The other day I had a little post that talked about boundaries for older children. A question came up regarding toxic people, setting boundaries, and is it possible that this be done in a loving way.
Perhaps this question is a little out of my wheelhouse. I am not a psychologist, and I am certain a psychologist would have better things to say than I on this subject. However, because I think boundaries are such an important piece of being a healthy adult and something we should be working hard to model and guide our teenagers and children in establishing, I am willing to share my experience with this topic. As always, if you need more help, there are many licensed psychologists and other mental health care professionals out there to help you!
One hears many definitions of “toxic people”. Usually this alludes to behaviors or relationships caused by woundedness; usually this involves creating drama, infecting others with negativity, or being narcissitic, and using others to get their needs met. To me, and again I am not a psychologist, my definition of a toxic person is that they cannot abide by boundaries in order to be in a healthy relationship with someone else; boundaries to me are key no matter the variety of behaviors displayed. Therefore, because a toxic person cannot respect boundaries, by definition, there will be no truly “nice” or “loving” way to limit the exposure of a toxic person to your family because the toxic person will have an excuse and will have a hard time respecting the boundaries that you set. So, establishing very strong boundaries or to even cutting the toxic person out of your life if you are in a situation where that is possible is often difficult, but I don’t think impossible, so long as you don’t expect the toxic person to go along with it calmly!
From my experience, my tried and true ways to deal with toxic people include:
Setting emotional distance. You don’t have to answer every text, call, or email. You can choose to only respond to facts or what needs a solution as opposed to all the barage of emotion and drama.
Not getting into one- to -one situations with the toxic person. There is safety in numbers. Always have someone else with you for interactions with truly toxic people.
Setting limits on negativity and complaining.
Setting a very close circle around me of positive people who have a firm grasp of reality and have different perspectives that help me see things clearly. 🙂
Letting go of guilt. Like many people, sometimes I want everyone to like me, and the reality is I am definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. So letting go of that is important, and depending upon how old you are, you get more and more okay with that as you get older. It is okay not to be liked, and especially by the toxic person, because in my experience many times a more toxic person will not like you if they cannot control you.
Not forgetting what the toxic person has done or the chaos that person caused. Forgive the illness that consumes this person, but do not forget! Sometimes I find toxic people seem to cycle in and out of creating emotional chaos, and it can be easy in the good moments to forget the emotional craziness the person created in the past. I am all for growth and second chances, but in my experience, toxic people do not really change but only get better at manipulating and hiding motives with age.
Hope that not only helps answer the question, but also points out the value of boundaries in ourselves and raising our children to become healthy adults who can go on to have healthy families of their own. As always, consult your friendly local mental health care professional with your questions, as I can only share my personal experience.