How stepmoms can protect themselves from toxic people

Stepmoms: How to protect yourself from toxic People | Stepmom | Blended Family | Toxic Ex | Stepfamily | Stepchildren | Stepmom via

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:

  1. Escape pain.
  2. Normalize their bad behavior
  3. 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.


5. Disengage


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.


Stepmom Advice | Blended Family | Stepfamily | Stepchildren | Stepmom advice via

How to become an influential Stepmom

If you haven’t already, complete the “Could listening change your life?” quiz and check back here once you have your results.

Simply learning how to listen effectively, will dramatically improve your experience as a Stepmom.

The benefits of practicing active listening are:


1. Leverage conflict to increase connection.


Active Listening is the only way to transform conflict into connection. The healing process begins when one of you feels heard and understood.


2. Replace resentment with empathy


Every time someone judges you, they’re revealing an area where they feel shame. The rare woman who is truly comfortable with her body, doesn’t give your body or looks attention. When we feel shame, we compare ourself to others and attempt to fault in them. To make ourselves feel better. When you recognize the other person is suffering, and that it’s not about you, you’ll develop empathy for them.


3. Increase your influence with members of your family


When trying to influence someone, research shows listening is more effective than talking (Journal of Research in Personality, Daniel Ames of Columbia University).


Here are 5 ways to become a better listener:


1. Lead with curiosity


Ask thoughtful questions to truly understand their perspective. When you’re not asking questions, use your body language to show your listening. Nod your head, lean in, acknowledge with “I see”

2. Shoulder to shoulder may be better than face to face.


For kids, especially, face to face conversations can be uncomfortable. They may be more willing to share a vulnerability when you’re doing a shoulder to shoulder activity; such as cooking or driving.


3. Your role is to make them feel understood. Not to fix their problems.


Most of us know what we need to do to fix a problem. And when we don’t, we still need to feel understood before going into fix it mode.


4. Validate their feelings


Put yourself in their shoes to imagine how they might be feeling. Offer a label for how they’re feeling: “That sounds frustrating”.

When you think you understand a key point, reiterate it back to them: “You’re mad, because you feel caught in the middle between me and the kids?”


5. Be patient. Allow for silence.


If they’re struggling to find the words, give them the time to do it. Resist the urge to speak for them.


These conversations may or may not require a follow up to resolve the issue. John Gottman’s research shows 69% of problems in marriage are perpetual, and my guess is that could also apply to most problems within stepfamilies. The source of you unhappiness is not the problem, it’s the story you’re telling yourself about the problem.


Get your stepmom toolkit:


How nice would it be if knowledge of how to listen was enough to make you a good listener.


To turn your knowledge into action, consider my program SMIT: Stepmom In Training. It’s a complete toolkit for Stepmoms.


Check it out.

9 strategies for the stepmom having a hard time saying no

Complete the “Are you a people pleasing stepmom?” quiz and check back here once you have your results.


For numerous reasons, many Stepmoms struggle with setting boundaries.

Sometimes it’s to avoid conflict, or because you’re constantly told you’re not their mother and to stop acting like you are.

Other times it’s done to secure your spot in the family.


The benefits of setting boundaries:


1. Improves your perception of others.


Research shows those who have firm boundaries are more likely to believe others are doing the best they can with the tools they have, even when their best is conniving and manipulative.Instead of being filled with anger, we’re filled with compassion.


2. Easier to empathize with those who try to hurt you.


You’re able to recognize an attack as a cry for help, instead of a personal attack. You get to choose if you respond to their cry or let it blow past you as you wish them well.


3. Better relationships


Resentment builds when you say “yes” and you really want to say “no”. Eventually, it boils over and we become passive aggressive towards the requestor.

We blame them for asking too much of us, when the truth is it’s our job to say no as we see fit.

Learning to say no allows relationships to thrive. It does away with resentment and increases your value in the eyes of others.

If you don’t respect yourself or your time enough to say no on occasion, neither will they.


9 strategies for saying no:


Learning to set boundaries is not as simple as learning to say no. If it was, we’d all be doing it.

It requires increasing your tolerance for discomfort, learning effective communication strategies, and increasing your self-worth.


1. Remember past successes


Saying no can be uncomfortable. Especially if we anticipate conflict as a result.Think of all the times others have said no to you and you simply accepted it. Nobody likes being told no, but we learn early on to accept it.Refer back to these successes to calm yourself before saying no.


2. Keep it simple and sweet.


It’s easy to cave under pressure when you’re new to saying no.I was so nervous the first time I bought my own car. I was 22 and on my own.

Before going into it, I established my boundaries. 3-500 over invoice, no more.

I walk in, I tell them what I want to pay. Of course, they return with a higher number. Multiple times.Each time I simply said “no thank you”. Over and over.

Eventually, they met my price.Some simple responses are  “No, thank you”, “Sorry, I can’t”, or ” Unfortunately, I have a prior commitment”.

If they keep pressing you, simply repeat yourself in a calm, kind voice.


3. Delay your response


Saying no can be uncomfortable. Buy yourself time if you’re tempted to choose resentment over discomfort. Lines such as these can come in handy:”I’ll check my calendar and get back to you”

“I’ll think about it and get back to you”” I’ll check with so and so and let you know”


4. Be aware of the harshness bias


We’re inclined to believe others will judge us more harshly than they actually do.

The worst consequence to saying no is how harshly we judge ourselves. We get busy fabricating hard feelings when the requestor is laid back, sipping on gin and juice (Snoop Dogg jus JUST asked me for a favor the other day).


5. Be nice. To you.


From the moment you learned the word no, well intended adults pounced on you with “be nice” or “be a good little girl”.

I’m all for being nice. But be nice to you!

Your time and energy is just as worthy as Snoop Dogg’s time and energy. I mean, he probably gets paid more, but you know what I mean.


6. They’re used to hearing no. You’re just not used to saying no.


You’re not the first person to say no to them, and you won’t be the last.

This is especially true if you’re saying no to a guy once on the dating scene.

If a man is asking something of you, rest assured he’s had plenty of practice hearing no:

“No, it’s that time.”

“No, you’re too hairy.”

“No, I have a boyfriend.”

People quickly recover from being told no. It’s uncomfortable for you, because you’re not used to saying no. They will be just fine.


7. Create an alter ego


If you have a hard time putting yourself first, create an alter ego. Take care of her as if she was your child.

Crazy. I knowwww. But we’ve all got a little crazy in us. Make your crazy work for you.

Beyonce was scared to go on stage so she sent Sasha Fierce.  Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez and many others have alter egos too. Learn from them.

If you’re uncomfortable saying no because you’d prefer a night in with a book, tell them “sorry, I already have plans with ‘insert alter ego’s name‘”.


8. Eliminate guilt


When you say no to one person, you’re saying yes to someone else.

Instead of focusing on saying no, remind yourself who or what you’re saying yes to.

Saying no to picking up your stepkids  from practice may be a yes to 30 minutes of more sanity saving alone time for you. Or a yes to a client you’re making progress for.


9. Start slow


If you’ve been saying yes for years, perhaps you’re not ready to start saying no when the stakes are high.

Practice with acquaintances or strangers, or in the McDonalds drive thru.

“Would you like to super size that?”

“No thanks”

Keep practicing. You’ll get the hang of it.

To sum it up:


  1. Remember past successes. Lots of people say no in the world with no fall out.
  2. Keep it simple and sweet. And repetitive. No thank you, no thank you, no thank you.
  3. Delay your response. And then say no. Via text if you prefer.
  4. Be aware of the harshness bias. People aren’t judging you as harshly as you judge yourself.
  5. Be nice. To you.
  6. People are used to hearing no, you’re just not used to saying no.
  7. Create an alter ego and say yes to her.
  8. Do away with guilt. A no to one person is a yes to someone or something else.