One of the common themes that emerges when I’m coaching someone is trauma and mental distress at the hands of someone who was emotionally and verbally abusive. Whether that’s a parent, friend, or partner, scars from years of invalidation and criticism run deep, often leading to low self-esteem, self-doubt, and lack of confidence. This also results in an inability to set healthy boundaries and assert yourself in difficult situations.
On some level, we all have to deal with toxic people in our lives. The sooner you learn how to deal with them in a way that preserves your mental health, the lesser time and effort you’ll need to heal from the wounds they inflict.
So how can you deal with someone who’s emotionally abusive and toxic?
Below are some tips I hope you’ll find helpful.
- Don’t ever blame yourself for their words or actions. Don’t take on their projections.
- Journal about your feelings and get it all out on paper to begin making sense of it.
- Have a safe space you can go to calm down.
- Become self-aware so you can identify your triggers and regain control.
- Accept the toxic person for who they are.
- Learn how to be assertive with your boundaries.
- Don’t let the emotionally abusive person in.
- Seek professional help in a safe, non-judgmental environment to heal from years of trauma.
1. Don’t ever blame yourself for their words or actions.
The trouble with handling someone who’s manipulative and abusive is that if you listen to them long enough, you begin to internalize their opinion and criticism. Their harsh words become your own inner voice.
This is why it’s imperative that you create a safe bubble around yourself and don’t take on their projections. Don’t let them shame or guilt-trip you into doubting yourself.
Protect yourself with the knowledge of who you are and don’t let anyone weaken that conviction.
Repeat to yourself, as many times as necessary, that this has nothing to do with you. Their words, their actions, their gestures, at the core, none of it has anything to do with you.
Instead, it has everything to do with their own unresolved trauma, their own hurts, their own anger and insecurities and resentments.
It. Has. Nothing. To. Do. With. You.
2. Journal about your feelings and get it all out on paper so you can begin to make sense of it.
Sometimes it can be hard to voice your upset feelings out loud. When you have no one to talk to and can’t make sense of the situation or relationship, journaling can prove really helpful.
Put your jumbled up thoughts on paper and begin to see:
- the pattern of abuse that keeps repeating,
- the role you’re playing in the situation,
- and how you can behave in a way that will help you regain control.
3. Have a safe space you can go to calm down and re-center yourself.
When the situation becomes too overwhelming to contend with, have a safe space where you can go to calm down.
This can be any physical place that brings you peace, like a corner in your house, your prayer mat, or the terrace. Just go there and take deep breaths to re-center yourself. Speak to yourself gently, as if you would a child. If you can, take a walk.
Do whatever you need to feel calm and in control again before coming back and dealing with someone who’s disturbing your peace of mind.
4. Become self-aware so you can identify your triggers.
When you’re dealing with a toxic person day in and day out, you need to know what it is the other person says or does that triggers you.
What are the words they use, the tone they speak in, their actions and gestures that really irritate you and make you feel cornered? This is the point when things usually begin to spiral out of control and you start reacting, rather than proactively addressing the situation.
So to regain control over yourself and the situation, you have to become self-aware and know your triggers.
5. Accept the toxic person for who they are and stop wanting them to change.
This is one of the most essential steps to recover and move on in life – acceptance.
You have to accept:
- the emotionally manipulative person for who they are,
- your past for what it was,
- and the relationship for what it is.
When you keep expecting someone who’s repeatedly abused you to change, you remain emotionally caught up and invested in the relationship.
You have to stop wanting to get through to them, you have to stop wanting them to change.
Once you stop resisting and expecting things to be different with that person, you can truly begin to heal.
6. Learn how to be assertive with your boundaries.
How particular are you about your space, time, belongings, and the way someone is allowed to treat you? If you’re unable to assert your boundaries in any of those areas, you’re bound to feel disrespected, burnt-out, and resentful.
According to Daniel Amen, “assertiveness means expressing your feelings in a firm, yet reasonable way. Assertiveness does not mean becoming mean or aggressive. Here are five rules to help you assert yourself in a healthy manner:
- Don’t give in to the anger of others just because it makes you uncomfortable.
- Don’t allow the opinions of others to control how you feel about yourself. Your opinion, within reason, needs to be the one that counts.
- Say what you mean and stick up for what you believe is right.
- Maintain self-control.
- Be kind, if possible, but above all be firm in your stance.”
Establishing and asserting your boundaries is the very first act of self-love. You have to realize that YOU dictate your relationships by allowing people to treat you a certain way.
Whatever you tolerate will continue. Whatever you put a stop to will end.
7. Don’t let the emotionally abusive person in.
In cases where you can’t cut the toxic person out from your life altogether, you have to limit your interaction with them.
When someone has broken your trust time and again, you have to stop giving them ammunition to hurt you. Don’t let them in on the good stuff, don’t share the bad stuff, don’t give them anything they can use to later hurt you.
When you do have to engage in conversation, make general remarks, ask them questions, and keep the focus of the conversation on THEM, not you.
8. Seek professional help in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
The journey to heal from years of emotional abuse, invalidation, and mental suffering is long, but it can start as soon as you decide to get the help you need.
The truth is, hurt people hurt people. Reach out to a mental health professional so you can heal and break the patterns of abuse that keep repeating. This will also enable you to learn how to create meaningful connections that you can thrive on.
Coaching offers that safe, non-judgmental space where you can truly voice your pain, be heard, and given support so you can take steps to regain control of your life. If you’re ready to begin, click here and I’d love to chat with you.
Khadija Khan is a wife, mommy, certified life coach, and Islamic counselor. She is passionate about helping Muslim women reach their goals in all areas of life. She writes about things like Islamic spirituality, relationships, parenting, and personal development. Continue Reading…