Whether this person is selfish, angry, greedy, attention seeking, sees themselves a victim, or living in a state of anxiety and fear, they can be seen as toxic. The tricky part is the relationship you have with this person. They could be a blood relative, coworker, boss, employee, best friend, acquaintance, or even a spouse or lover. Depending on the interaction, there are some differences in how I’d suggest handling the relationship.
Here are some general best practices for how to stay safe when you suspect there is toxic behavior from your spouse or lover.
1. Set firm boundaries
A boundary is an imaginary line that separates one person from another. Each person decides what their boundaries are in terms of their body, heart, mind, attitudes, values, beliefs, emotions, time, and energy. When you say yes and when you say no you are stating your personal boundaries. Boundaries aren’t usually something that is actively taught, but they are directly correlated to self-respect.
Implementing boundaries where they may have lacked will feel challenging and maybe even scary, almost as if this person wont like or love you if you say no. I promise, each time you practice saying and meaning your yes’s and your no’s the easier it gets. And besides, do you really want to spend the majority of your time with someone who doesn’t respect you?
2. Practice self-care
Self-care is not selfish. Let me make that perfectly clear.
Make sure to take the time to invest in yourself. A full pitcher can pour out glass after glass. However, an empty cup doesn’t have anything to give to others let, alone have anything for sustainable for itself.
Make sure to get roughly 8 hours of sleep per night. Our bodies need that time to recharge and prepare for the next day. Stay hydrated. Eating a balanced diet is another area that is key. No one is perfect. I love a big mug filled to the brim with rich hot chocolate and marshmallows, and on occasion I allow myself to have it. But I also know I need to take care of the body I have. Give it the proper fuel so it can do its best. What do you enjoy that helps you relax? A massage? Pedicure? Reading a book? Meditation? Going for a run?
Think of our bodies like a car. You have to keep it maintained with fuel, oil changes, washing, and so on, so it does what it is designed to. We are no different. Our body, mind, and soul need taken care of.
3. Do not enable
Enabling is different from helping. We can help someone when we do something for them out of love that they can not do for themselves. Enabling is believing we are doing the above for those reasons, however the person can very well do it for themselves. They maybe play the victim or be passive aggressive in order to have you assume the role of caretaker. This is a sign of immaturity. People are more than capable to do many things. In fact, I believe we can do anything we put our minds to, all it takes is effort. Sometimes it may feel as though we are being unkind or cruel by withdrawing “help”. But I assure you giving people the opportunity to grow is a great gift.
Be aware of what help they actually need and when they are exploiting or manipulating.
4. Think, don’t feel
Toxic individuals generally are emotionally immature. They don’t know how to process their emotions in healthy and proactive ways. The ways they do behave come across as hurtful, cold, and downright mean.
It’s tricky to communicate to them after their words and actions just hurt you. Maybe in the past you’ve tried to share how you were feeling and instead of it helping, it just made them madder or worse, they turned the tables and made you feel bad for bringing it up. Now you are the bad guy.
The trick when communicating with them goes against regular communication rules. These individuals aren’t comfortable with feelings, they are thinkers. So speak to them in their language. Be logical, give as little as you can to any conversation. This may take some work as it may not be your normal way of operating. I guarantee, if you keep yourself from engaging with them in the ways that trigger their toxic behavior, you will keep yourself strong and safe.
5. Surround yourself with safe community
The power of safe and empowering community is truly an amazing thing. I can say from experience how important this aspect is to your overall wellness. Many leadership gurus and personal development experts agree that we become a combination of the 5 people we are closest to. There is plenty of truth to that. Human beings are meant to live in community. Toxic individuals tend to alienate their victims so that they do not have a support system.
Find a way to connect with people. They could be at your work, a church or spiritual organization, even meetup.com has great resources for like-minded people to connect. Spending time with healthy people will empower you and help provide the strength to continue with your boundaries and self-care.
6. Limit exposure
If your partner makes you feel unsafe, has threatened you, assaulted you, or generally makes you feel nervous or uncomfortable, do your best to limit your one on one time with them. Meet in public places if need be. Let a family member or friend know when you are planning on being around.
BONUS: Let go
As hard as this is to hear, leaving may be the best thing you can do for yourself. Leaving is empowering. It’s standing up and saying “No, I won’t allow this to continue. I deserve better.” The term “No Contact” is used to describe an approach where the abused cuts all ties with the abuser. They do not see them or speak to them. They put measures in place to ensure contact cannot be made electronically, such as blocking phone numbers or text messages, email, and blocking profiles from social media. It may also meaning moving, changing phone numbers, and so on.
Some toxic people are not ready for growth and change. Why? It isn’t your job to figure that out. It’s your job to take care of you.