When you are working to build healthy boundaries in your life—whether it’s with work, family, or friends—here is one “hiding in plain sight” barrier that will keep you from reaching your goals: surrounding yourself with toxic people.
You know exactly who they are.
The pushy one with unsolicited advice that makes you doubt your decisions.
The catty bitch with snide comments and back-handed compliments.
The one who blames you and makes herself the victim when you call her out on her BS.
Sound like anyone you know?
Is this a sister? Your mother? Your adult daughter? That “friend” who says she’s “only trying to help you?”
Literally every person deals with these folks daily. And their comments are so hurtful because they know which buttons to push. They’ve known you for a long time and know your sore spots, triggers, and vulnerabilities. They’ve had decades to perfect them.
That’s why one of their comments can leave you devastated for days.
Here’s a secret about toxic people in your life: 100% of that criticism has nothing to do with you. That person is projecting their own insecurities onto you.
Remember the time your sister said, “That dress looks a little snug on you, don’t you think?” although she knew you were counting calories and going to yoga three times a week? She’s guaranteed to have stepped on the scale that morning and was 12 pounds heavier after that cruise.
Remember that time you got that promotion at work and instead of congratulating you, your mother said, “Oh, so I guess that means you’ll be spending even less time with your kids.” She is feeling resentful that she stepped down from her job to stay full-time with her children and didn’t go back into the workplace.
So, what do you want to do about that toxic person?
Option 1: Continue to let them walk all over you, saying “that’s just them. They won’t change. This option is risky, because you put yourself at risk of continued frustration and hurt feelings.
Option 2: Stand up for yourself. This doesn’t have to look like a Jerry Springer fight. But it takes courage, especially if this type of person has treated you a certain disrespectful way for years or decades.
“Hey, it really hurts my feelings when you say those things. I would ask that you keep those comments to yourself.”
“Hey, I notice that you’re always commenting or giving me unsolicited advice on my divorce/looks/weight/recovery/insert whatever they’re always commenting on. I would ask that you don’t do that anymore, at least until I specifically ask for your advice.”
So, a quick heads-up when you stand up for yourself. If the person has any amount of emotional intelligence, they may take a step back and say, “Oh, wow, sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad,” or something along the lines of that.
Or they may get defensive and turn it on you. They may say, “I’m only trying to help you. If you don’t want my honest opinion, then fine.” And then they might stomp away or hang up the phone or stonewall you or some other 5-year-old-at-the-playground silliness.
If that reaction occurs, that is a HUGE RED FLAG that maybe this relationship is unhealthy. This isn’t the end of the world–it’s just an opportunity to set up healthy boundaries.
Oh, and I get you may not just be able to walk away from that person so easily. They may be a relative or close friend you have known for years.
But remember, being related to someone DOES NOT give them carte blanche to disrespect you.
It takes a herculean effort to be confident enough to speak up and stand your ground when they push back. But until then, remember:
Be aware that some of the most toxic people may be the ones closest to you.
Their hurtful words have nothing to do with you, but everything to do with their own insecurities.
You have the power to speak up for yourself, even if you’re older and haven’t done much of it.
Family members and close friends do not get to be disrespectful just because they’re in your life and have done so for decades.