A Special Kind of Toxic

Families are a witness to our lives – our best, our worst, our catastrophes, our frailties and flaws. All families come with lessons that we need to learn along the way to being a decent, thriving human. The lessons begin early and they don’t stop, but not everything a family teaches will come with an afterglow. Sometimes the lessons they teach are deeply painful ones that shudder against our core.

Rather than being lessons on how to love and safely open up to the world, the lessons some families teach are about closing down, staying small and burying needs – but for every disempowering lesson, there is one of empowerment, strength and growth that exists with it. In toxic families, these are around how to walk away from the ones we love, how to let go with strength and love, and how to let go of guilt and any fantasy that things could ever be different. And here’s the rub – the pain of a toxic relationship won’t soften until the lesson has been learned.

Love and loyalty don’t always exist together.

Love has a fierce way of keeping us tied to people who wound us. The problem with family is that we grow up in the fold, believing that the way they do things is the way the world works. We trust them, listen to them and absorb what they say. There would have been a time for all of us that regardless of how mind-blowingly destructive the messages from our family were, we would have received them all with a beautiful, wide-eyed innocence, grabbing every detail and letting them shape who we were growing up to be.

Our survival would have once depended on believing in everything they said and did, and resisting the need to challenge or question that we might deserve better. The things we believe when we are young are powerful. They fix themselves upon us and they stay, at least until we realise one day how wrong and small-hearted those messages have been.

At some point, the environment changes – we grow up – but our beliefs don’t always change with it. We stop depending on our family for survival but we hang on to the belief that we have to stay connected and loyal, even though being with them hurts.

The obligation to love and stay loyal to a family member can be immense, but love and loyalty are two separate things and they don’t always belong together.

Loyalty can be a confusing, loaded term and is often the reason that people stay stuck in toxic relationships. What you need to know is this: When loyalty comes with a diminishing of the self, it’s not loyalty, it’s submission.

We stop having to answer to family when we become adults and capable of our own minds.

Why are toxic relationships so destructive?

In any healthy relationship, love is circular – when you give love, it comes back. When what comes back is scrappy, stingy intent under the guise of love, it will eventually leave you small and depleted, which falls wildly, terrifyingly short of where anyone is meant to be.

Healthy people welcome the support and growth of the people they love, even if it means having to change a little to accommodate. When one person in a system changes, whether it’s a relationship of two or a family of many, it can be challenging. Even the strongest and most loving relationships can be touched by feelings of jealousy, inadequacy and insecurity at times in response to somebody’s growth or happiness. We are all vulnerable to feeling the very normal, messy emotions that come with being human.

The difference is that healthy families and relationships will work through the tough stuff. Unhealthy ones will blame, manipulate and lie – whatever they have to do to return things to the way they’ve always been, with the toxic person in control.

Why a Toxic Relationship Will never change.

Reasonable people, however strong and independently minded they are, can easily be drawn into thinking that if they could find the switch, do less, do more, manage it, tweak it, that the relationship will be okay. The cold truth is that if anything was going to be different it would have happened by now. 

Toxic people can change, but it’s highly unlikely. What is certain is that nothing anyone else does can change them. It is likely there will be broken people, broken hearts and broken relationships around them – but the carnage will always be explained away as someone else’s fault. There will be no remorse, regret or insight. What is more likely is that any broken relationship will amplify their toxic behaviour.

Why are toxic people so hard to leave?

If you try to leave a toxic person, things might get worse before they get better – but they will always get better. Always.

Few things will ramp up feelings of insecurity or a need for control more than when someone questions familiar, old behaviour, or tries to break away from old, established patterns in a relationship. For a person whose signature moves involve manipulation, lies, criticism or any other toxic behaviour, when something feels as though it’s changing, they will use even more of their typical toxic behaviour to bring the relationship (or the person) back to a state that feels acceptable.

When things don’t seem to be working, people will always do more of what used to work, even if that behaviour is at the heart of the problem. It’s what we all do. If you are someone who is naturally open and giving, when things don’t feel right in a relationship you will likely give more of yourself, offer more support, be more loving, to get things back on track. 

Breaking away from a toxic relationship can feel like tearing at barbed wire with bare hands. The more you do it, the more it hurts, so for a while, you stop tearing, until you realise that it’s not the tearing that hurts, it’s the barbed wire – the relationship – and whether you tear at it or not, it won’t stop cutting into you.

Think of it like this. Imagine that all relationships and families occupy a space. In healthy ones, the shape of that space will be fluid and open to change, with a lot of space for people to grow. People will move to accommodate the growth and flight of each other. 

For a toxic family or a toxic relationship, that shape is rigid and unyielding. There is no flexibility, no bending, and no room for growth. Everyone has a clearly defined space and for some, that space will be small and heavily boxed. When one person starts to break out of the shape, the whole family feels their own individual sections change. The shape might wobble and things might feel vulnerable, weakened or scary. This is normal, but toxic people will do whatever it takes to restore the space to the way it was. Often, that will mean crumpling the ones who are changing so they fit their space again.

Sometimes out of a sense of love and terribly misplaced loyalty, people caught in a toxic relationship might sacrifice growth and change and step back into the rigid tiny space a toxic person manipulates them towards. It will be clear when this has happened because of the soul-sucking grief at being back there in the mess with people (or person) who feel so bad to be with.

But they do it because they love me. They said so.

Sometimes toxic people will hide behind the defence that they are doing what they do because they love you, or that what they do is ‘no big deal’ and that you’re the one causing the trouble because you’re just too sensitive, too serious, too – weak, stupid, useless, needy, insecure, jealous – too ‘whatever’ to get it. You will have heard the word plenty of times before. 

The only truth you need to know is this: If it hurts, it’s hurtful. Fullstop.

Love never holds people back from growing. It doesn’t diminish, and it doesn’t contaminate. If someone loves you, it feels like love. It feels supportive and nurturing and life-giving. If it doesn’t do this, it’s not love. It’s self-serving crap designed to keep you tethered and bound to someone else’s idea of how you should be.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship, but a healthy one is a tolerant, loving, accepting, responsive one.

The one truth that matters.

If it feels like growth or something that will nourish you, follow that. It might mean walking away from people you care about – parents, sisters, brothers, friends – but this can be done with love and the door left open for when they are able to meet you closer to your terms – ones that don’t break you.

Set the boundaries with grace and love and leave it to the toxic person to decide which side of that boundary they want to stand on. Boundaries aren’t about spite or manipulation and they don’t have to be about ending the relationship. They are something drawn in strength and courage to let people see with great clarity where the doorway is to you. If the relationship ends, it’s not because of your lack of love or loyalty, but because the toxic person chose not to treat you in the way you deserve. Their choice. 

Though it is up to you to decide the conditions on which you will let someone close to you, whether or not somebody wants to be close to you enough to respect those conditions is up to them. The choice to trample over what you need means they are choosing not to be with you. It doesn’t mean you are excluding them from your life.

Toxic people also have their conditions of relationship and though they might not be explicit, they are likely to include an expectation that you will tolerate ridicule, judgement, criticism, oppression, lying, manipulation – whatever they do. No relationship is worth that and it is always okay to say ‘no’ to anything that diminishes you.

The world and those who genuinely love you want you to be as whole as you can be. Sometimes choosing health and wholeness means stepping bravely away from that which would see your spirit broken and malnourished.

When you were young and vulnerable and dependent for survival on the adults in your life, you had no say in the conditions on which you let people close to you. But your life isn’t like that now. You get to say. You get to choose the terms of your relationships and the people you get close to.

There is absolutely no obligation to choose people who are toxic just because they are family. If they are toxic, the simple truth is that they have not chosen you. The version of you that they have chosen is the one that is less than the person you would be without them.

The growth.

Walking away from a toxic relationship isn’t easy, but it is always brave and always strong. It is always okay. And it is always – always – worth it. This is the learning and the growth that is hidden in the toxic mess.

Letting go will likely come with guilt, anger and grief for the family or person you thought you had. They might fight harder for you to stay. They will probably be crueller, more manipulative and more toxic than ever. They will do what they’ve always done because it has always worked. Keep moving forward and let every hurtful, small-hearted thing they say or do fuel your step.

You can’t pretend toxic behaviour away or love it away or eat it, drink it, smoke it, depress it or gamble it away. You can’t avoid the impact by being smaller, by crouching or bending or flexing around it. But you can walk away from it – so far away that the most guided toxic fuelled missile that’s thrown at you won’t find you.

One day they might catch up to you – not catch you, catch up to you – with their growth and their healing but until then, choose your own health and happiness over their need to control you. 

You can love people, let go of them and keep the door open on your terms, for whenever they are ready to treat you with love, respect and kindness. This is one of the hardest lessons but one of the most life-giving and courageous ones.

Sometimes there are not two sides. There is only one. Toxic people will have you believing that the one truthful side is theirs. It’s not. It never was. Don’t believe their highly diseased, stingy version of love. It’s been drawing your breath, suffocating you and it will slowly kill you if you let it, and the way you ‘let it’ is by standing still while it spirals around you, takes aim and shoots. 

If you want to stay, that’s completely okay, but see their toxic behaviour for what it is – a desperate attempt to keep you little and controlled. Be bigger, stronger, braver than anything that would lessen you. Be authentic and real and give yourself whatever you need to let that be. Be her. Be him. Be whoever you can be if the small minds and tiny hearts of others couldn’t stop you.

[irp posts=”1602″ name=”When It’s Not You, It’s Them: The Toxic People That Ruin Friendships, Families, Relationships”]



I am so glad I saw this article and I couldn’t agree more.

Long story (????) short, I did not notice that even before we were in a relationship and just started going on dates, without making things official yet, she was already very demanding. We were in a relationship for a year and we were going way too fast for comfort. We argued over almost anything no matter how small or petty it was. We had very poor communication as a couple because once she gets mad at me for anything, it’s an all out war. When I try to explain, she doesn’t usually listen and I started walking on eggshells. Our arguments kept on cycling back and it was on petty things like not replying back to her dm’s during work hours! We could have handled it differently and the issue could have been resolved without having to have too much of a heated argument, but no we had to had a very, very, heated argument, almost. All. The. Time.
It was so exhausting to the point that I felt depleted, depressed, and anxious. I got nauseous at least twice throughout our relationship.

She said she would change and not start an argument without thinking if it was worth the fight or not. But that did not happen. We kept arguing and the pettiness kept escalating. I felt suffocated but let it slide which is a major flaw of mine. I did not stand firm on the boundaries I set and did not set up correct boundaries. Then she also wanted me to send nudes! Although that was very tempting, I explained to her the risk of it and worried for the both of us since it’s so easy to hack any information sent through the internet these days and be used for blackmail.

Our relationship was turning sour fast and I was becoming a toxic person myself. Lying to her (I am currently reflecting on my flaws, btw) so she wouldn’t get mad when I wanted time for myself and my hobbies. Because I knew she would sulk and get mad at me and we would fight again (I’m a blunt person, so I was honest in the beginning but that also ended with heavy arguments). That cycle kept repeating itself and I became a horrible person who got explosive once we started on an argument (no, I did not resort to violence just an angry voice. I was losing my composure more easily these days).

I feel horrible because I have my flaws too. And I’m scaring myself thinking that I did that to her. That I hurt her and that it was because of me that she is in the state she is right now.

I broke it off with her through text. I know that’s such a horrible thing for me to do but enough was enough. We then started messaging on the what, why, and how I reached to that conclusion. I opened up to her by saying that our relationship was toxic. That our arguments kept repeating and that we we’re so codependent with each other, leaving no room for other people and most especially for ourselves. That we we’re loosing ourselves and have started hurting each other by holding onto something that we should already let go of.
I also tried to personally break it off with her at one point. It was so emotional that we got back together just a few minutes after. I couldn’t stand seeing how hurt she was. I’m not perfect and she really is a very lovely person but I just can’t deal with the negativity that is our relationship. I had to be harsh and had to draw a clear and heavy line for both our sakes.

I’m still in the process of recovering and trying to believe that what I did was right. I’m still debating on whether or not I should talk to her in person, she said she wanted to meet, (we did text about the reasons why I broke it off with her before finalizing it) because I’m honestly scared that I would change my mind. And I am being cowardly because I know how weak I am against seeing her sad and would want to do anything, anything, just to reassure her. I am also very conflicted with myself because I know she’s hurting. But, when I think more deeply about it, I just know that there is a slim chance of us actually working out. And one of the reason is because I am also already scared . I don’t want a repeat. I just don’t want for us to reach the point where we would regret everything. I am praying for strength and that my decision was right.

To this day, I am walking on a very thin line between moving forward or going back. Wish me luck ????.

Well wishes and God bless too.

Kinza A

I just read your story.. what happened. How are you now? Are you okay? How’s that girl now?


I was in a similar relationship. I broke it off 2 weeks ago and I feel kinda guilty but still trying to convince myself I made the right decision. I wish both of us luck.


Wow. So much of this is so true to me. I just got out of a terrible toxic relationship. I look back now and feel a shell of the bubbly fun out going woman I was. After 2 months he was checking my phone and I felt constantly guilty for being me. I stopped seeing friends, hid my phone, would question me when work colleagues would message when I was off because they needed something from me. I still stayed another 2 years. I thought maybe I was too affectionate to others and the problem was me. we went to Athens and I ran the marathon, the day before he was checking my phone again, accusing me of wanting someone else… I had 2 hours sleep to prepare for something I had been preparing for before meeting him. He had a son before me and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it and when I confessed this feeling it was another stick to beat me with. He was terribly defensive about anything, any feelings I had were called criticisms and “you’re never happy” I found myself compensating, sending gifts and cards to let him know how much effort I was putting in. Stopped being intimate with me and said he felt uncomfortable… I started exercising beyond reasonable and became so skinny that he would find me attractive and still blamed me because I wanted affection. He would go out with friends and never contact me, leaving me worried or concerned and if he was with his son, I didn’t exist. I travelled back from home to see him after visiting my parents (200 miles) and he put on his headphones to play Xbox with his son even though he knew I was coming. i accepted it and believed because it was his son that i should accept things. He told me he was done with me and my sniping and that he didn’t love me and I should think about that and work on myself. I am a shattered mess. I can’t stop thinking of him and now I’m lockdown all I do is work and come home to me. I tried so hard and I think that’s what hurts the most. I compromised me to be with someone who never existed. That’s who he is and I’m not worth it to him. I know I’m doing the right thing walking away but it’s so hard to build worth when you love the idea of someone so much you lose yourself.


After two years of being in a toxic relationship, this article was the most helpful in me realizing I was in a bad situation and telling me how to get out of it logically. I fell in love with my boyfriend my junior year of high school and everything was perfect at first. He has had a troubled life and unfortunately, I told myself that I could fix him. I put so much time and effort into being everything he wanted me to be that I became addicted and needed his validation. Eventually things got extremely bad because when I had any complaints or issues in the relationship, he would never consider my feelings and nothing would change. Eventually things got verbally abusive and he would call me names, not being able to control his anger during arguments. I would forgive him every single argument we had and often times I would be the one apologizing. Eventually, when we both went to college, I discovered that he had cheated on me during our senior year of high school, and I forgave him even when he didn’t fully own up to what he did. Many incidents have led to me not trusting him and I feel like such an insecure and bitter person when I see a girl I think he would cheat on me with. When I become untrusting and he is being suspicious, he blames me for being insecure and not being able to let go of the past. Now when I bring up something that concerns me he says that me bringing up certain issues is a boundary for him and if I cross that boundary, he has every right to yell at me and call me names. His justification for this was that if he were to cross my boundary of him cheating on me, I would have the right to yell at him. Getting my point across and communicating with him is always so tiring and never leads to any solutions. I always thought things would change and now I’m so attached to him, only realizing now that this is a cycle.


I recently made the decision to release myself from my marriage of 23 years. My husband was dysfunctional in all the ways mentioned, infidelity, abuse, lies, inconsistency with work, and addiction. I stayed because of my children. I thought they needed a two parent home, and I bought the fantasy and suffered through the reality. I try to figure out why it was so hard to walk away as I see other people do, or as he did, even during our marriage as he stayed out late, now I know with other women using my hard-earned money to take these women out eating, drinking, smoking, and partying. For the most part in our marriage, I paid all the bills–sometimes working two-three jobs to make ends meet. Many times at pay day he would ask for my debit card to go play pool only to find that he would spend hundreds of dollars even before I paid bills. We suffered by the end of the month just to keep gas in the car or food on the table. So, I ask myself, “Why would I want this?” The reality is I did not see a future beyond him, so now, I have started creating a future in my mind of scenarios to my happiness. As a Christian, I believe in a big God who can take me from pieces to peace in my life. I used to think that I had to be the perfect wife so that he would love me better or more. That was a farce. He only loved himself as he knew that he was not worthy of my love, so he tried to demean me to his level. He has destroyed, better yet I have allowed him to destroy my health, finances, relationships, and good name. At this time, I dream of my future with someone loving, living in peace and contentment. But, the thought creeps up that maybe he will change, and we can be together as a family. But, nope…I will not allow myself to go down that rabbit hole. I am nurturing me…watching funny movies, reading romance novels, and doing the emotional work to make myself well. Do I still think about him? Yes. I spent 23 years with him. My goal now is to be strong enough to stay away as I know he will be crawling back with a story about wanting his family…this is my trigger. He wants his family makes me feel guilty that I am withholding an intact family from my children. My other assumption is that he will go to the next victim, who he cheated with and wrote in a text as the only person he every loved. Either way, I have to create my own happiness. I have to rebuild a life without my abuser–husband. So, I ask, “Why would a reasonable woman live and stay with an abuser?” I realize that I am a people pleaser, or maybe just a nice person, who left my mother’s house and moved right into his. While I love my mother, her dominant personality makes me shutter. Both of these relationships are damaging at times to me. At this point, I am distancing myself from both. Well, zero contact with my husband. I deserve happiness. I will not die. I will prosper and create a new life on the other side of this. I must encourage myself as I have been so defeated that I could only hope for a life with a serial cheater, abuser, and liar. The familiarity serves some emotional need, but I am creating new familiar processes in my life like reading before bed, no social media, walks, cooking for my nephew, spending time with my family…I just have to be strong. I can only pray that he never comes back.


When your spouse ask you a question and you give him an answer and they tell you that you are wrong and state no that can’t be right.
When your spouse calls his family members to tell them what is happening in the relationship and only makes you look like a monster. Doesn’t state the truth
When your spouse always looks at the negative side of things and is never 100 percent supportively of the hat you want to do
When your spouse always blames you for everything that happens but states it’s his fault and I am never wrong and when you try to state allow you feel about the situation he walks away
And states it’s over
When his mother lies to him about me and he decides to attack you physically and verbally and will not listen to you
When he lies to people about things that happening in the past but doesn’t state the truth
When he tell you that the house is his and he will never leave
When he calls you a B but he is the only man you have ever been with kiss or loved
When he accuses you of cheating because his mother told him lies about you
Because she doesn’t want you together with him
When you go to marriage concealing and even the doctor tells him that he needs to look at his side and what he has done wrong and he calls the doctor stupid never again goes to marriage concealing
When he tells friends private things about your marriage so bad that you never want to go over again because is accord
When he tells you that if you get fat he will leave you
When he tells you that if you get old and loss your hair that he will leave you
When he tells you that everything horrible that happens is your fault
When everything you do or say is always a negative comment or negative reaction
When you try to scream for help so you can leave but you are scared that your kids will get hurt to
This is not a good marriage
I need to fine a way out
When my family is toxic my mom uses me for money and so did my brother
My sister is also not a good supporter she has her issues as well
I cry as I write this because I am trying to fine a way to leave and still make sure my kids are successful in life
I need a miracle
Take care all off you and thanks for listening


I’m also going through a similar relationship but I don’t have kids. I’m praying for u and lifting up ur family. Know ur not alone.


Miracles are possible! You are strong enough to leave. Think of the kids, do you want them to grow up thinking that’s how a relationship works or do you want them to see mommy is strong enough to get out and deserves to be treated with love. I am in a similar situation myself, I’ve been put down all my life and just recently at 26 years old with 4 loving kids said enough is enough. I am grateful for finally believing in me. I know it’s a scary situation but please know I am here to support you. I’m sorry this has happened it breaks my heart. I wish you the best, you matter and deserve genuine uplifting love!


I have been married for 44 years. I have just read my life in this article. One day I had had enough. I took half of our life savings and got a beautiful apartment and bought all new furniture. I wanted to take the the life I have left and be happy and stress free. He wants me back and he got us a marrige counseler but I don’t think he can change after all these years. I have never been happier.

About to be single... and happier.

Incredibly well written article, grateful to have come across it. My relationship with the father of my youngest has been riddled with problems. I am imperfect in many ways to him however know in the deepest depth of myself that most of the toxic behavior I did/do not deserve. He says to not beg and cry for him back, after recently trying to make me choose between he and my teen son and then telling me I am the one making the choice for him to leave. I want my son back in my life. I know he will be okay without me, us because his greatest strength is being self-involved. My parting gift to him is completing his Biology lab class with grace and not asking for anything else in return for it. I just cannot take the financial manipulation, the mean spiritedness, and controlling behavior any longer. Who in their right mind feels entitled to 80k of their partner’s financial investment because they decided to stay four more years in their partner’s home state for their partner in exchange for money … lots of money. Money comes and goes, it is the entitlement to my investment prior to our relationship that really gets to me. Especially since I am responsible for our rent because as he says I would have to pay for it anyways if I was single. Enough is enough. The toxicity is oozing. 😉

Kinza A

This article is incredible. It sums up all the problems into just a paragraph. Beautifully written.
Im going through something toxic my self.
I want to get out of it.
But im not able to get out of it yet.
I hope everything gets better.


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Anxiety has a way of demanding ALL of the attention. It shifts the focus to what feels scary, or too big, or impossible, or what needs to be avoided, or what feels bad, or what our kiddos can’t do. As the grown ups who love them, we know they are capable of greatness, even if that greatness is made up of lots of tiny steps, (as great things tend to be).
Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). As well as this, the rhythm of walking will help to calm their anxious amygdala. Brains love rhythm, and walking is a way to give them this. 
Try to help your young one access their steady breaths while walking, but it is very likely that they will only be able to do this if they’ve practised outside of an anxiety attack. During anxiety, the brain is too busy to try anything unfamiliar. Practising will help to create neural pathways that will make breathing an easier, more accessible response during anxiety. If they aren't able to access strong steady breaths, you might need to do it for them. This will be just as powerful - in the same way they can catch your anxiety, they will also be able to catch your calm. When you are able to assume a strong, calm, steady presence, this will clear the way for your brave ones to do the same.
The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.

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