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.



I am not sure if this thread is still live, but if so I would welcome your advice.
I have been married for 2.5 years. Everyone told me not to marry him, but I absolutely feel head over heels in love and think I became obsessed with him. I had been married before, for 12 years, and it was a completely loveless marriage. I had a terrible mental breakdown as a result of my first marriage and during my legal separation from my first husband, this new man came into my life and wooed me and we were married 9 months later. When I met my current husband, who was charming and fun to be with, I fell hook line and sinker. The excitement of being in love and of feeling loved made my panic attacks and depression subside. In the early days while we were dating, he was amazing to me. He told me how much he loved me all the time, bought me flowers and made me feel like a princess. I paid off some of his debts and gave him a nice lifestyle – he came from nothing. This was not a problem to me as I am a giving person and loved seeing him so happy. However, we then started a business which sent pop and since then our marriage has been extremely stressful – we’ve had financial problems and ongoing problems with my family’s rejection of him. However I have kept going – despite him often being angry and secretive. Then, four weeks ago, he sent me a text blaming me for things I hadn’t done and said he was leaving. He gave me no opportunity for 4 days to speak to him and I nearly went out of my mind. He then answered the phone and told me he had needed space to clear his head. He has left me with all the bills and whilst I know which county he’s in, I’m not allowed to know his exact address. He met up with me two weeks ago, after I begged. It was a lovely weekend. But he made it clear he still needed time on his own. He called me Friday saying he wanted to take me away soon and had a surprise planned and that he wanted to see me this weekend. Then, yesterday, a few hours before we were to meet, he sent a horrid text blaming me again for things I haven’t done which he has misunderstood. I called and texted frantically, begging him to speak to me so I could explain myself. He just texted back saying he wouldn’t meet me. I’ve been in bits all weekend. Crying, unable to eat and having horrendous panic attacks. He is completely ignoring me now. I am in bits and don’t know what to do. I am living hour by hour. I would love your advice.

Hey Sigmund

Alice, this is an awful thing for you to be going through. In any relationship, both people need to be accountable to each other with their whereabouts and what they are doing (unless there is domestic violence involved of course). For one person to trust another, each needs to act in a trustworthy way. This isn’t happening for you, which is a betrayal of you and your relationship. ‘Needing space’ is absolutely no reason to disappear and go offline. It’s excruciating for the one left behind and anyone who has been in your situation would know how frightening and confusing it is not to know where the person you love is, whether they are safe and what it all means for your relationship. It’s a cruel thing to do. It’s okay to take space the relationship, but this needs to be done on terms that are acceptable to both. Your husband is controlling the relationship and showing no thought or concern for you. There are so many things that could be going on for him, so it’s impossible to say what is motivating his behaviour. It may be that he is at his wit’s end and desperate to figure things out, but there are other ways to do that than disappearing for days on end. As well as that, he has blamed you for what he is doing without giving you a right of response.

First of all, you need to deal with the practical things. If he has left you with bills, and if there is a chance he will be ending the relationship and not coming back, you need to secure your finances. Make sure that the money in any joint accounts or lines of credit are secure so he isn’t able to drain them and leave you with nothing. This is important.

Next, stop trying to contact him. He knows where you are and how to contact you and every time you try, it is hurting you more. Take back your ground and your strength and decide that he is not going to determine how this relationship plays out. Leave a message that you love him and that at the moment you are prepared to listen, but that you are going to start protecting yourself. Let him know that he is damaging the fibre of your relationship and hurting you and that you aren’t going to keep leaving yourself open to this. When he is ready to sit down with you and talk, let him know you are open to this, but in the meantime, make the decision that you want more from him than he is giving you.

He also needs to provide you an explanation of what he has been doing and where he has been staying. He needs to understand that this isn’t a free pass to do whatever he wants. If he isn’t prepared to do this, and if he is prepared to keep hurting you like this, what is in this relationship for you? One of the most hurtful things you can do is to keep hanging on to something that is trying to let go of you. You deserve better than this. I know at the moment you are heartbroken, of course you are, but you are strong and brave and wonderful and you deserve to feel loved. Whatever is going on for your husband, nothing can excuse or explain the hurt he is inflicting on you. Be open to him coming and talking to you and wanting to resurrect things if you want to, but let that be on your terms, starting with a time limit and an explanation of what is happening and that he stops playing this game – and it is a game – of hide and seek. It’s cruel and disrespectful and you deserve so much more than that. I wish you all the very best. Love and strength to you. You will get through this.


Forgive and forget
He is a toxic man. If it wasn’t you it would be someone else. Move on and cut your losses. Life is too short to be sorrow.There are plenty of fish in the sea.


It’s easier said than done but is very good advice he just keeps me hanging on and keep me hanging on a thread and I hope that he’ll come see me and tell me explain where he’s been and what he’s been doing and why he left but he never does what he says it’s been a year now and he still lies and says he’s coming and going to meet me somewhere and every time he never does it’s time I move on and forget what was or what I thought was was He wasn’t what I thought he was and it’s time I did that to myself to God into my into my heart thank you for your advise


For the love and God, please leave him. He sounds toxic af. He wants you to chase after him. Just leave him. You will thank me later.


Alice, you need to get into some counseling and find yourself. You need to know how to read the signs of a person who is not right for you. AND, you need to love yourself enough to realize that falling head over heels in love does not always make for a good relationship.


I don’t know much about being in a relationship with someone else, but I do know that if someone is blaming you for things you didn’t do, they are not the right person for you. Especially, if they blame you repeatedly, even though you told them you didn’t do it.


My cousin brother always hurt me ,I never had a brother and that’s why I love him most as a sister,I always want a brother .He is 16 years old but act like with me that he is older than me btw I am 20 yrs old.He always mock ,I know that’s what other siblings do but I still get hurt because he used my insecurities in every topic.I tried to ignore sometimes but it looks like this is not a way for escaping.Whenever I tried to talk him ,he sound rude at everytime.
He talk to me in two ways
1.He make fun of me , always drag my parents in every conversation ,use my insecurities and try to drag those topics which I dislike.
2.He will stay silent and if I try to talk him then he will reply back angrly.
In both condition i founded him as a rude person
But I am also the person who forgive him easily whatever he do because I love him .
But sometimes he crossed all limits.
I don’t know how to deal with this because now I can’t endure rudeness anymore


I’m a 59 year old man and have been thinking king it’s me going crazy after 6 years of my wife doing all of these things to me regularly. I’ve just found this, and it’s finally opened my eyes.
We are both married for the second time, and our relationship was perfect and awesome for the first 6 years, and then in the space of a month she changed and became toxic. People at the time suggested the menopause, but for 6 long years? Really? I told my doctor about her but she needs to voluntarily admit to the problem first.
And 18 months ago her elderly mother moved in with us, which is totally fine with me. She treats her mother the same as she treats me!!! Toxic!! She has her mother in tears very often.
I’m sure my marriage needs to end.


I’m in a toxic relationship myself. I met him after being in a physical and mental abusive relationship. At first I thought finally a normal relationship, but it didnt take long to see the red flags that I chose to ignore because I wanted to be loved so badly! I over looked his outburst of anger and awful names he called me because at first he would apologize. now he rarely apologizes, he says my actions cause him to react like that. He calls me a manipulator and mindfuck and truth be told everything he says I’m doing is what he does. He tells me I’m crazy, that no man would of been with me this long, calls me disgusting names , doesn’t let me speak he screams at me his vile words hangs up the phone and then randomly sends me texts that he is done unless I change and wake the fuck up! Now I must tell u I been in therapy before I met this man and I talk to my therapist about my role in this relationship . I try to see my flaws and always want to become a better person but nothing I do or change is ever good enough for this man. He disappears at night for hrs not responding to texts because now it’s our only form of communication because it’s the only way I can talk without him cutting me off. I clearly know this is toxic , full of gaslighting and mental abuse. I have lacked self esteem and confidence because of abuse . I’m just trying to work through this and regain who I am and be strong enough and love myself enough to walk away for good and never look back again . Anyone with advice or good self help books I would be so grateful on suggestions.


Barb, you stated that you are in therapy. What does your therapist say?
I’m not a therapist but I’m sure that you have very low self esteem, are likely depressed and that the likelihood is that the root of your behavior has something to do with your childhood.
You don’t deserve to be treated like this. If you’re financially able, get out before he grinds you into the dirt any more. Don’t give him that satisfaction, he isn’t worthy of satisfaction or of you!
You seem to be a kind, loving woman who needs more therapy (possibly a new therapist) to learn how to seek out, focus on, satisfy and love yourself before you seek out a great mate. 🤗💪


Barb, if you’re out there I feel your pain. I’m a man and have very similar problems with my wife. For 6 years I’ve thought it was me going mad until I discovered this thread. And I’ve had therapy too, when my first marriage ended 24 years ago. That therapy back then taught me how to deal with stuff ever since.
However, it doesn’t help very much when I know that there’s nothing left for me to do to try and fix this current mess.
I need to walk away, or she does. The idea of me walking away from the farm that I bought with my inheritance from my mum, and spent years and thousands fixing up is killing me though.
And she’s so nice to other people that nobody would ever believe me. I have nobody to share my pain with.


You just described my own relationship that I’ve had for the past 7 years!!! Pretty much word for word when I describe the issues in my relationship!! Kind of scary but he does everything your partner does and did. I’m stuck in this! It’s the end of our relationship and I’m working on getting out, moving out but then also expecting. Just a shit show basically!! I recently started looking into counseling as well and someone to talk to.


Thank you for this – just this morning I had an encounter with my mother, who is a toxic person. We live 15 miles apart, which I know isn’t much, but she expects me to constantly drop my life and drive back and forth to her to sort out things for her I don’t need to be involved in. When I tell her no (which happened this morning) she guilts me and makes me feel like a bad person.

It’s just tough because I love her very, very much and I hate when this happens. I very much just want to make her happy and be a good daughter. And she knows how to make me feel bad or what to say to get me to do what she wants. I wish we had a better relationship. I hate feeling like i’m the bad person even though I know i’m not.

I could definitely identify with this article and will remember it for the next time this happens with her. I’ll try to be stronger. So, thank you for this.

Hey Sigmund

It’s so difficult when the person who is hurting you is a parent. Know that you are NOT a bad person. You sound like someone who is loving and kind and with a generous heart. I wish she could see how fortunate she was to have you as her daughter. The way your mother treats you is about who she is, not about who you are. Keep the article close to you as a reminder. Who you are is more than enough – so much more than enough – and you don’t have to be anything else.

Tracy M.

I have a very toxic mother that I believe has a personality or mental disorder of some kind. She’s very tiring and hard to be around, my anxiety soars when I am and for days after I have to try and calm down. Then when not hearing from me for a couple days because of it, I get the “Are you ok? Did I make you mad? What did I do?” email. I believe she knows what she’s done and loves doing it but of course, if confronted, will play the victim. I’ve dealt with her all my life. I don’t think I can anymore, she has worn me out mentally. She has made me into a person that has low self esteem and confidence and I hate her for it. But of course she does no wrong. It would be all my fault. She’s perfect.

Hey Sigmund

Tracy, this is really typical toxic behaviour. It’s so difficult when it is from a mother who is meant to love you. It’s also difficult because when it is from someone you should be able to trust, it’s easy to be drawn into believing the behaviour, and that you deserve to feel the way you do. You don’t deserve this. You deserve so much more than this and I completely understand why you are exhausted. See her behaviour for what it is – a sign of her dysfunction, NOT yours. I hope you are able to open up to this and find a way to reclaim your self esteem and confidence and see yourself for the woman you are, deserving of love and respect. You deserve that, you really do.


Thank you so much for this article! It has been so enlightening. I’ve realized things about myself and others and can’t thank you enough for it!


What do you do if you love a toxic person? I’m a (former) people pleasure and the second I got a life of my own, starting living my dream my toxic friend went off on me and brought up yeaaaars of complaints about me. I did everything for her, was always there for her minus the past 6 months where I was there for her still, I just had healthier boundaries. Your article makes me feel more sane I’m clear the relationship is/was unhealthy. When I think of her I feel sick to my stomach but I still miss her and love her dearly. What to do? Also. I am so afraid of running into her and her husband and them inviting me to dinner like nothing happened. Now that I’m on the other side of the abuse I don’t want to get involved. How can be decline without causing a scene but not lying. And saying ” sure!” And never making a date. I desperately need insight the ants I feel around this is affecting every aspect of my life.

Hey Sigmund

You might love a toxic person, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Also, if the relationship has been this hurtful for you, are you in love with the person, or the idea of loving her? Remind yourself of the things in the relationship that were bad for you and let go. If she is married to someone else and she has had the effect on you that she has had, there is nothing good for you there. If you don’t want to get involved, then don’t. Calmly and politely decline. You don’t have to step up to everything you’re called to. ‘Thanks, that’s really nice of of you but I think it’s best if we leave things as they are.’ If your ‘no’ is met with a scene, walk away or hang up the phone. It is part of the manipulation and the attempt to control you. Just walk away. There is nothing for you there. I understand that you love her, but you have to love yourself more and that means deciding not to expose yourself something you know will hurt you. Be strong and be kind to yourself.


I just recently began dating this guy who seem to be really nice. We were a month and a half into a relationship when he contacted me via e-mail about a special gala event. He said he had purchased tickets for the event that was scheduled for both Friday and Saturday and invited me to attend both days. I was not feeling well because of an acute eye irritation, so I could not read the attached information about the dates, times, and other event information. Therefore, I replied to his e-mail informing him that I was not well, but would take the next day off in order to rest up and read the attached information and get back with him on that same day. I followed through with my promise, letting him know that I would not attend Friday but Saturday’s event only. However, he immediately sent me an e-mail saying HE would attend the gala event on Friday, but WE would not attend the Saturday event together because he had given away the tickets. He said when I stated I was not feeling well, he thought I was not interested thus gave the tickets away. Then he said, “I feel you are being gracious, but, I am impeding upon your time. If that be the case, I am a big boy and will back off.” I was confused with his actions and texted him. He said he was with family and would get back with me, but never did. Then I attempted to contact him via phone call, but he would not answer. I just keep wondering over and over what did I do wrong? Why did he assume that I wasn’t planning to attend the event? Why did he go offline?

Hey Sigmund

He has told you why he has pulled away from you, ‘I feel you are being gracious … I am impeding on your time … I… will back off.’ He has taken your response to him as a gentle brush off. He bought tickets and was probably excited, thinking he was doing something special for you. Rightly or wrongly, he was probably expecting you to feel the same. Your response may have sounded to him like a brush off. It’s impossible to say exactly how he felt about your initial email, but he may have been confused about why you weren’t excited or appreciative (and I’m not suggesting you should have necessarily done anything differently – I don’t know enough of the details to comment). I don’t know, but the message that is coming through very clearly in his response to you is that he felt as though you weren’t that into him. It was only a month and a half and it sounds as though he may have misread you, but was reluctant to put himself out there for clarification at the risk of being hurt.


Thank you for your reply and your insight. Yes, he definitely misread me and I actually sent an e-mail to him apologizing for any confusion and explaining to him that he was not imposing upon my time and that I enjoyed being with him. However, he never replied. I felt as if he should have contacted me before giving the tickets away instead of assuming that I was not interested. He describes himself as one who “wears his feelings on his sleeves”, but I am not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing. So for future reference, is it good to date a guy who wears his feelings on his sleeve, or can that be a sign for toxic behavior? Also, when someone does not return phone calls or texts, although they say they will, is that a sign of toxic behavior as well? I actually prepared for the gala so, I do not want to go through something like this again if it is toxic behavior. Thanks for your advice.

Hey Sigmund

Yes, I agree – he should have contacted you before he gave away the tickets. You did deserve a response.

About your question, it depends what he means by being someone who ‘wears his feelings on his sleeves’. For me, it means someone who is open and generous and responsive. I love people like that. You never have to guess what they are feeling, they are often communicative and responsive and emotionally giving. That’s how I interpret that phrase, so it’s definitely not a sign of toxic behaviour. In this instance, wearing his heart on his sleeves isn’t the problem and if he had done that, you would know what he was feeling because he would have told you. The problem is not that he felt what he felt, but that he ignored you and wasn’t prepared to have the conversation. He may be someone who runs from conflict or difficult feelings, or who is scared of being hurt and so finds it easier to walk away – I don’t know, it’s impossible to say what was motivating his behaviour. None of this is necessarily toxic, but he has shown you that he is not prepared to engage on difficult issues which can be problematic for a future relationship. Of course, you can work on this but it has to be something you work on together.

Similarly, with not returning phone calls, texts etc. This isn’t necessarily toxic but if it’s used consistently to control you, the relationship, avoid accountability or keep you guessing it can be a problem. The other clue is the way people when you let them know they are doing something that is hurting you. If they are prepared to listen to you and work on the issue that’s a great thing, but if they know how much it hurts you and they keep doing it anyway, you would have to wonder what they are getting out of that. It also depends on when you’re sending texts and how many. Sometimes it’s just not possible to return phone calls and texts. It really depends on context and intention.

Toxic behaviour is anything done by someone that has the potential to contaminate the way you feel about yourself or the way you see yourself. It is behaviour that is controlling, manipulative, judgemental. We have a responsibility to make sure that we protect ourselves from that sort of behaviour by walking away when we can, but it’s not always possible to walk away from relationships.

I wouldn’t call this man toxic just from what you have said, but it would be very difficult to have a relationship with someone who won’t talk to when he is hurt and deals with disappointment through avoidance. I hope this clears things up a little. If he isn’t prepared to engage with you on difficult issues, he may have done you a favour by walking away.


I am in my 60s and when I was 60 years old I met a gentleman three years older than me in the cafeteria of the school and we started having lunch there once a week and he was very gentlemanly and very charming and eventually he invited me to his families home for the holidays at Christmas time and then we started sort of a relationship but he started to change and gradually started to act very standoffish to me all the time. He acts very standoffish and serious and almost I would call it more roasts. He acts very unpleasant. he started little by little moving things into my apartment without telling me and before you know it he is here most of the week and when I have told him to just stay at his own place and we can get together maybe once every week or two he does not want to do this. And he tries to blame me for his attitude

Lessons Learned

It’s taken 36 years to take me from the determined, self assured person who never wavered on values, morals or principles, confident in recalling conversations almost to a tee; to a person who was unsure on when my own birthday really was, even if I had the certificate in front of me; to suffering cronic pain for about 2-3 years and finally being at the end of my rope one day and typing this question into the Google search engin “Is Everythng My Fault” and within the first few hits was the answer “No, It Is Not All Your Fault” you are living with someone who has a personality disorder!
That was 3-4 years ago and I am still trying to plan my way out and every day reminding myself where I’ve come from, been and am headed.
I started sleeping in my little ones room last October and have now moved her and I to a upstaires bedroom. I have had a difficult time trying to unprogram the toxic reasoning in her mind only using examples of how others act and treat us as well as theire families at theire home or out in public to show that everyone should be treated with respect, fairness and kindness.
I take every opportunity to tell her if ever she is unsure that I am telling her the right things then she should go to one of the adults she trust at school and ask them what the right thing would be to do in that particular situation. Example (is watching tv, eating junk and ignoring your mother something they would do or encourage theire kids to do.
I’ve also had to bring it to her attention that if everyone in the house says God Bless You when you sneeze then they should also say God Bless You if Mommy sneezes.
The best advice I can give anyone dealing with this type of situation is under no circumstance do you ever Engage no matter what kind of bait they use, walk away don’t respond or reply.
If your responsible for anyone else make sure it’s clear you are not ignoring or being rude to the other person you are only exercising your right to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness and you will not allow someone to treat you in any other manner.
Do onto others as you would have them do unto you!

Hey Sigmund

Yes this is great advice – ‘Don’t engage’. Toxic people will deliberately misquote you, take your words out of context, lie and twist your words to prove their point. You will never be able to bring compassion and understanding to someone who is only interested in being right. I’m so pleased you have the insight you have on this and hope you are able to keep moving forward. Thank you for sharing your story.


Everything in this article explains my ex perfectly. We have a child together which makes it even harder. I’ve always been convinced he has some sort of personality disorder along with being toxic and verbally and emotionally abusive. Trying to deal with someone like this is beyond difficult. He even blamed a marriage counselor for being on my side when we tried counseling. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that trying to be “friendly” with him for our son’s sake just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, I have had to make it almost like a business relationship. I sincerely hope these traits are not passed on to my son, he is only 3 and I already see some of the effects of his father’s behavior. This was nice to read and have some re-assurance that I’m not the crazy one!! Thank you.

Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Jessica. When the toxic person is an ex and the parent of your child, it makes things beyond difficult. You are certainly NOT the crazy one! The most important thing with your son is to let him see the better way to do things by watching you. All kids go through stages where they’re really difficult and testing the limits, but if you’re clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay, nurture the connection with your son, and model compassion, empathy and emotional responsibility, you will be able to push against the things your son might be seeing in his father. Keep doing what you’re doing – it sounds as though you’re dealing with the relationship really well.


I don’t agree with #7. I rather not reply to texts or fb messages because the relationship with my toxic person is they will always wait till they are gone to work and will start fights through text. It’s bad enough that my phone will blow up all night because their continuing to fight me through text,I don’t want to add kindling to the fire. I know avoidance isn’t what I should do but if it affords me a little peace,being that I know I sure won’t get any sleep over the attacks and my constant state of evaluating who I am and mind talk of not being good enough.

Hey Sigmund

You are doing the right thing by avoiding the thing that the toxic person uses to draw you into the argument. It’s important to do what is right for you and your circumstances and if texts or Facebook messages are the hook that are being used to gain leverage over you or to manipulate you in any way, then you are absolutely right in avoiding them.


Hey, I have been meaning to leave this particular person for good but everytime he seemed to agree for breakup, he ended up threatening me. What should i do?

Hey Sigmund

Melz, this is a form of abuse and it’s really important that you get support, information and the resources to help you leave safely. I’m not sure what country you’re in, but find a domestic violence organisation near you, or in the country you are living in and they will be able to help you. If you are in Australia try, in the UK try, and in the US try Hopefully one of these will be able to help you.


The manipulators are all around you-everywhere! They’ll act so sweet like they’re missing or thinking about you-when the only thing they’re really thinking about is there own desire to get something from you. Something tangible or a get away at your place, or information, or your friends/lovers, etc. – the list can go on and on. Bottom line is that they’re really only users. Once you open your eyes you can see their plan of action/manipulation clearly. They want what they want. If you don’t give in-they disappear-no embarrassment. They act like they were trying to do you a favor. (LOL) Any fool can see them for what they really are!


Thank god i looked at this website it’s made things a lot clearer as to what’s happening with my daughter. She never owns her bad behavior and twists things around denies she has said things. I always end up giving in to the situation because you cant reason with her. It’s exhausting and i feel like I’m treading on egg shells sometimes. She can be the best person ever and then just change like the wind. Thanks for the tips. Love her dearly but wil try not to fall into these traps. Have to be on guard at all times

Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Jenny. It’s so difficult when these patterns come from your kids. It always good to know what to watch out for so you can step around them without being drawn into them. I’m so pleased this has cleared some things up for you.


This is an absolute incredible article! I am an addict in recovery and when I use I’m just about all these things. When Im not using drugs I am compassionate, caring, spiritual, and motivated. It is only until I surround myself with someone who is toxic that I start to absorb some of these defects. We all have them at times, lets be real. Not just people that are using drugs, It’s the people who AREN’T on drugs that act this way are the ones you need to be careful of!

Hey Sigmund

Thanks Anthony! You’re absolutely right – we all can display some of these qualities some of the time. The key to living well and being emotionally responsible is being aware of your impact and trying to put things right when they stray a bit off track, which we all will from time to time. I hope you are able to stay strong and keep moving forward with your recovery. The world needs more people like you.


I came very close to marrying a toxic person. We broke up 2 months before our wedding date. I loved him very much but when we broke up it felt like a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I suddenly felt lighter. After years of his mind games, stonewalling me for days at a time following an argument, starting fights about nothing, denigrating the success of everyone around him, complaining about absolutely everything and overall refusal to seek any kind of joy in his life- it was an incredible shift to all of a sudden be free of that drama. I’ve been attempting to learn as much as I can about toxic people so that I never make the same mistake again. Thanks for writing this!

Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Vicky! You are clearly strong and brave and it sounds as though you have too much insight now for it to happen again. Nothing teaches like experience!


I feel like calling any fellow human being “toxic” should be on that list in how problematic it is in itself.

Hey Sigmund

So what would you call someone who consistently manipulates, lies, cheats, controls, berates, abuses and contaminates someone’s self-esteem and self-concept? I’d say ‘toxic’ is putting it mildly. Suggesting that the targets of this behaviour are toxic for naming it as such is taking a swipe at the victims.


Have to strongly disagree with Billie on this one.
Billie, you try dealing with my mother for a week and see who is toxic.
Please don’t act like you’ve walked in my shoes when they don’t even fit you.


I have to agree from a psychology/human services standpoint. With these kinds of articles, like okay sure, maybe your person with a personality disorder is purely a detriment to your mental health and there’s nothing to be done to redeem them but cut them from your life because they deny they have a problem and refuse to put in the work to fix it. There’s nothing wrong with cutting those people out of your life and I support it. But it forgets that things are not always so black and white, either toxic or nontoxic. You can realize your actions are hurting other people and admit you have a problem, you can work on changing and even make substantial progress and still you will likely struggle and be in therapy for the rest of your life because you have a personality disorder. Those people deserve to be seen as human beings and they deserve a shot at securely-attached and healthy relationships. People forget BPD and other disorders can be caused or influenced by childhood trauma or an otherwise dysfunctional upbringing and insecure parental attachment. These things are not excuses to treat people badly, and yet they can take years or decades even to make a dent on them. Never stay in a relationship you are not happy in, but also have some compassion to realize that some people are just doing their best with the tools they have while accidentally hurting people because they don’t know how to handle their own emotional pain or were never taught how. They may have been taught instead that their feelings are invalid and they were wrong for being who they are, so there is no hope. Some people need a little help to realize they are worth going to therapy and putting in the work on themselves, that they are capable of growth and happiness, instead of reconfirming exactly what they were taught by their parents and peers growing up. But I’ll bet most people will just claim that’s “playing the victim.” This isn’t a storybook where there are only good people and evil people. Everyone is a human being each capable of bringing positivity or causing pain to the world, if they so choose.


That is so true!
I really dislike it when people think that I’ll always be there for them, like I have nothing else to do. You know I am a very enthusiastic type of person and I really value my friendships but the people around me use that and when I show them that I don’t like that they get mad. And when I hang out with other people they get angry! But I don’t get angry when they hang out with other people! That’s insane. Also there was that guy who I used to like and I was helping him all the time. He never knew (at least from me) that I liked him. Now I don’t like him in that way at all – but we are good friends, but still, I feel like he kind of uses me. I don’t want others to use me. I am a strong independent woman, with many dreams and those vampire-ish people suck literally the blood out of me. I don’t want to lose them or get in fight, but I want to prove ’em that I am a human being and like everyone else I deserve to be respected. That is what I want – respect!

Hey Sigmund

And you deserve it! Don’t stop expecting respect from the people around you. They’re lucky to have you and if they can’t figure that out, well …


I love someone who is bipolar, these toxic traits seem to be synonymous with bipolar disorder. Am I correct to understand that people with this disorder, don’t have a choice? Even so, the toxic behavior still hurts and I’d like to find an appropriate outlet for my frustrations. Any suggestions? Thank you.

Hey Sigmund

Bipolar is a chemical imbalance that can often be controlled through medication. Sometimes it might take some experimentation to find which medication works the best, because not all work as effectively for all people. Toxic behaviours certainly aren’t synonymous with bipolar disorder and the chances of someone with bipolar disorder being toxic are the same as the chances of someone without bipolar being toxic. Toxic behaviours are personality traits and learned behaviours. I can hear how much the behaviour is hurting you. You can’t change a toxic person – that is completely their call, but someone who has bipolar disorder to the extent that the symptoms are interfering with life and relationships may find some relief in medication, but of course, this will also be his or her call. Living with toxic behaviour is hurtful whatever the cause. I hope that you are able to find strength and comfort moving forward.


Toxic behaviour can also be found in people who feel they are picture perfect.

Toxic behaviour can be found in lack of understanding regarding the lived experiences of others.

Toxic behaviour can be found in those who are only there for the buzz in life, but never seem to be there for all of it.

Change your understanding. Until then you will only be there for the party and wonder why ‘the toxic’ are angry with you.


I have been married for 2 1/2 years to a man whom I love very much (ten years younger). His Brother who is much younger is like a son rather than brother to my husband. Their parents are both passed away. His brother is the same age as my oldest son. Anyways…the day we were engaged his brother started spreading rumors about me. we live in a small town where they grew up and I’ve been there for 5 years, which makes me an outsider with 10 strikes against me to begin with. He slandered me maliciously in front of their family and in front of my husband and me. I have had strangers in town tell me of things he was saying. I have had my husbands employees tell me what he was saying about me. We 3 always got along and i made sure his brother was never left out. I cleaned his house all the time to help out, feed the farm animals, everything for his brother. however it was like I was dating two men really. But when we were engaged everything changed! I was repeatedly told in front of others and my husband when i would call our home ours that “its not your home” to the day it hasn’t been my or our home. His hurtful words are imbedded. It gets worse….rumors of ” she is a bitch”, “a gold digging Bitch”, “I hate her she is nothing but stupid”. Even though before we got married our Pastor even had heard these rumors!! He counselled us about what to do and my husband believes his brother that nothing was said bad about me. he was lied to by his manipulative brother. So three years later my Husband and I have been seeing a marriage psychologist to help get out toxic marriage on track due to this one spoiled 25 year old brother. It hasn’t helped. Its made things worse for me. my BIL had already went to all their family and hard core made his point of hate to isolate me from any town functions and family functions. You may ask what does my husband do to help me through this? He blames me for not getting along with his family, he tells me his brother didn’t mean anything, he gets physically mad at me because I get angry when he makes excuses for his brothers toxic and harmful slandering. I have avoided his family functions, i have read ignorant texts between my husband and his brother about me. I’ve had enough trying to make a marriage work when obviously its my fault for everything.
I pay my own way, I have a great career. My family is very loving and close but I don’t live near them. His family just this weekend at a X-mas town dinner treated me like I was non existent. when my husband wasn’t around they said rude remarks and all chuckled. I moved to a table where my friend was sitting because I refuse to sit with them any longer. He was divided to sit with me or them. literally!! I told him I was ok being with my friends and him with his family. He decided to move the tables together so we all could visit. as soon as my husband went to the bathroom, they all glared at me and moved the table back and turned away and snickered about me cleaning the clogged men’s toilet as they all laughed. If it wasn’t for my friends hearing them he would of never believed me that happened and I would of been in trouble for not getting alone with them. His family also that night were slandering people they didn’t even know, calling unknown girls sluts and whores ect….it was embarrassing and disgusting to be associated with these people. But that is how this town treats outsiders…literally! My career is dealing with hard to handle people and I’ve used every skill to resolve and/or ignore this behavior for the sake of my new marriage. I need opinions on what to do. My husband wont move away from his family to be with me, but will not set boundaries either which keeps his family abusive towards me.

Hey Sigmund

This sounds like an incredibly toxic situation to be in. A marriage is a partnership, and for a marriage to work, it takes both people to protect each other from outside forces that might undermine the relationship or the people in it. This isn’t happening, and it sounds like a lonely place to be sometimes. If he won’t set the boundaries with his family and insist that they treat you with respect and kindness, then it is for you to decide where those boundaries will be. When you say he gets ‘physically mad at you’, do you mean physically abusive? If so, you need to see that for what it is and do what you need to protect yourself. Your husband is failing to protect you and is exposing you to harm from his brother-in-law, his family, and if he is abusive, from himself. Is he prepared to change this, or is this what he expects for you? If this is the best he expects for you, it is up to you to decide to expect more for yourself. You sound warm, generous, loving and compassionate. you sound wonderful. You deserve someone who will act to protect that from those who would tear it down.


Thank you so much for your honest opinion and quick response!! I agree with you 100%. Even with all the counselling we did go through you have replied with actual thoughtful to the point statements! The Dr. we’ve seen doesn’t say anything beside the 5 horsemen when communicating. I appreciate constructive criticism. This past April 2015 my husband and I went for a drive to have a serious talk. I had read text messages between his brother and him putting me down and laughing at me. I was needless to say raged, hurt, disgusted, hurt again…done. (this was three days after seeing the Dr.) In the truck, I was driving, I sprung this on him. I questioned how he can do this to me with him. He was mad I caught him I guess. I was being disrespectful towards him and his brother defending myself and he had enough so he punched me in the mouth as I was driving to shut me up. I don’t believe in violence but it really is too bad he cant do that to his brother. Since that moment; I decided to never trust him again. As soon as he makes excuses for his brothers behavior and/or family I am defending myself. lonely? hell yes! . So now he insists we go back to the Dr for more therapy. He even said his brother was willing to go too. However I declined; and said the both of them to go because they are both effed up. Now guess whose blamed for not trying…ME…wow I just can never get a break. Its not one time being slandered and its been 3 years of trying to fix the unfixable.
I don’t believe my husband will ever choose me or change. He lies to me when he goes to family functions I don’t even know about. I don’t think he thinks sometimes but I am not his therapist or Mom to tell him when he is bad, lying, or hurtful. Im too old for that shit. lol I tossed around the idea of relocating to get away from this and my husband flat ass said he wont move away from his family because he needs them…knife in the heart and a reality check!! Not even an hour or 3 hours away!
I am well trained in human relations, behavioral studies and talk to him with the same approach I would give to anyone else… but my God that isn’t my purpose to being married. I have never actually been apart of such a hurtful, spiteful, jealous family before.
I’m also his second wife and he did tell me his first wife hated his family…. I hate to laugh at that but he tells me I hate his family too….I don’t blame her either for leaving (that marriage lasted 4 years) Actually I never hated his family….I was never given the chance to even get to know them…I just don’t like their behaviors and you are quite right…I DO DESERVE BETTER!
After I wrote to you, I did tell my family what was going on, not to take sides but because I never involved them, they never knew. I am not doing this alone anymore.
He doesn’t deserve me.
Thank you so very much! God bless You.


Susanne! All your training and experience in helping people, behavioral studies and human relations is useless if you cannot follow the sound advice anyone would give in this situation. If this was happening to a family member what would you tell them? First, it isn’t your fault because an abuser makes sure the victim slowly becomes used to the situation. Second leave then tell the police! Once you are out of this, it will shock you at how terribly you have been treated. Punching you in the mouth while you were driving? Are you kidding me? Are you just making this up? Leave him forever, there is NO hope and tell the police! There are NO excuses for that sort of treatment. There is no hope here. Leave in time for a kind Christmas with a family that loves you. You are in danger and too depressed to think clearly. Leave!!! NOW – tonight!


Well it’s been hard and easier every day but I spent christmas seperated. I kicked him out of our house and he lives with his brother! I have realized and really thought this article I AM NOT THE CRAZY ONE. Twice he tried to come back home but when I asked if he understood why he wasn’t home? And his reply seemed more like his excuses…plus the damage is done and he had…..HAD a damn good wife…I will never trust him again. Nor his family.
I love my career…I go to work, and come home and can breathe! I see a psycologist who is helping me move on.
Life is too beautiful and too short to live this way.
Happy New Year! Thank you again.


You will try to point out some behavior of theirs which hurts you or express how they made you feel, and they will point a finger at you; never willing to admit their faults.

– Why are you talking to me in such an aggressive way?

– And how do you talk? Don’t you realise what you do? After every thing I have done for you… (The shit did nothing for anyone)


totally agree…pretty soon you don’t say anything at all. Relationship is irreparably damaged

Tracey Y.

My favorite one is the friend who hooks me with an invite and some general times or even a client and then when I respond with enthusiasm and some times either they shoot them down and then even worse.. go “off-line” and I’m left hanging… TODAY it just happened.. and I sent a message back: I’ll get back to you soon Lael, thanks so much for thinking of me ! after I had gone to my calendar and picked out a time to go for a walk that SHE approached me about and some times… that woke her up and she IM me back right away with “on the calendar”.. I will NOT have people put me on hold.. how rude.

Hey Sigmund

Yes – so rude. It sounds as though you have a lot of clarity around what’s happening in this friendship. Sometimes people thing they are getting away with something, but when that process is named – ‘You invite me to these things and when I get back to you with times you leave me hanging and I’m not sure what’s happening. Of course I want to spend time with you but it makes it really hard for me to plan my day/week when there’s no word on what’s happening.’ – it makes it harder for them to get away with it. Perhaps you have tried this already, but if you haven’t it might be worth a shot. People do all sorts of things in relationships and friendships thinking that other people won’t notice or name it, but when you switch on the light, things sometimes change. You are completely right to want more from this than you are getting.


This all happens because of human nature plus the way parents raise (or don’t raise) their children. There should be more focus on encouraging people to either not have kids at all if they’re not the right sort of person or at least parents should be more encouraged to listen to information about raising a well rounded human being. I’m not saying this article is bad just there would be no need for it if the problem was tackled at it’s cause


I only partly agree. We don’t know what causes some people to be toxic. My mother is a flaming narcissist who became worse with age. None of her 4 siblings are or were narcissists. Her mother was most definitely not toxic and I don’t believe her father was either. So who knows?
Toxic people have been around since the beginning of of time, and some of their children turn out to be well-adjusted people for some reason. Again, who knows how that happens.
I’d like to agree that those people shouldn’t procreate, but then I wouldn’t be here, and because my mother was toxic, I turned out to be a pretty good parent.


What can I say that is not already said I’ve been married to someone like this for 18 years, I love her endlessly but feel so… untouched

Hey Sigmund

You deserve to feel so loved. If you don’t feel nourished by your relationship, and if you feel bad more than you feel good, it might be time to really explore what you are getting out of staying. I know how difficult this is when you feel love towards someone, but relationship when a relationship stop being two way, it can start to do damage. I wish you all the very pest.

JohnQ Public

Stay. Even if you’re miserable. Why? Because if you DIVORCE… you invite a ton of lawyer sociopaths to first ask, “Where’s all the equity?”, then drain EVERY PENNY… regardless of facts, evidence, sanity, morality, honesty, law, ethics, and integrity. IT IS TRULY “CHEAPER TO KEEP HER AND GET WHAT YOU NEED ON THE SIDE.”

Trust me. Our “judicial system” is a con game, populated with predators who demand you call them “Your honor” as they LITERALLY wipe you clean, then have a steak dinner and brag about how important they have become.

ABOLISH “JUDICIAL IMMUNITY” by national referendum on the 2016 Presidential ballot would be THE ONLY lawful method for dealing with these swine.


Wow. All I can say is this: if this is your partner…they only need read this article. I have been hurt severely by my partner by other things (infidelity/lying) but the one described in this article is and has been me. It’s a very hard realization and I only hope there is some way to fix this negative Core problem 🙁


I will say this…for those of y’all who feel your partner is manipulative like the one pictured in this article- try printing this article off- share it- if I had found it sooner I might have been a better person to my spouse and possibly not driven him away in the first place by my own selfishness. My lack of showing him my best self instead giving what I thought was the real me (the real me was not what I offered family friends etc) the real me was a selfish tired crabby bitch. That’s not fair. But you can try till you are blue in the face- we have to come to realization for ourselves- but having help doing so might be what saves a person

Hey Sigmund

Your insight is amazing. Thank you for sharing your story – you’ll never know how many people it might help. We are all a work in progress, but the real growth happens for all of us when we have some awareness around what we are doing. That’s not easy. It takes guts and a willingness to take a look at what we’re doing. But you’ve done it. The insight you have changes people and lives. You deserve happiness and love and I hope it finds it way right to you.


My partner wouldn’t even take the time to read it. If he did, he would be so stubborn, like usual, he would turn it around and say I am this type of person……gosh, 8 years together and 3 children later, I never thought I would feel so alone.


This. If you just cut someone off without helping them realize why, it might take them even longer to admit they have a problem, find help and start getting better than they otherwise would. That could also create more victims of “toxic people” who might not even be fully self-aware of what they’re doing. Some will go down with their ship that they are perfect, but there are others who just aren’t aware of how toxic they are or how go about fixing that, if it’s even possible.


My husband has all that…. I have been married for 9 years now.
Sometimes I just want to leave but our children love him, so I feel stuck with him.


Leave a Reply

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

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

We have to change the way we talk about anxiety. If we talk about it as a disorder, this is how it feels.

Yes anxiety can be so crushing, and yes it can intrude into every part of their everyday. But the more we talk about anxiety as a disorder, the more we drive ‘anxiety about the anxiety’. Even for big anxiety, there is nothing to be served in talking about it as a disorder. 

There is another option. We change the face of it - from an intruder or deficiency, to an ally. We change the story - from ‘There’s something wrong with me’ to, ‘I’m doing something hard.’ I’ve seen the difference this makes, over and over.

This doesn’t mean we ignore anxiety. Actually we do the opposite. We acknowledge it. We explain it for what it is: the healthy, powerful response of a magnificent brain that is doing exactly what brains are meant to do - protect us. This is why I wrote Hey Warrior.

What we focus on is what becomes powerful. If we focus on the anxiety, it will big itself up to unbearable.

What we need to do is focus on both sides - the anxiety and the brave. Anxiety, courage, strength - they all exist together. 

Anxiety isn’t the absence of brave, it’s the calling of brave. It’s there because you’re about to do something hard, brave, meaningful - not because there’s something wrong with you.

First, acknowledge the anxiety. Without this validation, anxiety will continue to do its job and prepare the body for fight or flight, and drive big feelings to recruit the safety of another human.

Then, we speak to the brave. We know it’s there, so we usher it into the light:

‘Yes I know this is big. It’s hard [being away from the people you love] isn’t it. And I know you can do this. We can do hard things can’t we.

You are one of the bravest, strongest people I know. Being brave feels scary and hard sometimes doesn’t it. It feels like brave isn’t there, but it’s always there. Always. And you know what else I know? It gets easier every time. I’ve know this because I’ve seen you do hard things, and because I’ve felt like this too, so many times. I know that you and me, even when we feel anxious, we can do brave. It’s always in you. I know that for certain.’♥️
Our job as parents isn’t to remove their distress around boundaries, but to give them the experiences to recognise they can handle boundaries - holding theirs and respecting the boundaries others. 

Every time we hold a boundary, we are giving our kids the precious opportunity to learn how to hold their own.

If we don’t have boundaries, the risk is that our children won’t either. We can talk all we want about the importance of boundaries, but if we don’t show them, how can they learn? Inadvertently, by avoiding boundary collisions with them, we are teaching them to avoid conflict at all costs. 

In practice, this might look like learning to put themselves, their needs, and their feelings away for the sake of peace. Alternatively, they might feel the need to control other people and situations even more. If they haven’t had the experience of surviving a collision of needs or wants, and feeling loved and accepted through that, conflicting needs will feel scary and intolerable.

Similarly, if we hold our boundaries too harshly and meet their boundary collisions with shame, yelling, punishment or harsh consequences, this is how we’re teaching them to respond to disagreement, or diverse needs and wants. We’re teaching them to yell, fight dirty, punish, or overbear those who disagree. 

They might also go the other way. If boundaries are associated with feeling shamed, lonely, ‘bad’, they might instead surrender boundaries and again put themselves away to preserve the relationship and the comfort of others. This is because any boundary they hold might feel too much, too cruel, or too rejecting, so ‘no boundary’ will be the safest option. 

If we want our children to hold their boundaries respectfully and kindly, and with strength, we will have to go first.

It’s easy to think there are only two options. Either:
- We focus on the boundary at the expense of the relationship and staying connected to them.
- We focus on the connection at the expense of the boundary. 

But there is a third option, and that is to do both - at the same time. We hold the boundary, while at the same time we attend to the relationship. We hold the boundary, but with warmth.♥️
Sometimes finding the right words is hard. When their words are angry and out of control, it’s because that’s how they feel. 

Eventually we want to grow them into people who can feel all their feelings and lasso them into words that won’t break people, but this will take time.

In the meantime, they’ll need us to model the words and hold the boundaries firmly and lovingly. This might sound like:

‘It’s okay to be angry, and it’s okay not to like my decision. It’s not okay to speak to me like that. I know you know that. My answer is still no.’

Then, when they’re back to calm, have the conversation: 

‘I wonder if sometimes when you say you don’t like me, what you really mean is that you don’t like what I’ve done. It’s okay to be angry at me. It’s okay to tell me you’re angry at me. It’s not okay to be disrespectful.

What’s important is that you don’t let what someone has done turn you into someone you’re not. You’re such a great kid. You’re fun, funny, kind, honest, respectful. I know you know that yelling mean things isn’t okay. What might be a better way to tell me that you’re angry, or annoyed at what I’ve said?’♥️
We humans feel safest when we know where the edges are. Without boundaries it can feel like walking along the edge of a mountain without guard rails.

Boundaries must come with two things - love and leadership. They shouldn’t feel hollow, and they don’t need to feel like brick walls. They can be held firmly and lovingly.

Boundaries without the ‘loving’ will feel shaming, lonely, harsh. Understandably children will want to shield from this. This ‘shielding’ looks like keeping their messes from us. We drive them into the secretive and the forbidden because we squander precious opportunities to guide them.

Harsh consequences don’t teach them to avoid bad decisions. They teach them to avoid us.

They need both: boundaries, held lovingly.

First, decide on the boundary. Boundaries aren’t about what we want them to do. We can’t control that. Boundaries are about what we’ll do when the rules are broken.

If the rule is, ‘Be respectful’ - they’re in charge of what they do, you’re in charge of the boundary.

Attend to boundaries AND relationship. ‘It’s okay to be angry at me. (Rel’ship) No, I won’t let you speak to me like that. (Boundary). I want to hear what you have to say. (R). I won’t listen while you’re speaking like that. (B). I’m  going to wait until you can speak in a way I can hear. I’m right here. (R).

If the ‘leadership’ part is hard, think about what boundaries meant for you when you were young. If they felt cruel or shaming, it’s understandable that that’s how boundaries feel for you now. You don’t have to do boundaries the way your parents did. Don’t get rid of the boundary. Add in a loving way to hold them.

If the ‘loving’ part is hard, and if their behaviour enrages you, what was it like for you when you had big feelings as a child? If nobody supported you through feelings or behaviour, it’s understandable that their big feelings and behaviour will drive anger in you.

Anger exists as a shield for other more vulnerable feelings. What might your anger be shielding - loneliness? Anxiety? Feeling unseen? See through the behaviour to the need or feeling behind it: This is a great kid who is struggling right now. Reject the behaviour, support the child.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This