A healthy relationship, even with those people you find toxic, requires the space to maintain your personal integrity. Most people will respect you for your boundaries, values, and assertiveness. Of course, relationships are a two-way street, but not so with toxic people who don’t understand where you end and they begin. Chances are that people who try to invade your space, blame, gossip or operate with a negative mindset are not thinking how pushing the limits will affect you.
Here are some strategies for handling a situation before you lose your temper or let something escalate:
Set clear boundaries and abide by them
Emotionally intelligent people know they can’t please everyone. You must be able to say “no.” Of course, you can’t set proper boundaries if you’re unsure of where you stand.
Consider what you can tolerate and what makes you feel uncomfortable. Your feelings help you identify what your limits are. Then, when someone acts in a way that triggers your discomfort, that’s a cue to you that they may be violating or crossing a boundary. Make a written list of these boundaries so that they are top of mind before you lose your cool. For example, helping someone with an issue, a project, or with some advice is all good, but finding yourself stuck in gossip and negativity should signal that a boundary is needed.
Give yourself permission not to participate in negativity
Fear, guilt, and self-doubt are significant potential pitfalls when you are facing toxic people. You might fear the other person’s response if you set and enforce your boundaries. You might feel guilty by speaking up or saying no to a friend or colleague at work. You may believe that you should be able to cope with a situation or respond yes because they’re a good friend or work colleague, even though you feel drained or taken advantage of. You might wonder if you deserve to have boundaries in the first place.
Limits, such as not participating in negativity and gossip, aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect. Emotionally intelligent people know that instead of appeasing a toxic person, they can smile and walk away. As an alternative, you can choose to tell the toxic person that you don’t believe in gossip, or ask if he or she has talked directly with the person with whom they have an issue rather than talk about them with you.
Practice self-awareness and don’t take personally what is said to you
Be aware that words and actions of toxic people have nothing to do with you personally. They are projecting themselves on you – or more specifically, their issues. This is why boundaries are all about honing in on your feelings and honoring them. If you notice yourself slipping and not sustaining your limits, ask yourself: What’s changed? What I am doing or what is the other person doing? Ask: What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed?
Then, mull over your options: What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over? Once you have your emotions managed, the toxic person will realize he or she is wasting their time and eventually give up.
Be direct in speaking with the toxic person
Once you create boundaries, you actually have to follow through. Toxic people need to know what upsets you. Since they don’t, it’s vital to communicate assertively with them when they’ve crossed a boundary. Toxic people, such as those who don’t take responsibility and instead blame others, gossip or accuse you, you’ll need to be direct about where you draw a line. Respectfully, let the other person know what in particular is bothersome to you and that you can work together to address it.
Consider the following example: the toxic person believes they are helping you when they accuse you of being arrogant, but you think he or she is disrespectful and off base. Being direct may start with listening and then paraphrasing what they are saying, so they know you’ve heard them as they intend. Then, let them know that you see their approach to you as disrespectful and poor timing, and suggest another time and place for discussing this further.
Seek support in knowing yourself, developing healthy self-respect, and heeding warning signs.
If you’re having a hard time with setting boundaries, standing your ground, or self-awareness, seek some support, whether it is a support group, a mentor, counseling, coaching or with good friends. Get to know yourself as best you can. It’s essential to gain access to your inner world by becoming familiar and comfortable with your own beliefs, emotions, feelings, and ideas to ensure you know your personal relationship barometer. With friends or family, you might agree to practice setting boundaries together, standing your ground directly and respectfully, and holding each other accountable. This will help you handle the situation before you lose your temper.