Do you have someone in your life who is toxic or difficult? This relationship may even seem impossible at times.
Imagine having the exact steps to fix a toxic or difficult relationship.
You don’t need to feel frustrated, annoyed, angry, or defeated when you’re around this person anymore.
You feel relief (or even better-love) when you’re around this person.
That’s exactly what I show you how to do in this episode.
Here are more of my favorite resources for this episode:
- How To Deal With Toxic And Difficult People (blog post)
- Separation Vs. Connection (podcast)
- A Quick Way To Have Better Relationships Right Now (blog post)
- How To Fix Your Relationship (free training)
- Grow You (coaching)
Full Toxic And Difficult Relationships Episode Transcript
Welcome to the Design Your Dream Life podcast where it’s all about designing your life on your terms and now your host, Natalie Bacon.
Hello my beautiful friend. I’m so glad to be with you today. We are talking about relationships this month in Grow You and I have to say that it is turning into one of my favorite topics. My best friend does some work for me as a virtual assistant and when she edited the workbook with all of the homework that you got in Grow You for this month, she let me know that it was her favorite workbook and she thought that it would help so many people regardless of their relationship status or anything else, whether they have kids, don’t have kids, and to get that feedback unsolicited, especially when I normally coach on money and business and I know that’s what I’m most known for. It was really validating and I know that this entire month it’s been nothing short of amazing in Grow You. So if you want more coaching, jump on in there, NatalieBacon.com/coaching you can learn more about Grow You.
In today’s episode I am going to teach you a concept that you can start applying right away to your life. We’re going to talk about difficult and toxic relationships. This is something that we talk about in our common language so much and I really want you to stop. So I am going to teach you what a toxic relationship is, what a difficult relationship is, and what a relationship even is so that you can understand what these words mean and then how you’re creating that in your own life and what to do about it. I did a ton of research and a ton of planning for this episode and I know that it’s been so powerful in my life, so I’m just really excited to share it with you so that you can start applying it in your life.
I want to start with defining toxic. Toxic means poisonous. If you look it up, the definition of toxic means poisonous and we incorrectly use this to label people as just bad. So there’s no such thing as a toxic person. A person isn’t contagious, like there’s no pouring of the poison in them. And then the poison that somehow like gets into you. And when we call someone toxic, we are giving them so much authority over our lives. We are saying that they are responsible for how we feel. So I want you to think about that when you’re calling someone toxic and how it’s not really useful.
Difficult is a little bit different. When I looked up the definition of difficult, it means you take a lot of effort to deal with someone. So if you call someone difficult or you have a difficult relationship, you’re basically saying that someone makes it hard for you to be around. That is true. It might be hard for you to be around someone, but that is your work. That’s not the other person who’s doing that to you. So I want to start off with just those definitions and for you really to think about when you’re using the word toxic and when you’re using the word difficult to describe a person or a relationship. And I also want you to think about a relationship in terms of what is going on inside you and your mind.
So a relationship has three parts. It’s your thoughts about the other person, their thoughts about you and what you think their thoughts are about you. So you can never really jump in their head, but they will do things and say things and you will interpret those sentences and those actions and make them mean something. You can always change a relationship with just one person. I love this. It does not take two. It takes one. And I think that some of the most powerful transformational work you can ever do in your life is with respect to the people who make it the most difficult for you to be around. And for the people with whom you have called toxic in the past. Because after this episode, we’re not going to call them toxic anymore.
I want to, before I get into what to do about this and what’s really going on, right? Because there are certainly people who when we’re around, we’re triggered. But before I talk to you about that and tell you what to do about it, I want to bring up another concept called the manual and this is what we use in life coaching to describe the expectations you have for someone else, what you expect them to do. So I like to think of the car manual, right? The car behaves in a certain way and you can look to the manual and it will tell you exactly how it’s going to behave or how it should behave. When you apply this to a person, you have a manual for them. Often you don’t even tell them, you just expect them to behave in a certain way. Ultimately your manual is just trying to control someone else’s behavior.
Very similarly is the concept of agency and what this means is that every single adult can do whatever they want. And I say adult and I’m talking about every adult. I’m not talking about children and I’m not talking about a relationship where you would have an employee and employer. I’m talking about just the human adults. We are fully in agency when we do whatever we want and we always can do whatever we want.
So keeping in mind these two concepts, I want you to remind yourself whenever you think that someone is difficult and whenever you think you’re in a toxic relationship or that person is toxic, remind yourself that people can do whatever they want always. Now there’s going to be consequences, but as human adults they can just do whatever they want and you wanting to change them means that you’re kind of in their business. Like in Byron Katie’s words, your not focusing on you and managing your mind and your emotions. You’re in their mind and you are trying to control them and control their actions. And this is going to cause you a lot of pain. You get to do what you want and they get to do what they want.
Now there are other tools that I can teach you that will help you decide how you want to have healthy relationships. You can end relationships that aren’t serving you and you can always put up boundaries. Those are two of the tools that will be helpful in terms of having difficult and toxic relationships. But what I find is that people use boundaries as a way to decrease intimacy and lessen the connection between relationships that they actually want to keep instead of doing the hard work on themselves. So I’m not going to do a whole section on boundaries here, but I do just want you to understand what they are.
So a boundary is something that you say you’ll do if someone comes into your space. And you always want to set a boundary from love, not from fear. So the classic example that we tend to give in life coaching is the the mom or the mother-in-law who keeps coming over to your house unannounced. And she keeps doing this and you’ve told her not to. You’re going to set up a boundary from love and you’re going to say, mom, I love you so much for me and for my family, it’s best for us if we have visitors who we expect ahead of time and who are planned. So in the future, if you come over announced, we’re actually not going to let you in. And I know that this is surprising and I just want to remind you that this is something just for me and my family and I love you so much. Okay?
That is some work that is hard to do. But notice there that it’s you saying what you’ll do if someone comes into your space. What I typically find is that people will say, I’m going to set a boundary, but really they’re just trying to control another person. So it’s like I coached someone in Grow You on her mom, and she wanted to control how her mom was giving away her money to this new boyfriend. And that had nothing to do with her. The person I was coaching. The person I was coaching, the mom was just living her life and I had to explain to her that your mother is an adult and can just do whatever she wants. That’s just not a boundary issue. So just pay attention to that.
Okay. So now let’s talk about what’s really happening when you are around people who you’ve labeled difficult or toxic. So as humans we can read other humans. We know and we pick up on like people’s behavior. And that’s what tells us when someone is negative or victimy or whatever else. And we have this as a protective mechanism where we make judgements on everyone, we form opinions quickly and then we look for evidence to prove that. And we all do this. It doesn’t mean we’re bad, it just means we’re human.
If you really get into this thought work, you will find that all of your sentences are just judgments. This isn’t just something that’s bad, it’s just the way of it. It’s how we think, it’s how we form sentences. It’s how we live. And what we’ve done in the past before you have really become self aware and brought a level of consciousness to your life, is that we blame other people for our feelings and for our actions and for our results. And what I want you to do is to start to take responsibility for how you think, feel, and act.
And this is great because other people are never that powerful. They’re not so big and scary and difficult and toxic. There are simply people who act in ways that will trigger you to think and feel in certain ways. There are also people who will cross your boundaries, right? So if your mother and mother-in-law does come over after you’ve explained the boundary to her, you will need to follow through with the boundary and actually not let her in. Right? So there will be people who come into your space, or another one would be if someone is swearing at you, you can tell them the next time you swear at me, I’m just going to leave. Right? I don’t want you swearing at me. Okay? We have boundaries. We don’t ever need to tell people, right? If you hit me, I’m going to call the police. That’s not necessarily something we go into a restaurant and announce. But it’s something that generally people understand that if you come into my physical space, I’m going to do something about it.
There are also people who just won’t like you and none of this has to affect you. Now you can decide you want it to affect you, but you can decide you want it to not affect you. And that is where all of the power is. So there is no one who causes an emotion in you and I want you to stop telling yourself this. It’s just your reaction in your brain that is creating the effect. So someone says something or someone does something and that triggers you to think a thought and then to feel an emotion and then to take an action. It’s not the other person.
I love thinking of an example of a married couple and the wife and then the husband have different personalities let’s say, and our triggered differently. And let’s say that they are around a sister in law and the sister in law does something and the husband and wife will each have a very different reaction, right? The sister-in-law is the constant, she did or said something, and the wife and husband will have different thoughts about it so they will feel and act differently, right? What’s the only difference there is the thoughts that you have about what happened.
So I want you to just simply take responsibility for how you feel all of the time. So instead of saying that someone hurt me or someone is toxic, I will personally say that, you know, this person just makes it hard for me to be my best self or this is where my work is and I’m very curious about it and I look for the projection that I’m making and I can then investigate my thoughts and figure out what I’m thinking, why I’m thinking it. Do I want to hold onto this way of thinking? Do I want to stay in this relationship, all of that, right? We want to approach our minds with curiosity instead of blaming our lives as if they are happening to us.
When you’re going to be around someone who is toxic or difficult, I’ve come up with four steps that I want you to take. The first step is that I want you to assume that the person is behaving how she wants to behave. I do not want you to assume that she’ll change. So as I’ve mentioned, my dad is an alcoholic. I love him. I have boundaries. And I just let him be an alcoholic. Okay. So whenever a nurse calls me or a social worker or someone calls me, there’ll be new to whatever is going on, I don’t really know. And then they will say something like, oh my gosh, he was a dentist, he was so successful. How did this happen? We can get him in AA and like they immediately want to like do all the things to make him not be an alcoholic. And I have to remind them that he is like a brilliant smart man. He has full agency and that if he wants to get help and change his life he will.
So let’s just assume that he is actually behaving exactly how he wants to behave. This is so important. It is like the example I gave when I was coaching the woman in Grow You about her mom, she was saying that she’s going to put up a boundary that said if her mom continues to give money to this guy who you know, she wasn’t seeing a lot, who is kind of, in her words, manipulative and is not showing her love, but the mom is still giving her money. The daughter was saying who I was coaching, you know, I’m going, I’m not going to see my mom. I’m going to end the relationship or at least for now, I’m just going to tell her I don’t want to be around her. And she was saying, my mom’s making bad decisions. My mom doesn’t know what she’s doing. My mom is wrong. She’s ruining her life. And what I reminded her also is that no, nothing has gone wrong. Your mother is actually behaving exactly how she wants to behave. Right. She gets to spend all of her money on this guy who she never sees right, all the time if she wants. She’s an adult. She gets to do whatever she wants. So that is number one. I want you to assume that the person, the adult human is behaving exactly how she wants to behave and not that she’ll change.
Number two is I want you to take responsibility for your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. I want you to acknowledge that it’s your brain that’s being triggered and creating the negative thoughts and the negative emotions and the negative actions and that it’s not the actual other person like jumping into your body like no one is that powerful. No one can cause your thoughts and your feelings and your actions.
Step number three is I want you to coach yourself or get coaching around this. You can go to the website. I have a blog post and a podcast on how to coach yourself. The best way to get coaching there is an entire course on how to coach yourself in Grow You or to get coaching from me. It’s really important that you clean up your mind before you’re around someone who you’ve labeled difficult or toxic, someone who is a challenge for you to be around in your life. You want to get really clean and in your own body and in your own thoughts so that you’re not blaming them.
Step number four is I want you to answer some of these questions. Now, some of these questions will apply in specific situations and some will apply in others, so I’ve come up with a list of questions that I think will really help you when you are planning to be around someone who makes it hard for you to be your best self.
The first question is, who are you around toxic people? Someone you’ve labeled as toxic. Who are you around people who trigger you? Are you kind and loving or are you mean and negative? Often I will coach people in Grow You who will be really negative about people in their lives who are negative and what I show them is that they’re being negative right now and judging them and that that’s okay and that you can find connection there and increase that intimacy instead of creating the separation.
Question number two, what manual do I have for this person? Meaning, how do I want them to behave and expect them to behave. Like Byron Katie says, when you argue with reality, you lose but only 100% of the time. So when you expect someone to behave in a certain way and they don’t, you are causing yourself to feel negative emotion. Now this doesn’t mean that you stay, right? If I was with someone, like you know, my dad’s an alcoholic, I would not want to be married to someone like that, okay? But I don’t expect that person to change so I can feel better. That person is an adult and has full agency and gets to do whatever they want. You can do drugs, you can be an alcoholic, you can steal, you can lie, you can cheat. Adults can do whatever they want and you already know this, right? It’s like we forget this, but it’s true. They can do whatever they want. So notice what manual you have for this person, right? Think about it. What are you wanting from them?
Okay, the next question I want you to ask. Is thinking about this person as toxic or as difficult useful? So like I said, we make judgements immediately about a person and then we look for evidence of that because we’re constantly looking for evidence in the world to prove our beliefs true. This is why when someone is broke or in scarcity with money, they will constantly be scanning for that and finding more evidence of that. Contrast that with someone who is wealthy and abundant with money, they will constantly be looking for evidence of that. Same is true for people. If you are labeling someone as toxic or the relationship is toxic or the person as difficult, is that really serving you? So think about that. Is it useful for you to continue to call them that or is it creating more suffering in your life?
Next question. How do I feel when I think this thought? When you think the thought this person is toxic, this person is difficult, this person shouldn’t be doing that. This person shouldn’t break the rules or steal or be victimy or say that to me or yell at me or whatever. How do you feel? Right? I always say, don’t should on yourself. Nothing has gone wrong. A dog barks, a bird chirps, and a bird also poops from the sky and an alcoholic drinks. And your boss might say you’re a bad employee, right? Nothing has gone wrong. So instead of thinking the thing or the person or the animal or whatever, shouldn’t do that, right? Maybe it’s better to think, oh no, they should do that. And knowing that they are doing exactly what they’re going to continue to do, who do I want to be? How do I want to act?
The next question, how do I act when I think the thought they should do this or they’re toxic or they’re difficult. So the first question before that was how do I feel when I think this thought, this question is how do I act when I think this thought? So remember your thoughts always cause your feelings, your feelings cause your actions, your actions cause your result. And what I notice is that people will label a relationship as difficult or they will label a person as toxic and then they will feel like a really strong negative emotion. And then they will act out in ways that don’t serve them and then they will create that reality for themselves in their lives. And instead what I want to do with these questions is to help you bring awareness to how you’re creating that and how it’s not the other person at all.
Okay. The next question is who would I be without this thought? I love that. Like who would I be without this thought? I also love to ask, what if this isn’t true at all? Like what if I’m just totally wrong and I do like a 180 and I’m like, what if the opposite is true? It’s really a mind trip. I love that. One of them is wrong.
Okay, the next question, how do I want to show up around her? That is such a powerful question. Knowing she is going to be exactly who she wants to be, knowing she is going to continue to talk about her problems at work and how negative her life is and how she has no money knowing that she is going to show up and do that. How do I want to show up? It’s really powerful. You get to decide ahead of time how you want to show up.
I often find that instead of doing this, we label people as difficult and then we don’t do any thought work ahead of time and then we show up in the relationship expecting the person to be different. They’re not different and we cause more suffering. So instead it’s like, all right, I’ve been around this person. I know that they behave and they act in a certain way. Knowing that, how do I want to show up around her? Who do I want to be around her? That’s the next question. Who do I want to be? What type of sister-in-law do I want to be? What type of daughter do I want to be? What type of coworker do I want to be? Right? If you have a coworker who is constantly giving you work or you have to pick up the slack and it’s quote unquote unfair, instead of labeling it as unfair or labeling them as lazy or like the problem of your entire work experience, how about deciding that they’re going to continue to be that way and who do you want to be as an amazing rock star employee in this role? Right? Maybe it’s you, maybe this is an opportunity for you to over deliver in value. And this could be the best thing ever. It’s another one that I, that I often ask, how could this be for me? How could this be the best thing ever?
And then lastly, I always ask, what would love do? So a lot of times we think that love is standing up for ourselves and that’s not the case at all. Love is strong and often it looks for connection and ways to increase that intimacy even when it’s really hard. So I want you to think about love differently than maybe you have in the past. And ask yourself here like what would love do? Love is very, very strong and often it means that you have to love yourself and give yourself the gift of feeling how you want to feel instead of blaming someone else for just being themselves.
You always have free will and you can always spend time with whomever you want. You always have a choice. You don’t have to ever see your mother-in-law again. You really don’t. And when you realize that, you will realize that you do want to see her even though it’s difficult for you to manage your mind when you’re around her. So decide ahead of time whether you want to be around someone and whether you like your reason. Remember I always say do whatever you want, but just like your reason. You know, if you want to end a relationship or not be around someone, it’s not because they’re toxic or that they’re difficult, it’s because you might just want to end it. Or it’s because you know you don’t want to manage your mind and your emotions.
So when you decide to end a relationship, and I have an episode on this as well, if you want to check it out, I just want you to notice what your reason is. A really good reason to end a relationship is just because the relationship is complete. That’s what I like to say. It’s like, okay, for where I’m going in the future, this relationship no longer serves that vision and I want to complete the relationship. Nothing has gone wrong. It doesn’t have to hit rock bottom. It doesn’t have to be horrible. It can just be complete, right? There are endings and that’s okay. Maybe this person is different from you and you just prefer that you’re not going to spend a lot of your time with them. I only want you to end a relationship after you clean yourself up. Do it from love and respect. Don’t do it thinking that you’re going to feel differently somewhere else because your feelings are always caused by your thoughts. And what I find is that if you end a relationship because of how you think it’s making you feel, what will happen is that you haven’t managed your mind and you will recreate a different but similar relationships so that you again feel that feeling.
I coached someone in Grow You about church. And she was really involved in her faith and in church and then she wound up feeling isolated just for a variety of reasons that she described. So she decided to leave the church. And what she’s finding now is that she again feels isolated. And this makes complete sense when you think and when you understand that your thinking is what’s causing a feeling of isolation. It’s not your circumstances. So if you’re in the habit of creating certain emotions, you can’t just keep ending relationships thinking that you’re going to feel better, because you’re the one creating the feeling.
So really good reasons to end a relationship or that you just want to end the relationship. It’s complete and you don’t expect yourself to feel better somewhere else. A bad reason to end the relationship is thinking that you’re going to feel better somewhere else or blaming someone for hurting your feelings or driving you crazy. When you do that, you’re giving them the power over your emotional life and it’s just not true. Another bad reason to end a relationship would be that you’re trying to control her behavior and she isn’t complying. The example I gave about the student who’s trying to control her mother’s behavior. Okay, now, she can decide that she wants to end a relationship with her mother, but she has to clean up her thinking and stop trying to control her mother. She can just do it from love just because she wants to.
Okay. I want to give you some useful thoughts that just help me with relationships where it’s hardest for me to be my best self. Where I have to do the most thought work. What I do is I always pause before reacting and I say something to myself like, thank you. I like to thank them. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to work on myself. Right? And I look for the projection and I might think, I’m so glad I can see that I’m the one projecting, knowing that she is perfectly her. Again, she’s imperfect, just like me and I always look for the connection. My brain might say, okay, yes she’s negative, yes, she’s complaining but oh my gosh, here I am being negative and complaining about her. So we have that in common. I remind myself that she gets to be her and I can just love her anyway because love always feels amazing, right? Whatever expectation I have for her is wrong. So I’m thinking something that’s just causing my own pain cause she’s behaving exactly how she’s supposed to behave. Otherwise she wouldn’t behave that way. Nothing has gone wrong.
And I remind myself, it’s always my choice whether to spend time with this person. It’s always my choice, how I want to feel when I’m around her. I like to remind myself that other people are not toxic and that if I’m labeling a relationship as difficult or that this is hard and I really am holding on to that, I might remind myself of the opposite. I might ask myself, what if this wasn’t hard at all? What if this wasn’t difficult? What if this is showing me my homework?
I like to think that when you’re growing, you know that if you’re actually leveling up because your problems change and you will always have problems. So if I’m in a new relationship or something is different and I have new problems, I remind myself that’s a good thing and I’m leveling up and then I ask myself, what’s the work to be done here? What’s the new assignment? That’s kind of how I like to look at all the problems. It’s like, okay, this is the assignment for my life, what can I learn here to manage my mind and my emotions?
I remind myself, I’m always responsible for how I think, feel an act in my life. 100% of the time. No one is powerful enough to create feelings in me. Right? Even if they say something like, I’m sorry I made you feel so bad. And this is another point when someone does that, or the opposite. If they say, you made me feel so bad, you don’t have to like, I highly recommend you don’t try to coach them or say, you know that’s actually not true. Your thoughts cause your feelings don’t do that. It’s not advisable. This is your work and they get to blame you and it’s okay. What I like to do, it hasn’t happened recently, but if someone were to say to me, you really hurt my feelings, instead of taking responsibility for hurting their feelings, I might look at the action that they’re referring to and maybe I would apologize and say, oh my gosh, I’m so sorry I did that and genuinely apologize for doing that. And then I might say something like, I’m so sorry you’re hurt. I don’t want you to be hurt. I know that feeling hurt feels terrible. Notice the difference there. Contrast that with saying, I’m sorry I hurt you. Okay. So there’s a difference. It’s really important distinction.
And I remind myself that love is the strongest, most powerful emotion. And when you really get good at loving and loving yourself, it’s so much easier to let people be them. And then finally, I always remind myself that I can end a relationship at any time. I’m choosing to be in relationships with people and spend time with them. It’s because I genuinely want to.
So those might just be some thoughts that might help you. I often find that the most, quote unquote toxic or difficult relationships that we are in are where the work is. We joke in life coaching that it’s like if you can fix your relationship with your mother, your mother in law, or your sister in law, like it’s usually one of those three that are the hardest. Like if you can clean up your thinking and have a great relationship with them, you have like achieved the highest level of growth. You’ve done your work. Because it’s the people who are closest to us who will be the most challenging for us. Right?
I often coach people where it’s like, oh, I’m great with my acquaintances and my friends and my cousins or coworkers. It’s like, but my sister in law, right? It’s always a sister-in-law or the mother-in-law or the mother. And that’s the work. That’s where your work is. So instead of constantly looking for ways to end relationships or put up boundaries, which of course there are reasons to end relationships and put up boundaries a lot, but you have to like your reason and you have to do it from love. But instead of defaulting to that, I want you to remind yourself that there are always going to be people who make it harder for you to manage your mind. And instead of trying to avoid them, I want you to think that they’ve come into your life to give you your homework right now, to teach you lessons, to coach yourself, to learn how to love unconditionally, and to discover who you want to be so that you can be her. It is a very painful and wonderful gift.
So I want you to lean into your relationships and show up with love, love for yourself, and love for other people, knowing that you can end them if you want to, but without trying to control them. A dog barks, the bird chirps, my dad is an alcoholic, and your sister in law is manipulative. Nothing has gone wrong, I promise. Okay. I love you and I will talk with you next week.
Thank you for listening to the Design Your Dream Life Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast to get the latest episodes sent directly to you. To learn more about designing your dream life, visit NatalieBacon.com.