Summary: 5 strategies on how to set boundaries with toxic people you can’t just avoid or cut out completely from your life.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to become more selective of whom I spend time with and reveal my inner world to.
You may have heard we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with, which means that others’ energies really do affect us.
I used to be a low self-esteem people-pleaser who was just glad that anyone would want to hang out with me (and when we did, disbelieving and doubting if they actually enjoyed my company or were just being nice).
But now that I know my worth, everything has changed. I’m more able to see things from the bigger picture and can very clearly see if someone adds joy to my life, is neutral, or takes away from it.
Types of toxic people include naysayers, gossipers, Negative Nancy’s, etc.
Some of them I still love dearly and can’t imagine my life without them in it in some way. Others we may not be able to avoid due to our jobs, activities, etc.
However, I’ve learned over time that if they continue to hurt me, it’s necessary to set some boundaries to protect myself.
I trust easily and by default, until someone gives me a reason not to. Some may call me naïve, but I really do believe in the innate good of humanity and want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
It seems to be a much happier and peaceful way to live than the alternative, mistrusting and doubting others’ intentions at every turn.
As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve just seen more and more evidence that people are good and we are all ONE human race.
I truly believe that good people sometimes do bad things because they’ve been hurt and in pain and not knowing how to deal with it.
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself and his suffering is spilling over. He does need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he’s sending.”
This has helped me become more compassionate towards even those who treat me poorly.
I’ve felt these pangs of feeling bad for them and wanting to help, but also knowing there’s a limit to what I can do if they are not willing to help themselves.
I can only keep on being my loving, highest self, set some boundaries to protect my well-being, and remain open to them if they decide they want to help themselves and reach out to me.
Here are 5 strategies to set those boundaries:
1. Announce your Limits
State what you need and are willing to tolerate. Even better if you can do so in a loving way or with gratitude. Such as:
- “I don’t want to talk about this again if we cannot have a respectful discussion. Respect to me means XYZ… I care about you and want us to enjoy our time together so let’s talk about something else.”
- Thank you for your advice/you can tell me your opinions, but at the end of the day I’m going to make my own decisions.”
2. Check-in with Yourself
If you’re feeling drained or starting to get riled up, give yourself permission to ask for space/time.
- “I need some space to process this. Can we talk about this later?”
- “I feel overwhelmed. Can we re-visit this tomorrow?”
3. Create a Shield
It’s ok to set up some barriers. For example, not share certain parts of your life if you know that person is going to make judgmental, critical, or unhelpful comments, or gossip.
We are all entitled to our privacy, and you don’t have to answer any questions you are uncomfortable with.
Some ways to gracefully sidestep an invasive question:
- Tell a joke about the subject (i.e. for age: “I’m forever 21 on the inside :)”)
- Turn it back to them – “Interesting question! What do you think?”
4. Defuse Land Mines
If there are certain issues or questions you KNOW that always trigger unpleasant conversations, make note of them and avoid them if possible.
If they do come up, remember that you always have control over whether they continue or not. You can be vague or short with your answers, change the subject, or even make a joke about it.
If the other person really does push to continue it, you can tell them directly “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Can we talk about ____?”
(If they continue to push, say “You are being disrespectful. How would you feel if I did this to you?”)
And finally: “If you don’t respect me, I need to leave.” And remove yourself from the situation without guilt or shame.
Don’t feel bad, you tried to connect and get along with this person, and this is a natural response if they refuse to meet you halfway.
5. Manage your Vulnerability with Independence
You have more personal power if you are independent and self-sufficient.
Would you be willing to be fully honest, assert yourself and set your boundaries if you were relying on someone to do something for you (such as provide for you financially)?
Or would you hold yourself back a little, feeling worried that if you don’t agree, they will withdraw their help and leave you in a worse position than you would be if you just kept silent?
It’s a tough position to be in, and unfortunately not an easy one to get out of, but it’s always possible to build up your resources to reach that independence (especially now with all the online/remote work out there! Hit me up to talk strategy about this)
It breaks my heart when people stay in abusive relationships because they don’t feel they have the resources or support to leave a bad situation.
There are domestic violence shelters, home exchanges, trade services for room-and-board… heck if you are willing to spend a couple of hours helping out on a farm, or even HOUSE-SIT, you can find a safe place to live!
We all deserve respect and kindness, and there is more support out there than we could ever know.
If you are struggling, reach out. You MATTER. You never know who may be able to help.
Please share this with someone who needs to hear this.