How to Set Personal Boundaries with Toxic People

by | Jul 15, 2020 | Articles, Boundaries

Setting healthy personal boundaries (read my blog 6 Top Tips for Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries) is very important for making clear the communication, behaviour and interactions with others that are acceptable to you. Most people will respect the boundaries you set, but what can you do when someone doesn’t or even punishes you for trying? Learning how to set personal boundaries with toxic people is very important to your wellbeing.

What is a toxic person?

A toxic person is someone who manipulates you. They don’t care about your wellbeing and are much more interested in their own agenda. Their abuse can be obvious or it can be quite subtle.

Either way, it is typical for toxic people to:
• use intimidation to get their way
• attempt to control you by making you feel guilty
• become jealous easily
• see themselves as a victim
• give backhanded compliments
• be overly defensive

Whatever their behaviour, the end result for you will be the same: emotional exhaustion.

It is important for your wellbeing to learn how to manage the toxic people in your life.

What makes people toxic?

People usually become toxic due to past hurts in their life. They tend to be very insecure, so have a need to control whatever and whoever is around them. Including you. The more secure a person is, the less need they have to attempt to control their environment.

Toxic people may try to make you fearful of losing your relationship with them. They may threaten and even punish you (such as by ignoring you) if you don’t say and do what they want. Or they may try to guilt you into taking on a responsibility – this has happened to me several times when I have been asked to join a committee.

A toxic person is often surrounded by broken relationships which they will always explain away as someone else’s fault. They often have little or no insight into their behaviour, so they don’t usually change. (They will only change when they are healed of their past and become more secure within themselves.)

How to set personal boundaries with toxic people

It is difficult to avoid interactions with toxic people, who may include family members, your lover or people at work.

Step 1 is to understand the relationship.

If a person continually leaves you feeling drained, sad, angry or belittled (or some other uncomfortable emotion), this could be due to their toxic and overly controlling behaviour. Whether they are family or friends, it’s not OK for them to treat you badly.

Step 2 is to remember their behaviour is about their stuff, not yours.

You are not responsible for how someone reacts to your boundaries. And even if you have bought into it before, you no longer need to.

Step 3 is to communicate the healthy personal boundaries.

You can use actions, words or both to set your personal boundaries. Remember that you are only responsible for communicating your boundaries in a clear and respectful manner, not for how a person responds. A toxic person is used to controlling and manipulating you, so they probably will do the same when you set boundaries. It is helpful to expect this and to remain firm.

Setting boundaries with actions may include practicing ‘loving detachment’ from a toxic person. This simply means spending less time with them. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about them, just that their behaviour is not acceptable to you and you are setting a boundary to protect yourself.

How to Communicate Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries with words means using calm and assertive communication to protect yourself. Use as few words as possible and remember you don’t have to explain, justify or apologise. If assertive communication is new for you, you can plan ahead by writing down and actually practicing out loud the words you need. Here are some examples:

If a friend persistently calls you at work:
“Hey. I’d love to have a chat with you, but I’ve decided to keep all my personal phone calls for after work, so I can get more work done.” (I let most of my calls go through to message bank and call when it suits me.)

When someone asks you to join a committee or help out at a fundraiser:
“Thanks for thinking of me. But even though I value this organisation, I’ve reviewed my schedule and can’t make a commitment to be on the committee at the moment.”

If you change your mind and need to back out of a commitment:
“I’ve been reflecting on our conversation last week and I’ve decided that I can’t make that commitment at this time.”

When someone makes a negative comment about your weight/clothes etc…
“It’s not okay with me that you comment on my weight/clothes etc. I’d like to ask you to stop.”

When someone asks you something difficult/awkward:
“That’s a good question. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

To set a boundary with an adult child who borrows money:
“I love you and you need to take responsibility for yourself. I won’t be lending you money anymore.”

When someone (adult or child) is yelling at you:
“You may not yell at me. If you continue, I’ll leave the room.”

Setting boundaries with actions and words means clearly communicating your boundary and following up with a behaviour. Example actions include leaving the room or walking away; blocking the person’s number on your phone; no longer attending functions; resigning from a committee; and keeping future interactions brief and light.

Setting personal boundaries and self-care

Learning how to set personal boundaries with toxic people can be challenging work and you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Talk to someone you trust – a close friend or a counsellor – and ask for their support and encouragement. Read about the counselling services Honni Hayton provides here.

A Word About Abusive Relationships

If you are dealing with someone who is physically dangerous or threatening to you, it may not be safe to attempt to set explicit boundaries with them.  In this situation, it can be helpful to work with a counsellor or advocate to create a safety plan for this. If you are in immediate danger call the Police on 000, Visit DVconnect.org or call the hot line 1800 811811.

Honni Hayton Counsellor

About Honni Hayton

A qualified, practicing counsellor, Honni Hayton has been helping people live their best life for over 20 years. She specialises in providing women’s counselling services, both in person and online. She also provides relationship counselling to help couples find happiness again.