A high percentage of stepmoms leave their families because they’re repeatedly exposed to toxic people.
A broken family creates broken people. And “broken” people hurt others.
Hopefully, the impact of divorce is short lived and everyone gets the help they need to recover. But, far too often, that’s not the case for at least one member of the family.
Toxic people are in tremendous pain, and lack the skills or resources to climb out of the dark hole they’re in.
Until toxic people get the help they need, they’ll continuously attempt to:
- Escape pain.
- Normalize their bad behavior
- Blame others in an effort to avoid themselves.
Toxic people may be controlling, verbally abusive, or physically abusive.
No matter who the toxic person is in your life, the strategies for protecting yourself are the same.
Note: If you’re in an abusive situation, get out. If your (step)child is being abused, get them out. This article pertains to those who don’t have the option of eliminating the toxic person from their life or their (step)child’s life. Family court does a terrible job of protecting children from verbal abuse.
Here’s 5 strategies to protect yourself from toxic people:
1. Accept it
The other day, I was running – wait, I’m lying, I was walking – on my treadmill and I spent every second of the 18 minute workout thinking of stopping.
It was 1080 seconds of of torture, because I kept questioning my decision.
Had I just accepted I’d be doing an 18 minute workout, I could have devoted those 18 minutes to thinking of something more interesting.
If you’re determined to stay, commit to it for a period of time, and then revaluate as needed.
Stop questioning your decision every time you’re disrespected or blamed for their problems.
Instead, identify what you can learn from the experience.
Is it an opportunity for you to practice self compassion or boundary setting?
2. Gently run your fingers across your lips
Running your fingers over your lips stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for making you feel calm).
Sounds silly, and it’s very effective. Try it next time you’re under attack, or post attack.
For more ideas, check out Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom.
3. Rewire your brain
When you’re unhappy with how you responded to their behavior, imagine it went differently to create new mental habits.
Relive the experience and imagine you responded like a Zen Master; Calm, matter of fact, with detached compassion.
By imagining your ideal response in great detail, you’re creating a new habit. Do it enough and it will become second nature. Eventually.
When you imagine being happy, you increase the number of happiness neural pathways in your brain. Making it easier to be happy.
When you imagine being sad, you increase the number of sad neural pathways. Making it easier to feel sad.
4. Imagine you’re protected
To feel safer while under attack, imagine a protective loved one is by your side. Such as your mother or grandmother.
Or imagine you’re surrounded by an invisible shield.
Sometimes, when I’m trying to forgive someone who hurt me, I imagine throwing hearts at them. Because I’m crazy like that. Do what works for you.
When you’re being criticized or disrespected, remove yourself from the situation when the opportunity presents itself. Whatever you do, do not escalate it by responding emotionally.
When you can’t disengage, respond matter of factly:
If an adult is putting you down:
Them: “you’re <insert insult here>”
You: “No, I’m not. What do you need?”
If a child is disrespecting you:
Them: “you’re <insert insult here>”
You: “No, I’m not. I see you’re hurting. In order to hear you, I need to be spoken to respectfully. Please come find me when you’re able to do so.”
Most importantly, give up on the idea that you can fix this.
When someone’s behavior is toxic, it’s because they have severe wounds. You cannot fix another human being.
There is nothing you’re going to say to influence their behavior.
If you have the capacity to do so, you could practice active listening. By validating their pain, it may allow them to soften to you, and lead them down the path of self-discovery.
However, it’s very difficult to be a good listener when the person doing the talking is toxic. Take this test to learn how you could do it better.
P.S I don’t like referring to others as “toxic people”. I did so because when people search for articles like this, they’re searching for the term “toxic people”. I’d much rather describe their behavior as toxic.
I believe “toxic people” are good people behaving badly, because they’re in pain. I have compassion for them, and I recognize the importance of protecting ourselves from their behavior.