How to Maintain Boundaries with Toxic People

by Elise Wile

"The only way to show self-regard is to set firm boundaries," advises psychologist Sherrie Campbell. If you don't set firm boundaries, you provide toxic individuals a doorway through which they can wreak havoc in your life. Once you go to the trouble of setting boundaries, however, your relationships won't improve unless you stick to them. When you're dealing with a toxic personality, enforcing boundaries can be even more difficult than setting them.

Gather Evidence

Convince yourself that the people with whom you need to enforce boundaries are indeed toxic. Otherwise, it's too easy to give them a second -- or fifteenth -- chance. PsychCentral editor Therese Borchard suggests keeping a record of how you feel after interacting with certain individuals. Jotting down your feelings and the behavior that caused it can help you stick to your guns when it comes to making a decision about how to deal with the toxic people in your life.

Expect Anger

For many people, another person's anger can be disconcerting or frightening. This can result in you giving in and removing the boundary. In their book "Boundaries," psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend compare this reaction to a two-year-old who is has been told no and responds with "Bad Mommy!" because his desires have been frustrated. When a person reacts to a boundary with anger, do not take his feelings personally and maintain your boundary. The person with the anger is the one with the problem, not you.

Prepare for Guilt

If you have difficulty maintaining boundaries with the toxic people in your life, chances are you tend to take guilt messages to heart, say Cloud and Townsend. You've probably heard statements such as "If you were a real friend, you'd lend me the money," or "How can you treat me this way after I've done so many things for you?" It's likely that in the past, these statements helped the toxic person get her own way. Don't let yourself become the next victim. Recognize that these messages have to do with her feelings and not you. Refuse to justify your choices. Simply say something like, "It sounds like you are disappointed that I'm unable to help you right now. I'm sorry that you're bummed."

Recognize Your Own Needs

You may feel like a hard-hearted person when you refuse to let your unemployed cousin with the drug addiction stay on your couch for a month, but if you've reached your limit with his behavior and don't wish to enable it, saying "No" may be the best thing for both of you. If you allow toxic people to draw upon your resources without limit, you will become sucked into their drama and find yourself with nothing left to help yourself or others. Recognizing this behavior pattern can help you maintain the boundaries you've set, which is an act of kindness to everyone concerned.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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