How to Have Boundaries with a Toxic Person

The word "toxic" seems to be a buzzword in our culture right now - up until the last 15 years when the average person heard the word toxic they most likely thought of a pool of toxic waste. But, now in everything from song lyrics to self help books "toxic" is generally used in the context of relationships. Have you dealt with a toxic person? Maybe an ex-spouse, or a current boss, or even an unhealthy friendship is coming to mind.

First of all there is a difference between a toxic person versus an imperfect person. Someone who is immature and rubs us the wrong way isn't toxic they are just flawed and human. While, on the other hand, someone who is destructive to themselves and/or others OR disrespectful of your own personal wishes after you have set clear expectations is what we would consider toxic.

So how do you handle someone who is toxic in your life?

T - Take a step back. 

You don't have to be intimately close with someone who is toxic! Sure, we can't control who our family members are or who we work for, but at the same time we don't have to open ourselves up to be vulnerable with people who haven't earned it.

O - Operate out of respect for yourself. 

You will accept the treatment you think you deserve, so, do not accept disrespectful or demeaning behavior. Ultimately, your boundaries are more about respect for your own emotional wellbeing than it is punishing them for their actions.

X - Explain to them your needs. 

Set clear boundaries with what is and is not acceptable behavior to you. It is more than okay to say "I will not have you raise your voice at me in that way. I am going to step out of the room for a time and when you're able to tell me in a clear, calm way I'll be back to listen." Then here is the hard part… actually leave the room and follow through!

I - Investigate with a trusted advisor. 

Some of these ideas may seem easier spoken than done - you may need to have a conversation with someone outside the situation who can help tailor these steps to you. Feel free to reach out to me anytime to talk - you can either email me at or call my office at (310) 614-0323.

C - Change yourself. 

You don't have to respond in a subservient manner to someone who is manipulative or controlling. You get to be in the driver's seat of your mind and not give them the power to get inside your head. Ultimately, a toxic person wants you to be reactive - even if you react poorly it is still positive reinforcement to them because they got a rise out of you. But, it is really hard to play ball back and forth with someone who isn't even willing to catch what you are throwing at them!