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 you 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.

1,989 Comments

Aure

My current boyfriend of 6 years has all the characteristics mentioned above. I don’t know what to do anymore. Sucks to let someone into your life like this.
I have tried so hard to grow over time and stopped some hurtful behaviors cause that’s not good for either of us or the relationship, but I feel like he never learns.
This guy had the audacity to say “it’s either your university or me” at some point (to wich I ofc chose uni) and then he came back saying he didn’t want to make me choose but it was on me for not paying attention to him (yeah, I know, it’s on me for staying with him).
Point is, as soon as you see the first sign, run. It’s hard to get away from something like that when years pass.

Reply
Star

I have a male friend since 5 years , who is sometimes very nice, helps me most of the time i ask, but he never msgs me first. I am always the first one to msg even if 6 months pass by. Sometimes doesn’t reply to my msgs. He says i am really special to him, whenever we talk over phone once a while, but i do feel a lot anxious why is it he never msg first. I have talked about this issue and he says he is committed to too much work. Should i just leave the relationship and move on or carry on the same way. I dont understand what exactly is in his mind.

Reply
Şule

just move on. he is not the only one working in the world. you also may be busy in your life but you still find time to talk to him. so forget it. it seems like you are the carrier of the ship. it doesn’t matter anymore.

Reply
Serena

Hi, I have been looking for a blog/place to share my thought about how I feel. I have been engaged for 3 years now and the family of my partner doesnt seem to appreaciate me. Their presence causes me a lot of anxiety, i really avoid seeing them. His father is very condescendant and his mother very vulnerable and under her husband commands. They do not share the same values as me and my partner but they are still his parents. They are very cold with me and very passive aggressive. Sometimes the husband is aggressive to my partner’s wife in front of us… and no one adresses the elephant in the room. me and my partner have a healthy relationship and the only cause of conflits is: his parents/family (just adressing the topic can cause a conflit between us). I can’t stand them and refuse to deal with them… recently blocked them all off facebook because they would comment posts where I would talk my partner for an inside joke by stating that we have too expensive taste for example, or non-reasonable choices etc.) sorry i needed to vent.. it is very sad… we are both 2 professionals and have a good “status” let’s call it this way.. and I feel his parents thing im worth nothing for my partner. I need advice on to how not get affected by them.. sometimes just when I see that my partner is texting his parents I have anxiety… i just want to be able to live without acknowlodging them…

Reply
Scott

I myself have put up and try to make something out of the relationship I have had with a girl. At first I saw myself through her and I wanted to change and become better. Firstly I would use words or actions same as her but when I saw her doing the same, this Brought light to myself. Over time the relation hung on only cause I hoped that one day she would to make a change. This past year she lost her apartment and I allowed her to move in despite my reservations. During covid we spent a lot of time but she was starting to take more and more and didn’t contribute to the household. Everything became my fault, all bills was on me and she was always broke. Turns out she was abusing drugs and this past week everything has come to the end. I am sadden but happy to move on and not live like this , oh I never ever got a birthday gift or holiday gift from her. My word of advice is to stay far away from people like this. I kinda knew what she was about but I thought I was the one to help her become a better person. This is where I went wrong!!

Reply
Aloise

So i have been making more time for myself in my relationship and my boyfriend is upset, his exact words were “you decide to change your routine for some reason, you don’t speak to me about it so now i have decide not to let it bother me anymore…you do you hun”, mind you i have been telling him that i dont see how spending four hours after work watching him work is productive. so i just go home and exercise or nap, or spend time with my family… i know i should know but i dont know if he is right for me, more than once i feel like he manipulates, plays the victim. i need help

Reply
ethan

same tho I have a group of friends and one of them is kinda rude and toxic and yea just u know but yea they are rude

Reply
Evan B

(all of this is complicated, so please bare with me):

My best friend of nearly 6 years, and I are both recovering from a mistake I made LAST YEAR. (Not yet a year ago, but pretty close). Last year, I got a boyfriend (I am gay), and ditched my best friend for my boyfriend. I would make plans with my best friend and cancel or even just plainly forget about those plans. I started dating my ex boyfriend December of 2019 into 2020. I made plans with my best friend way back November 2019 to spend New Years together, but I forgot and ended up spending $200 for a romantic plan for my ex and ditched my best friend New Years. I did a lot of things that I am not proud of, but eventually I began to attempt to fix my mistakes and make a mends.

It has been over a year, my ex and I broke up, my best friend and I moved out of my parents house and are living with her mother in a different state. We made a new life with new friends together at the same job and everything. For the past year I have made a commitment to proving myself worthy of her trust again and fixing our relationship. She almost cut me out of her life while I was with my ex, multiple times, and I don’t blame her.

The issue at hand is, I’ve tried to fix everything, and I’ve tried proving myself trustworthy. But I have yet to date again since that incident. And that is the thing, I do change how I act and who I am when I am in a relationship, usually… but I know for a fact, since everything that happened, I would not change myself again and I would have my priorities straight if I began to date again.

Both my best friend and I are worried about me dating again, and truth be told, while my best friend said she’d be happy for me if I did start dating, she’s not ready to trust me being in a relationship yet, and she also said that she’d never let me change anything to suit her wants and needs, because she isn’t toxic in that way, but she has said that she, deep down, doesn’t want me dating… but only because she’s afraid to lose me again.

Two – three weeks ago, I started talking to someone (not to date, originally just to meet a new friend, but I ended up liking them) and I was extremely afraid to tell my best friend about them because I wouldn’t know how they’d react, and I was afraid of me losing everything that I had tried to fix because of me talking to someone. So, she had a feeling that I was talking to someone, and asked me about it, and I was so scared of her reaction, that I lied to her face for a whole week, saying I wasn’t talking to anyone… she found out, I forget how, but she did, and she was angry with me and extremely hurt, because that’s actually how I began dating my ex as well. I hid stuff from her back in December as well… and there were a lot of similarities between December and this past recent time. We argued, and this didn’t help my redemption plan… I was eventually going to tell her, but it didn’t help me in the long run. I ended up breaking things apart between me and this new guy because if I was going to date, I was going to go by doing it the right way… now, I am currently single still, for over a year.

Recently, some feelings have been brought up and realized that she’d hadn’t realized before, and now we are awkward when around each other… again. We are slowly getting out of that awkwardness. But she had told me (after asking myself) if I was on thin ice with her still from December, and she said yes, and that in the odd chance I start dating again, she is preparing herself to cut me out of her life…

To hear those words come from her mouth, it hurt me more than most things in my life have ever hurt me. I’d never admit that to her, but it did. I understand why she feels that way too. But the thing is, is that, if that is how she feels, then I don’t know why I am even still apart of her life in the first place. I want to be apart of her life, but if that is how she feels, then she really doesn’t seem to think we are even remotely close to being best friends anymore, let alone the siblings that we call each other. That also means that the hard work that I have been working on in the past year for redeeming myself, didn’t mean a single thing. It was pointless.

I had asked her at the end of that argument, that if I started dating again and was able to prove that I can be trusted and that I know my priorities and all that, then would that help us become stronger again. She said it was possible, but in order to prove to her that she can trust me, she needed to open up a little trust to me, which she doesn’t want to, nor is ready to do.

So until she is ready, I don’t feel like I can start dating… and I told her that, she told me in reply that I can start dating, but she can’t promise me that she’d be able to start trusting me enough for me to prove anything yet because she’s not ready to. She said “I’d force her hand” to trust me a little, which didn’t sound reassuring.

I know she means well, but I am really bothered and hurt by all of this. Some information on my best friend:

She is dating my other best friend, who I also work with. He is great. Both of them together are a power couple. She’s happy as can be with him, and because of her lack of trust in me, she is also happier with him (which is understandable because you’re naturally going to be happier with someone new because it is exciting.. fine.) I’d be a hypocrite for not understanding that. But, they are happy together, she doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with him, me, or her mother, and has little to no time to herself, so splitting time evenly is difficult. Well, we were suppose to hangout just her and I this past Saturday, which didn’t happen. We just spent the entire day in separate rooms of the house. But, usually the three of us are hanging out, or it is just me and my guy-friend, or it is my guy-friend and my best friend.

When it is the three of us (almost all of the time) it hurts me to be around them because my best friend never did anything wrong to me to make me hate her being with someone, but here I am feeling hurt because she’s able to have a perfect relationship and I am here feeling so guilty from December that even with her full trust and happiness, I wouldn’t be able to date again because I’d have PTSD from it. (I have undiagnosed ptsd, but I have diagnosed anxiety and bipolar depression). Anyway, so I am hurting because I really want to date, and I want my best friend and I to finally be in a great place and for us to be on the same mental page of our friendship status together. Neither of which seems possible anymore. And I am breaking so bad, and the only person that I know i can talk to, is the problem… so I feel stuck. I can’t talk to anyone, nobody can help me, nobody will help me, even online… and I don’t really know what to do.

I’d never cut her out of my life. EVER. I don’t care how bad things get between us, I’d never actually leave her. But she would. Everyone would leave me, they always have.

I just want to date someone and feel that romantic love that everyone around me gets to feel. My co-workers, my only two friends, my best friend’s mother, everyone I know is in a relationship… and it hurts knowing that it is going to be impossible to date again without being in a worse, untrusting place with my best friend… and it hurts so bad I’ve actually been suicidal a lot more frequently than normal.

Part of me finds it fair, because I hurt her so bad with my ex… (I have left a few things out to keep the story shorter than it could be) but even to my standard they were such bad things, I hate myself for it every day. — But another part of me also finds it unfair because, while I am really happy with my best friend and everyone I have, and i am extremely grateful to have them in my life (which was one of the problems with my ex), I really want the love and affection that everyone else gets to have with their romantic partner… its not like I’d have that kind of affection with a friend or best friend, that is just weird… and… well, nuff said… but you get what I mean… It hurts a lot. A lot more than I have opened myself up to feeling and thinking about. I don’t know what to do… I need to talk to someone about it, and I need advice… I’ve asked my best friend and her mother and just about everyone I know what I can do… and none of their answers were remotely helpful because it just contradicted what everyone else said and the truth of the matter is… I don’t think there IS any coming back from December’s mistake…

Reply
Molly H

My husband has been watching porn lately and has been doing it for months hiding it and lying about it. I finally had a talk with him about it or tried to atleast and he kept lying acting confused as if he didn’t know what I was talking about when I had the evidence right in front of me. He made it seem like I was lying to him. Then after lying over and over he said ok maybe a long time ago I watched porn then more and more lies then it got down to maybe last week then maybe two weeks ago. Anyways I don’t even know anymore I can’t trust him. Then I told him to leave because he didn’t seem to even care. And he kept saying he told me the truth when he did not he lied to me. Not once but over and over. And the thing is I was gonna try and help him with his addiction or whatever I wasn’t yelling or being rude. He was and making me feel worthless like I couldn’t do nothing. Anyways back to my point he then started to change the subject bringing up something I had done, nothing to do with porn or anything sexual, just something that happened in our apartment. So then I was like we are talking about you and your porn. And he was all like well what about you? You do stuff too why are the fingers always pointed at me?? Let me put it this way I am so loyal to my husband I’ve done everything he’s asked of me without question. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Is this him being toxic and how can I somehow tell him how he’s being towards me. Because he just doesn’t seem to care and is trying to point fingers at me now.

Reply
Meg

I grew up with both parents being physically and mentally unstable, this wasn’t “toxic”. My parents did the very best they could but also displayed ALL of these characteristics, I had to attempt to navigate this with little to no help, support or resources and found very quickly this was impossible on my own. I now engage in these familiar behaviours and a huge part of that is my BPD, I experienced A LOT of trauma, I couldn’t register how to treat people in all of that and as a twenty five year old I still struggle to find and keep jobs and maintain relationships. This is a negative and maybe “toxic” cycle, but it’s the only thing I know and I’m getting all the professional help I can but I still feel like everyday is a uphill battle. It’s been 11 years of talking therapy and I still feel worthless! But I WILL keep trying to change my mindset but things like this make me think not only am I wrong for being and thinking the way I do (which although very true), makes my recovery so much harder, I know my parents didn’t set out in life to hurt anyone, they just didn’t know any better after all of there traumas, and neither do I, but please don’t label us as toxic. We’re just living with invisible illnesses. I hope anyone that relates to this is ok.. We are not bad people trying to be good, we are sick people trying to get better.

Reply
Sesaya

So i was in this one relationship just the other day but i left him. He stopped talking to me all of a sudden because i stopped showing him my body, he said that he was always busy with video games and Anime, but i think he was mad that i stopped showing him my body. I believe that it was toxic, but i´m not quit sure, could you help me clarify?

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
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

Pin It on Pinterest