We all have (at least) one toxic person in our lives. You know, the one who presses your buttons and leaves you feeling like you’re the problem.
Maybe it’s your sister in law who has certain ideas of how you’re to behave. When you don’t meet her expectations, she goes right to your husband. It takes a toll on you emotionally and puts a strain on your marriage, when all you’re trying to be is yourself.
Or perhaps your difficult person is your own mother, who uses scripture to manipulate you into behaving a way that pleases her but leaves you feeling like an abused five year old. All you want to do is love your mother and live your life.
Perhaps your difficult person is your boss, a friend or maybe even your own child.
What do you do when walking away is not an option?
You protect yourself by setting boundaries.
I’m always surprised to see the number of Christians who feel bad setting boundaries with people, even for bad behavior.
Yes, setting boundaries can be uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never done it before. But you can thank God for this difficult person as they are prompting you to learn how to cultivate this important skill.
Step 1: Be prayerful.
I realize some may see this as a Christian copout, but you’re going to need God’s guidance and strength as you venture out into this new territory. Sit with God until you have finished emptying yourself of the thoughts and feelings that you’ve been struggling with. Then when you have found comfort and security in Him, pray for His guidance. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” You may even be surprised to hear that God has you there for a reason.
Step 2: Establish what YOU want.
It’s likely that up until this point you have given in to the opinions and expectations of others. It’s time that you determine what YOU want. God created you to be unique. If you find it difficult to have desires and preferences outside of someone else, it may be time to get with a Christian counselor who can help you work through some codependency issues. This is important because you will not be able to set boundaries until you are clear on your desires. (Hint, your desires should state what you want, not what you want someone else to do or stop doing.) For example: a strong desire is, “I want to have my afternoons free from interruptions.” Not, “I want my husband to stop interrupting me.”
Step 3: Be direct and CLEAR.
I can’t tell you how many people think they’re setting boundaries when at best they’re making weak suggestions. Many think that getting right to the point is rude and harsh, but the opposite is true. Beating around the bush and being wishy washy in your expectations is not being kind, it’s dishonoring. People do better with clearly defined expectations, even if they don’t agree with them. Even Jesus was direct and clear in every one of his communications.
Step 4: Have your consequences ready, and use them!
Boundaries without consequences are just a joke. If you told your sister in law that the next time she asks you to watch your niece at the last minute you won’t be able to help, and then you do it anyway, you just erased the boundary line and literally have to start over. And this time it’s worse because now she knows that she doesn’t need to take your boundary seriously.
Step 5: Get support.
Setting boundaries is not for the faint of heart. But if you are tired of being trampled by difficult people, it’s time you learned how. Joining a support group or asking a friend, mentor, or counselor for support as you embark upon this journey would be wise. In this way, you receive the love support and counsel needed to persevere and finish the race that God has carved out for you.
You’ve only one life to live. God created you for a very unique purpose. If you are ready to take your focus away from the demands of others and put it where it belongs, then I invite you to grab a copy of my book, Make it Matter: A Roadmap to Living a Life of Purpose.
Want to learn more about how to identify and deal with difficult people? Grab your FREE Toxic People Survival Guide.