This month in Grow You we’re diving deep into relationships.
I teach relationships very differently than most people.
Starting with… there’s no such thing as a toxic person (bold claim, I know).
We use “difficult” and “toxic” to label people in a way that decreases connection and increases separation, especially when it’s hard for us to manage our minds.
Let’s take a look at the definitions before I tell you what’s really going on…
If you want to listen instead of read, here’s the podcast episode that goes along with this post — Toxic And Difficult Relationships.
Defining Difficult And Toxic People
Difficult means takes a lot of effort to deal with.
It’s a label we use to describe someone who makes it hard for us to be around.
Toxic means poisonous.
We incorrectly use this to label people as bad.
There’s no such thing as a toxic person. A person isn’t contagious or going to poison you.
When you call someone toxic you give them so much power. This label isn’t useful.
Typically, in our relationships, we have expectations that other people behave in a certain way. When they don’t, we try to control them.
Here’s a bit more on that specifically…
Manuals And Agency
A manual is a rulebook of expectations you have for how someone should behave.
It’s trying to control someone else’s actions.
We do this all the time in our relationships. We think people should act how we want them to act. But the truth is the opposite. They shouldn’t. Or else they would.
Agency means every adult can do whatever they want.
People can do what they want to do—ALWAYS.
There will be consequences, but they get to be them, as humans.
Wanting to change an adult causes you pain.
You get to do what you want. You can end relationships and put up boundaries.
They get to do what they want. You have no business trying to control them. Ever.
Boundaries come up a lot with people who we find ourselves most challenged by.
A boundary is what you say you’ll do if someone comes into your space.
You must set a boundary from love and not from fear.
Example: Your mom who keeps coming over unannounced. You tell her that you love her, and for you and your family you only want to accept visitors who plan their visits ahead of time, so if she comes over unannounced again, you won’t let her in. You love her and this is about you and your family, not about her.
You must set the boundary, tell the person about the boundary, and follow through.
Boundaries are not set to control another person’s behavior. It’s about you and what you’ll do. Adults can always do whatever they want.
What’s Really Happening When You’re Around Difficult And Toxic People
So, what’s really going on when we’re around people who make it hard to be our best self?
We can read other humans.
We know and pick up on people’s tone and behavior. That’s what tells us someone is negative.
We have a protective mechanism where we make judgments on everyone. We form opinions quickly and look for evidence to prove that. We all do this. It’s not that you’re bad. You’re human.
There are simply people who act in ways that trigger you to think feel and act in certain ways. There are people who cross your boundaries. There are people who don’t like you. None of these people have to affect you.
There is NO ONE who causes an emotion in you.
Stop telling yourself this.
It’s your reaction in your brain that is creating the effect (the emotion and then the action)–it’s not the other person.
You must take responsibility for how you think and feel 100% of the time.
- Resource: How To Improve Your Mindset (podcast)
What I do: Instead of saying someone “hurt me” or someone is “toxic” I will say, “that person makes it hard for me to be my best self.”
Then I’m curious about it. I look for the projection I’m making to see what she’s teaching me and why my mind is tripping out over it.
What To Do About It
When you’re going to be around someone who is toxic or difficult, do the following:
- Assume the person is behaving how she wants to behave. Not that she’ll change.
- Take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Acknowledge that it’s your brain that’s being triggered and creating the negative thoughts and emotions (not the other person)
- Coach yourself (if you’re in Grow You, get coaching from me about this)
- Resource: How To Coach Yourself (podcast)
- Answer these 9 questions
- Who am I when around “toxic people”? Are you kind and loving? Or are you mean?
- What manual do I have for this person? How do you expect her to behave?
- Is thinking about this person as toxic or difficult useful?
- How do I feel when I think this thought?
- How do I act when I think this thought?
- Who would I be without this thought?
- How do I want to show up around her?
- Who do I want to be around her?
- What would love do?
You have free will and can spend time with whomever you want. You always have a choice.
Decide whether to be around someone or not and like your reason. It’s not because they’re toxic or difficult. It’s because you don’t want to manage your mind and emotions.
Good Reasons To Not Be Around Someone
You just don’t want to.
This person is so different from you and you just prefer to limit your time with her.
End the relationship ONLY after you clean yourself up and stay clean. Only do this from love and respect.
- Resource: Leave When You’re Happy (podcast)
Bad Reasons To Not Be Around Someone
You’re trying to control her behavior and she isn’t complying.
You say that they’re responsible for your feelings and “hurt” your feelings and “drive you crazy” when you’re around them.
You give your power away by abdicating your emotions to her.
Useful Thoughts That Help Me With Difficult And Toxic People
Just for fun, here are some thoughts I practice and use that help me with people who make it hard for me to be my best self…
- Thank you for giving me this opportunity to work on myself.
- I’m so glad I can see that I’m the one projecting now.
- She is perfectly her and she’s imperfect, just like me.
- Where can I find the connection?
- I just love her anyway.
- Whatever expectation I have for her is wrong–she is behaving within her agency, exactly how she’s supposed to behave.
- It’s always my choice whether to spend time with her or not, and it’s always my choice how to feel when I’m around her.
- Other people are not toxic.
- I’m always responsible for how I think, feel, and act in my life 100% of the time.
- No one is powerful enough to create feelings in me.
- Love is the strongest, most powerful emotion.
- I can end a relationship anytime I want to.
Now I want to go over some examples with you…
Here are examples of when you might experience someone who is difficult…
- Someone who is name calling.
- Someone who is manipulative.
- Someone who talks behind your back.
- Someone who is passive aggressive.
- Someone who is controlling .
Let’s look at a specific example in each scenario…
1. A mean boss
Her actions: Boss who swears and says you’re bad at your job.
What to do:
- Set a boundary that if she swears at you, you’ll leave the room. Tell her the boundary from love. Follow through.
- Ask yourself if you are bad at your job? Can you find truth in what she’s saying? Perhaps you are. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Removing the defensiveness will help you here.
- Remind yourself that she is supposed to be mean. Nothing has gone wrong. Knowing that she’s going to continue to be mean, do you want to stay in this employment relationship? Only stay if you want to.
2. An overbearing mother
Her actions: Mother who comes over unannounced and says things like, “when you don’t invite me over you make me feel terrible”.
What to do:
- Set a boundary with your mother from love, letting her know that you love her and that for you and your family it’s best if you only have visitors who are planned, so in the future if she comes over unannounced you won’t let her in.
- Let her know that you understand she feels terrible and that feeling terrible is uncomfortable and you don’t like feeling terrible either. Don’t take responsibility for causing her feelings, but also don’t tell her to take responsibility for her own feelings. She is allowed to blame you. You don’t have to accept the blame. You can love her.
3. A negative friend
Her actions: Friend who always complains about her life, including her relationships, her money, her job, her health, and her future.
What to do:
- Decide who you want to be in your friendship. Acknowledge that she’s in a lot of pain if that’s how she’s thinking, find compassion for her. Notice that by thinking she’s negative, you’re judging her and being negative. So, you both have that in common. You can now understand how she’s thinking and feeling and increase your connection with her.
4. A victimy sister in law
Her actions: Sister in law who doesn’t have goals and is judgmental of you working while she’s a stay at home mom.
What to do:
- Drop the manual that she should have goals. She shouldn’t have goals. She’s still 100% worthy. If she was supposed to have goals, she would. She’s allowed to judge you, too. You’re judging her right now.
- Knowing that she’s going to continue to be her, how can you be the stronger one who is loving? Who do you want to be in this relationship?
5. A controlling husband
His actions: Husband tells you what you should eat and what you should wear.
What to do:
- Decide what kind of wife you want to be here.
- Do you want to eat and dress how he advises? Only you know the answer to this, not anyone else.
- If you don’t, you can love him and say no. It would look like saying something like this: “thank you for sharing your opinion with me. I love that you know exactly what you want. I love you. I’m going to eat and dress what I want to eat and wear. ”
The Most Toxic And Difficult Relationships Are Where Your Work Is
There are always going to be people who you want to avoid and change. Instead, I want you to learn how to work on yourself.
Difficult people show up for you to teach you lessons. To coach yourself. To love. To discover who you want to be and to be her. It’s a painful, wonderful gift.
- Resource: How To Coach Yourself (podcast)
Love the truth. Love reality. Lean into relationships and show up with love for everyone including yourself without trying to control people.
A Final Note!
There’s no such thing as fair. Or right and wrong.
You have the exact mother, coworker, boss, and sister in law you were meant to have. This doesn’t mean you stay in a relationship with them, but it does mean you take responsibility for how you show up, including your actions and emotions.
A dog barks. A bird chirps. My dad is an alcoholic. Your sister in law is manipulative. Nothing has gone wrong.
Next, listen to the podcast: Toxic And Difficult Relationships.