Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them

The 12 Things Toxic People Do and How to Deal With Them

We have all had toxic people dust us with their poison. Sometimes it’s more like a drenching. Difficult people are drawn to the reasonable ones and all of us have likely had (or have) at least one person in our lives who have us bending around ourselves like barbed wire in endless attempts to please them – only to never really get there.

Their damage lies in their subtlety and the way they can engender that classic response, ‘It’s not them, it’s me.’ They can have you questioning your ‘over-reactiveness’, your ‘oversensitivity’, your ‘tendency to misinterpret’. If you’re the one who’s continually hurt, or the one who is constantly adjusting your own behaviour to avoid being hurt, then chances are that it’s not you and it’s very much them.

Being able to spot their harmful behaviour is the first step to minimising their impact. You might not be able to change what they do, but you can change what you do with it, and any idea that toxic somebody in your life might have that they can get away with it.

There are plenty of things toxic people do to manipulate people and situations to their advantage. Here are 12 of them. Knowing them will help you to avoid falling under the influence:

  1. They’ll keep you guessing about which version of them you’re getting.

    They’ll be completely lovely one day and the next you’ll be wondering what you’ve done to upset them. There often isn’t anything obvious that will explain the change of attitude – you just know something isn’t right. They might be prickly, sad, cold or cranky and when you ask if there’s something wrong, the answer will likely be ‘nothing’ – but they’ll give you just enough  to let you know that there’s something. The ‘just enough’ might be a heaving sigh, a raised eyebrow, a cold shoulder. When this happens, you might find yourself making excuses for them or doing everything you can to make them happy. See why it works for them?

    Stop trying to please them. Toxic people figured out a long time ago that decent people will go to extraordinary lengths to keep the people they care about happy. If your attempts to please aren’t working or aren’t lasting for very long, maybe it’s time to stop. Walk away and come back when the mood has shifted. You are not responsible for anybody else’s feelings. If you have done something unknowingly to hurt somebody, ask, talk about it and if need be, apologise. At any rate, you shouldn’t have to guess.

  1. They’ll manipulate.

    If you feel as though you’re the only one contributing to the relationship, you’re probably right. Toxic people have a way of sending out the vibe that you owe them something. They also have a way of taking from you or doing something that hurts you, then maintaining they were doing it all for you. This is particularly common in workplaces or relationships where the balance of power is out. ‘I’ve left that six months’ worth of filing for you. I thought you’d appreciate the experience and the opportunity to learn your way around the filing cabinets.’ Or, ‘I’m having a dinner party. Why don’t you bring dinner. For 10. It’ll give you a chance to show off those kitchen skills. K?’

    You don’t owe anybody anything. If it doesn’t feel like a favour, it’s not.

  1. They won’t own their feelings.

    Rather than owning their own feelings, they’ll act as though the feelings are yours. It’s called projection, as in projecting their feelings and thoughts onto you. For example, someone who is angry but won’t take responsibility for it might accuse you of being angry with them. It might be as subtle as, ‘Are you okay with me?’ or a bit more pointed, ‘Why are you angry at me,’ or, ‘You’ve been in a bad mood all day.’

    You’ll find yourself justifying and defending and often this will go around in circles – because it’s not about you. Be really clear on what’s yours and what’s theirs. If you feel as though you’re defending yourself too many times against accusations or questions that don’t fit, you might be being projected on to. You don’t have to explain, justify or defend yourself or deal with a misfired accusation. Remember that.

  1. They’ll make you prove yourself to them.

    They’ll regularly put you in a position where you have to choose between them and something else – and you’ll always feel obliged to choose them. Toxic people will wait until you have a commitment, then they’ll unfold the drama.  ‘If you really cared about me you’d skip your exercise class and spend time with me.’  The problem with this is that enough will never be enough. Few things are fatal – unless it’s life or death, chances are it can wait.

    [irp posts=”1195″ name=”Toxic People: 16 Practical, Powerful Ways to Deal With Them”]

  2. They never apologise. 

    They’ll lie before they ever apologise, so there’s no point arguing. They’ll twist the story, change the way it happened and retell it so convincingly that they’ll believe their own nonsense.

    People don’t have to apologise to be wrong. And you don’t need an apology to move forward. Just move forward – without them. Don’t surrender your truth but don’t keep the argument going. There’s just no point. Some people want to be right more than they want to be happy and you have better things to do than to provide fodder for the right-fighters.

  1. They’ll be there in a crisis but they’ll never ever share your joy.

    They’ll find reasons your good news isn’t great news. The classics: About a promotion – ‘The money isn’t that great for the amount of work you’ll be doing.’ About a holiday at the beach – ‘Well it’s going to be very hot. Are you sure you want to go?’ About being made Queen of the Universe – ‘Well the Universe isn’t that big you know and I’m pretty sure you won’t get tea breaks.’ Get the idea? Don’t let them dampen you or shrink you down to their size. You don’t need their approval anyway – or anyone else’s for that matter.

  2. They’ll leave a conversation unfinished – and then they’ll go offline.

    They won’t pick up their phone. They won’t answer texts or emails. And in between rounds of their voicemail message, you might find yourself playing the conversation or argument over and over in your head, guessing about the status of the relationship, wondering what you’ve done to upset them, or whether they’re dead, alive or just ignoring you – which can sometimes all feel the same. People who care about you won’t let you go on feeling rubbish without attempting to sort it out. That doesn’t mean you’ll sort it out of course, but at least they’ll try. Take it as a sign of their investment in the relationship if they leave you ‘out there’ for lengthy sessions.

  3. They’ll use non-toxic words with a toxic tone.

    The message might be innocent enough but the tone conveys so much more. Something like, ‘What did you do today?’ can mean different things depending on the way it’s said. It could mean anything from ‘So I bet you did nothing – as usual,’ to ‘I’m sure your day was better than mine. Mine was awful. Just awful. And you didn’t even notice enough to ask.’ When you question the tone, they’ll come back with, ‘All I said was what did you do today,’ which is true, kind of, not really.

  4. They’ll bring irrelevant detail into a conversation.

    When you’re trying to resolve something important to you, toxic people will bring in irrelevant detail from five arguments ago. The problem with this is that before you know it, you’re arguing about something you did six months ago, still defending yourself, rather than dealing with the issue at hand. Somehow, it just always seems to end up about what you’ve done to them.

  5. They’ll make it about the way you’re talking, rather than what you’re talking about.

    You might be trying to resolve an issue or get clarification and before you know it, the conversation/ argument has moved away from the issue that was important to you and on to the manner in which you talked about it – whether there is any issue with your manner or not. You’ll find yourself defending your tone, your gestures, your choice of words or the way your belly moves when you breathe – it doesn’t even need to make sense. Meanwhile, your initial need is well gone on the pile of unfinished conversations that seems to grow bigger by the day.

    [irp posts=”1762″ name=”When Someone You Love is Toxic: How to Let Go of Toxic People, Without Guilt”]

  6. They exaggerate.

    ‘You always …’ ‘You never …’ It’s hard to defend yourself against this form of manipulation. Toxic people have a way of drawing on the one time you didn’t or the one time you did as evidence of your shortcomings. Don’t buy into the argument. You won’t win. And you don’t need to.

  7. They are judgemental.

    We all get it wrong sometimes but toxic people will make sure you know it. They’ll judge you and take a swipe at your self-esteem suggesting that you’re less than because you made a mistake. We’re all allowed to get it wrong now and then, but unless we’ve done something that affects them nobody has the right to stand in judgement.

Knowing the favourite go-to’s for toxic people will sharpen your radar, making the manipulations easier to spot and easier to name. More importantly, if you know the characteristic signs of a toxic person, you’ll have a better chance of catching yourself before you tie yourself in double knots trying to please them.

Some people can’t be pleased and some people won’t be good for you – and many times that will have nothing to do with you. You can always say no to unnecessary crazy. Be confident and own your own faults, your quirks and the things that make you shine. You don’t need anyone’s approval but remember if someone is working hard to manipulate, it’s probably because they need yours. You don’t always have to give it but if you do, don’t let the cost be too high.

2,313 Comments

Toni T

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 4 years now. My mother is also dying of cancer and has maybe two weeks to live. So needless to say I am under a tremendous amount of stress, and my boyfriend and I fight all the time. He says it’s my fault because I started and I get back a barrage of insults and devastating comments the absolutely Tear to shreds. I’m the one that ends up apologizing and he tells me I’m the one that needs to show him that I wanna fix things. Yesterday I went to the store and when I came back he was very respondent and I asked him what the matter was. After a minute he informed me that he “accidentally” Recorded me having a very private conversation with my dying mother. I said some things that I felt about him venting I have no one to talk to you and my mom is my best friend so we discuss things about the future and things that I feel he does to me in our relationship. He told me he heard the entire conversation and he can never forgive me or get past the things that I said about him. I know the recording was not accidental but yet I am being punished for this I don’t know what to do if I’m wrong what to do. I’m at a loss and I am in desperate need of some good advice because I feel like I’m losing my mind right now. I do have a Behavioral as well as a mood disorder and I know that that contributes to a lot of our problems. But I’m absolutely at a loss because I can’t even be mad that he recorded me he says but I will definitely pay the price for what he heard.

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Jeffery

OMG I’m so sorry about what happened I don’t know what to do for you but I do know something that will help just remember the loved ones is always going to be their friend more than your boyfriend OMG I can’t believe this Your Mother start with cancer I don’t know what to say I will be praying for you guys every step of the way

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anon

It is not right that he recorded your private converstation with your mother. Plus you have a right to be with her and put her first. She needs your love and attention. He has to realise that he needs to be more understanding that you need to spend time with her. He is trying to use the recording as evidence to prove that you can’t share things with your mum. I would advise helping your mum as she needs your care and support, love and attention right now as she is the most important, who gave you life and raised you. You won’t be able to get those precious time back and you’ll regret it and feel worse. He has no right to make you feel that way. Either end the relationship but communicate the above, and/or make it clear that you need to dedicate your focus and engergies on her. This is your choice but please don’t waste her precious life wasting time fighting with him

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C F

I moved in with my friend and her cousin for college. I am an introvert that likes to stay in my room to read or watch videos. I know I need to learn to be more social. In the beginning we all got along until one day they had a problem with everything I did. Eg. Not liking avocados, or I wait until my dishes are dry on the rack before I put them away instead of drying them right away.
They made up lies to tell their parents that I am the aggressor and I am the one who yells at them and belittles them. Everyone who know me knows that I am very soft spoken even when I talk about things I am passionate about.
I mustered up my courage to have the difficult talk about why they are ignoring me or giving me dirty looks. They wrote a list of all my shortcomings and how I need to change in order for me to stay friends with them. Needless to say, I was floored. Not only did they nitpicked almost every insecurity I had about myself, they told me I need to stop acting like I was the victim. I even apologized for things I didn’t do, but I apologized anyway to try to make things better. They didn’t.
My mom saw one of them on FaceTime giving me the finger behind my back when she didn’t know she was on camera. My mom got mad and called her mom. Her mom admitted her daughter can be difficult but she won’t interfere because we are now considered adults. Her mom also told my mom that she also can’t talk to her daughter because her daughter told her she’s constantly studying during her free time. That is a lie, she’s always out partying.
I cannot live like this anymore. We have another 3 years of college and if I have to keep living with them, I will go insane. I am doing well in my classes despite all that is going on. They constantly get in trouble in class because they are loud and fooling around.
I found another place to live but I will be leaving my lease early and leaving them to have to come up with my portion of the rent. I was so excited to live with them and they couldn’t find a nice affordable apartment without me. My mom paid for all the furniture and she said she will sell it or return it all if I move out. My sister said I shouldn’t feel guilty or even tell them I’m leaving, but I still feel like I’m the bad guy. Should I leave and not tell them or should I give them a month’s notice so they can find another roommate? My friends think that they will try to make my life worse if they know I’m leaving.

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Terry

Wow…I had a toxic roommate once but you got the double-whammie with not one but two! I think if it were me not only would I not tell them I was moving out but I wouldn’t even wait it out another month. Look for a time when they’ll both be away, then get your furniture and other stuff out, leave a note and be gone when they get back. You could explain that you tried to make it work but they left you no choice but to do it this way.

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C F

Thank you Terry. My parents will be coming to help me move. It won’t matter if they are there or not while I move, they are scared of my parents, especially my dad. I decided not to tell them I’m moving out. I don’t want to live a month of sleeping with one eye opened!
They have now doubled down on their pettiness by not letting me use what her parents bought for the apartment. Eg. Salt and pepper. I don’t stoop down to their level by not letting them sit on the couch or watch the tv my mom bought. Those items will also be coming with me when I move. All utilities are in my name, including wifi. I will transfer those services to my new apartment too.
My mom told me they already made me a villain in their eyes, nothing I do or say will make them change their minds. It’s been 9 long months, they won’t change, and that their actions have consequences. My mom said her parents will need to step up after I move and possibly get them some psychiatric help because their behaviour is not normal, it’s darn right toxic. My mom’s word’s, not mine!
I thank god everyday I have my parents to talk to, especially my mom. Her nightly talks keep me from breaking down mentally. She should have been a therapist instead of a lawyer.

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Terry

Good for you…that is truly bizzare. I think it’s hilarious that you’re taking the wifi and tv with you (does that make me toxic?). In my own experience I think part (not all) of the issue was just getting out into a larger world and learning to deal with personalities I hadn’t encountered before, but it’s good that your parents are there to offer perspective and help you sort out what is and is not acceptable behavior. And you mom is right – they’re not going to change. You need to get out for your own mental health. It sounds as if your roommates are scared of your parents because they can’t pull their (ahem) crap with them.

Best wishes, and enjoy your new life! Hopefully in the future you’ll have some perspective of your own to draw from in dealing with more such people (whom you WILL meet at some point) and even help others to do so.

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Robin W

You don’t owe them any explanation other than good luck with your new housemate. I hope you find them easier to live with ! I know you won’t miss me ( draw a F@#% You picture lol)

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Teresa

This is my husband 100% except even worse and I am trying to pull myself off his roller coaster.

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Coco Chanel

It’s time to leave the relationship. She is taking you for granted. She has no respect for you or what you are feeling. Sometimes it will take walking away from an toxic or onesided relationship before a person realize what they lost.

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BarStool

Now I just need to rant and let off steam because woopdy dooo I’m pissed

My brother is an absolute jackass. I don’t think he is by any means Toxic, but he does share some pretty nasty qualities with people like this. He is really, really good at making anyone he does not, and for lack of a better term, “respect” feel like absolute crap. The dude won’t even let me speak when I want to talk to him, yet when he wants to talk to me, I’m all ears. Now I’m by no means a good person either. I am a very talkative and very annoying person which may stem from a personal need for attention which I am now starting to believe that I have. That being said, I still want to talk to my brother. And half the time it’s about things we both enjoy, like video games. Now I might take it too far, describing things in such detail that we can spend hours just talking about one thing, but that is just how I am. I like researching and want to tell people about what I have learned. I want to talk to a person who can keep up with me, or just listen. When I want to converse with him, he has some very popular phrases, some while greeting me. “Shut Up”, “I’m done with this conversation” “I don’t care” “why won’t you shut up” “be quiet” “This is why you don’t have friends” “this is why no one likes you”. Now while the last few eventually happen when we get in an argument, it still hurts to hear him say that. Again though, I am by no means better than him. I have also insulted him just as well, and oftentimes, it ends with us either getting into a tussle, or both of us walking away pissed. Still, I feel like I am not respected or loved by him. I feel he does not care, and while I don’t want to toot my own horn, I do care for him. Any one of my friends you can ask will tell you so. I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t want him treating me this way. I don’t want him to act like I am the scum of his earth. I don’t want to feel like I don’t have options anymore. I don’t want to be in situations where my anger gets the better of me and I hit him, and he retaliates. I want to be his brother and I want him to be my brother, but I don’t want to hate him. I might have issues that need solving, and I should probably talk to a therapist, but that is expensive, and this is easier. I just need someone to talk to. Really someone to talk to. I am not a good person, but I hate feeling like I am losing someone I love.

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Gabriella

This is my brother who we don’t get on whose abusive. I want absolutely zilch to do with him and his equally toxic money grabbing partner.

He’s very abusive and ticks all of the above. I have looked after my mother 16 years and when she had a heart attack and was poorly he asked me to transfer everything to him which I refused.

He then said the will was not valid it was as I was not there when it was signed and witnessed by two independent witnesses. He then pestered my mother to move in to his house to exclude me from the will and gain control whilst he and his partner moved to my mother’s house.

She refused and had heart failure at the time. My mother made a good recovery still early days thanks entirely to me and she’s seeing a new solicitor to make sure the will is watertight.

There were further incidences of not talking to my mother to make her choose which she won’t and withholding Granparents rights. He’s a nasty piece of work.

He is not getting a house I helped pay for and which I worked for as a carer. I won’t talk to him or send him a card now for his birthday or Christmas. He is judgmental saying I’m mentally ill but he has a history of violence and abusing women and anger management issues so take’s one to know one I suppose. I told him don’t abuse me. Toxic through and through. I will make sure my mother lives to be 90 plus when his health is declining rapidly.

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Ron

My partner has an anxiety disorder and is also control freak and perfectionist. Her last partner was a narcissist. I think that she is using his behaviors on me the last period. We aren’t living together. It is a long distance relationship.

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Janet

I started having feelings for a guy (I am in retail and wait on him daily) that comes in Monday thru Friday for a 12 pack of beer. He said he has to quit to save his marriage. Over and over said that. Than he said she is (wife) is tired of him. We started talking also on the phone and met in the park and than it got talking constantly at night. He got a burner phone so she could not find out he was talking to someone. We started having feelings He even said he could not sleep thinking of me constantly. He said there could never be an us because of his drinking I encouraged him to get help to save his marriage. He tried quitting on his own (cold turkey) and he could not do it and started drinking again. She ask him to leave. I know nothing after that. He comes in still but tells me nothing. Just he is doing him. So what do I say? should I just say hello and nothing else?

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Anonymous

Girl if he’ll do it to her. Then he’ll do it to you. You AREN’T his therapist. This is unhealthy & you know it. Don’t walk, run & don’t look back. You owe him NOTHING. Save your time for someone whose worth it & not a cheater.

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Anonymous

Yes he is broken, leave him alone because you can’t fix this and your feelings for a married man are toxic so work on your own boundaries before seeking attention from a married man. You need to realize that you participating in the deceptive tactics against his wife are toxic. You can’t help him because you aided in injuring his marriage. Marriage is sacred. Not fair game.

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Coco Chanel

I understand you like to help. However, any man that’s marry should not be with you period. You should cut off all communications with this guy. He is married, what are you looking for being attached to a married man and another woman’s husband? What does he has to offer you other than sex?

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RM

I’m in a 21 year relationship and we argue every day. I have always done everything that I thought would please him or make him happy . This has been so severe that even the color of my hair was done to his liking. I am a very well rounded person- very optimistic. I always say ,” I can dig in the dirt or go to the ball”. I have from day one done everything for him possible and he liked that until approx. 10 years into the relationship and then it became ,” you need to act like a lady & still expecting me to do all the things that a tomboy would do- man stuff. He cut me down for being ann by le to do the things he ask of me. Nothing I have done has ever been good enough or has made him love me as I love him. He married and was used and abused by his ex wife 3 times and he still loves her I believe . I am a good person , was raised with hood morals and values and know how to run a household and take care of my man . I feel that is why I’m still around because I feel like I’m a maid that puts out. Excuse that but it’s the truth. He never touched me or has anything to do with me physically unless he needs something! We are around each other all the time 24/7 mostly. But it’s always an argument because he is a very competitive person and I think he thinks I’m a challenge to him instead of his companion. So sad.

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Jarman

Leave him . The one who truly loves for that person your feelings should be important not his own sturbboness.
Good luck !

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Finally Free

It’s funny. Someone sent ONLY portions of this to me and called me toxic yesterday. I read it and was like OMG! It described to a T, the individual that sent it to me. So I googled it and read the rest. After 2 years I finally feel FREE. I struggled for so long to try and please him. To wait while he sorted his feelings and apologized for the horrible things he did. Instead he would just dig deeper holes and expect to “move on” without addressing problems, bringing up irrelevant issues and fighting over semantics and context. I often wondered if I was being a narcissist for giving up. Near the end I had started to get angry, yes resorted to name calling (after he did) and after being hurt repeatedly and then sucked back in again with sweetness…only to be hurt again. After reading this I see now that it hasn’t been my fault all along and not only am I NOT a narcissist, I am NOT the toxic one! Thank you for giving me hope and clarity. Thank you for helping me keep some semblance of SANITY. I really thought I was losing my mind for a bit.

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Sam

Similar story.
As soon as I TXT the number he gave me, he blew up my phone for days and wouldn’t stop calling and txting even while I was at work and without my phone which he knew.
He sent flowers to my work which made me really uncomfortable, as I had already asked that he remain a “customer” and not make a show of the relationship too soon because it would cause issues of comfort for me.
I discovered very quickly he was calculative, angry and really obsessive.

He convinced himself I was into my co-workers and forced me to quit my job because of it then insisted I open a duel bank account with him saying he was so wealthy ect, I said no.
He tried to buddy up with all my friends at work and boss, then said if I didnt quit my job to be dependant on him, he would tell my boss all my gripes with the job.
Right there, cant be trusted.
He told me i could talk to him about anything, tell him if i thought he was being an “asshole” but when i did confront him about anything he gaslit me, laughed in my face and repeatedly followed me from room to room screaming at me calling me names and making accusations and diversional throwbacks to other fights that had been resolved. He told me he would never pressure me for sex, he raped me twice.
He wouldn’t let me spend any of my own money but kept getting speeding fines and quitting jobs. He was so vindictive that instead of formally quitting one, he just parked the truck somewhere random and walked off leaving the keys in the ignition.
He ran out of money then started treating his closest like crap including me while maintaining a facade of wealth outside. He didn’t even actually own the forks in the draws.
I couldnt get out .. he kept stalking and harassing me and love bombing me only to repeat the same horrific BS again and again and now 2 years later I am primary custodial of our son with mounting evidence against him poised. I am so sick of this person. He forced me to have the baby (long story) and he kicked me out in the middle of the night in a dangeous town pregnant. I ended up alone in a homeless shelter with no support and gave birth alone during lockdown.
He has done so much awful stuff to me and still after the IVO and all to this day, he is horrible and lazy father who has all but abandoned our son who his nephew told me, he planned for, so that I wouldn’t leave because he was insecure.
All this in 3 months.

2 years later… He controls my life through use of his son. He is so bitter towards his son, he calls him “mummys boy” and tries to pick fights with em at every turn.
He’s scored a new girlfriend and lied about it for 6 months, if only she knew that this man is a rare kind of psychotic. He plans to knock her up then use their offspring as leverage against me as the primary care giver. He wont win, i still have the footage and all the messages to prove what he was and even though he apologised and begged for me back again and again, he still denies ever doing any of it to my face.

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Emma

Wow, I’m
So happy to read this, my husband of 15 years is all of the above, I left him
For 5 years he stalked and harrassed me the whole time, then stupidly he faked the niceness and I thought let’s try again because he was being the man I fell
In love with, only to be trapped in the cycle of mind games, belittling, confusion, doubting my own sanity, thoughts, feelings, perceptions. Being told that what I felt was wrong, what I believed was wrong, and telling me how I should really feel and believe?! He’d dig and dig and dig at me any opportunity he had to the point I stayed out of his way as much as I can in the bedroom, to be called lazy and none idle for being in my bedroom all day, I’d reach my limits and stand up for myself and my way is shouting because I’m at that level I can’t hold it in, to be told I’m a narcissist I’m toxic and I’m abusive! Along with telling others that know us the same and he was an abused victim!!! He is so clever and manipulative and I know what he’s doing but still he manages to avoid conversations and turn them about a wrong word said or something that happened last month to completely change the direction of the conversation to something we have gone over and over and over again so many times?! I’d end up having to give him a itemised list of what I bought from the shop with the £20 He left me? And then he’d tell me I was lying about what I spent it on!!! It is debilitating and the illness it brings on mentally and physically is monumental!!! And you end up feeling your the one in the wrong?!!!! He’s told me nobody would put up with my shit and he’s the only one who would have me?!!! When all I’ve done is try try and try?! He is a hoarder and the house is crammed with old junk, not just from him
But from customers houses, old boilers, lamp shades, cable, old plug sockets light switches he’s changed at customers house, old fuse boards and showers!!! So when I attempt to clear anything he goes ballistic and tells me I’m over stepping my boundaries! It’s horrendous!! Anyway new house coming up soon for me for my escape! Cos I wouldn’t wish that on anybody!

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Marti

I have a boyfriend but nobody but my closest friends believe me. I have been asked many times for photos of him to prove his existence but he wasn’t comfortable sending them and I respected that. I honestly felt like I was being peer pressured to send them. I decided to find a picture online to send to that person and they sent it round to everyone and people didn’t believe me so they started to look online for a matching picture. After I realised they were doing that I told them I sent a fake picture because I knew it would be sent round and he didn’t feel comfortable with that, they ignored me and started spreading rumours. My once best friend, was sat behind me in a lesson and I could hear their conversation loud and clear. She was saying things like “I was never HER best friend!” And when one of my friends asked her, “why did you say that she was your best friend and always hang out with her?” She replied, “I’m just an amazing actor.”
I felt really hurt by this but I didn’t say owt because I knew that my ex best friend and one of the most toxic person in our year weren’t going to let this go. I tried telling them but they just don’t listen. I really don’t know what to do now.

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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