Crazy Be Crazy - How to Deal with Toxic People

Crazy Be Crazy. Everyone needs help learning how to deal with toxic people in their lives.

You know who they are. Toxic people are those who attempt to control us, take from us, drain our energy and emotions, destroy our joy, rob of us of desire and passion, and hurt us through outright abuse or emotional neglect. These can be blatant abuses or small acts that build up over time.

Living with toxic people does not have to be normal.

People are crazy, even people that we love. Whether it’s a friend, co-worker, parent, in-law, or spouse, crazy be crazy.

You cannot fix a crazy person. You can only control your response to their actions and your continued exposure. So how do you do it? How do you deal with a toxic person in your life?

Here are three keys to diminishing to influence of a crazy or toxic person in your life:

 
  1. Establish Boundaries

The first step to limiting the control a toxic person has over your life is to establish healthy boundaries. Boundaries protect you from harm. Boundaries are guidelines that say these actions are acceptable and these are not. 

Boundaries can come in multiple forms, such as words, distance, and time. Often we need other people to help us be accountable to make boundaries and keep them, especially when the toxic person happens to be someone we love deeply.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend remind us in their book Boundaries - When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life that we cannot control a toxic person: “What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right”(45).

The most basic boundary setting word is no” (Cloud and Townsend, 36). “No” can be a hard word to use, especially when you are accustomed to saying “yes” even when you didn't want to. But “no” is a powerful word because it gives us a voice, it shows where we stand.

Good boundaries will help you limit your exposure to the toxic person. But what does a boundary look like?

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Three components of a good boundary:

 

1. Good Boundaries have a purpose

Like a fence, a boundary has a functional purpose. A fence protect animals from wandering off and provides protection from predators. A boundary is set in place to protect you from someone toxic or harmful. A boundary is a line in the sand that should not be crossed.

What’s the purpose of this boundary? Is it to protect me from being verbally abused? Is it to keep my time from being monopolized by others? These are questions you need to ask yourself to determine what it is you want. 

What is your goal? I encourage you that for each boundary you set make sure there is a practical and specific purpose and desired outcome. This purpose should be something that you can easily articulate and name when asked why you have certain boundary.

2. Good Boundaries Are Clear

Boundaries need to be clear, clear to both you and to the other person. For yourself, it should be tangible. When you first know the purpose of the boundary then it can be set up in a way that is tangible, a way that you can know beyond a doubt that it is in place or when it has been crossed. 

You must know what your specific boundary is up front. If your purpose is ceasing to allow yourself to be verbally abused, then perhaps your clear boundary is that you will not continue having a conversation with someone who verbally abuses you. If the boundary is in place to keep your time from being monopolized by others, than your boundary might be automatically saying “no” if asked to do something during a specific window of time or on a specific day (remember, “no” is a powerful tool to set limits on others).

To be unclear is to be unkind.

When you are unclear about your boundary you are unkind to yourself because you have not valued yourself enough to set a firm line of defense and protection. You are unkind to the other person when the boundary is unclear because they do not know what your expectations are. If a conversation turns verbally abusive, tell them that you will not be spoken to that way and that his conversation is over. If someone asks to monopolize your time during your predetermined window then clearly tell them that you have already set that time aside. 

Boundaries that are ambiguous are not enforceable, which leads to the third component of good boundaries:

3. Good Boundaries have consequences

Our boundaries need to be backed up with consequences. Life is full of consequences: if I don’t work then I don’t get paid and I can’t eat. If I drive beyond the posted speed limit or don’t wear a seat belt then I will get a ticket. If I mistreat my children when they are young then they will not want me around when they are older. Make the consequences for breaking your boundaries known.

“Consequences give some good ‘barbs’ to fences. They let people know the seriousness of the trespass and the seriousness of our respect for ourselves. This teaches them that our commitment to living according to helpful values is something we hold dear and will fight to protect and guard”(Cloud and Townsend, 40).

Providing consequences does not make you mean. Consequences are the natural result of failing to honor and respect a boundary. If someone continues to verbally abuse you than you leave them. If someone continues to cross your boundaries of time you will no longer answer their phone calls. People will not change unless they can experience the painful results of their actions:

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change” (Cloud & Townsend, 72).

Establishing and maintaining clear and helpful boundaries is only part of dealing with toxic people. How resolutely you maintain and sustain boundaries with unhealthy people is directly correlated with the intrinsic value you place on yourself.

 

The second key to dealing with toxic people:

 

2. Remember who you are responsible for

When you put boundaries in place, you will experience push back. People who are naive about the issue or who are too self-focused will be confused about the change or addition of a boundary because they never felt there was an issue. When a boundary is established you can expect that a toxic person will consistently react using their normal unhealthy patterns of behavior:

    1. A toxic person will disown their own choices and try to lay the responsibility for their actions on someone else. That someone else is you.

    2. A toxic person, especially one with whom you have an intimate relationship with, will blame you for their problems along with the problems of the relationship and not claim responsibility for themselves.

When faced with this attitude from a toxic person, you must remind yourself that life is all about choices and that you are only responsible for your own choices, not those of the crazy person in your life, no matter what they may say to you.

Remind yourself of this: you are valued, worthy of being loved, worthy of joy and happiness, and created with a purpose. You have your own identity and can only be responsible for yourself. The consequences of someone else's action may affect you, but they are not your fault. 

In his book, When Pleasing You is Killing Me - Setting Boundaries With the Controllers in Your Life, Dr. Les Carter reminds us that “While it is good and desirable for you to be attentive to the way your choices affect others, you cross the line of healthy behavior when you make yourself primarily responsible for other’s actions” (location 240).

You may feel tempted to relent in your boundaries, you may feel guilty for putting consequences in place. You may want to rescue the other person from those consequences or you may have been told the lie again and again that this is all your fault. In the presence of all these pressures, remain resolute.

Other’s actions are their actions, your actions are your actions. Remember who, and only who, you are responsible for: yourself.

This leads to the third area where you can protect yourself:

3. Recognize People-Pleasing Tendencies

Carter reminds us that there is a difference between being a serving helper to someone else and unhealthy people-pleasing: “Unhealthy people pleasing can be defined as the tendency to cater to others’ preferences to the detriment of personal well-being” (location 148).

Have you sacrificed your personal well being trying to keep someone else happy? Toxic people in your life may have been there for so long that they are like the leaky faucet that you just have gotten used to dealing with because solving the problem would create a big mess. We often develop patterns of behavior around our motivation to “keep the peace” and avoid negative encounters with controlling people.

This is actually a form of enabling because the toxic person's actions are never called into question. “Do you ever find yourself in the enabler role? If so, your people pleasing may actually be irresponsible on your part because it ultimately keeps others’ bad habits and attitudes in motion and unchecked” (Carter, location 257)

People-pleasing ultimately hurts you more than the other person. Toxic people erode our personal feelings of value and self worth over long periods of repeated hurts, and every time we choose not to stand up for ourselves it only further chips away at our identity.

“People may prove they don’t value you or factor in your needs through their direct actions, but when you are over-compliant and deny your needs you are affirming to yourself the low esteem that they hold for you.” 
— Jared Johnson

You are a valuable individual. Not because of what you can offer others or do or accomplish, you are valuable simply because you are a person.

You have the right to happiness and freedom and love. Choosing yourself over choosing to make another person happy does not make you selfish, it is a sign of a mature adult.

Information plus application equals transformation.

Carter reminds us that “Awareness will be a necessary ingredient to the change process.” As you become aware of people-pleasing tendencies and learn to differentiate between what is and is not your responsibility, you will then have the information necessary to establish and apply clear boundaries to your life.

It is the establishment of these boundaries paired with direct consequences that will allow for change to take place in your life and in your relationships with toxic people.

Transformation is possible. Healing and hope are possible for yourself, even when the toxic person refuses to change themselves. As you learn the art of dealing with toxic people, never forget that what you are pursuing is a healthy normal life. You have a right to that life, go get it!


Works Cited

Carter, Les. When Pleasing You Is Killing Me: Setting Boundaries with the Controllers in Your Life [Kindle Edition]. Les Carter, 2018.

Cloud, Henry, and John Townsend. Boundaries With Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children. Zondervan, 1998.

Cloud, Henry, and John Townsend. Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Enlarged). Zondervan, 2017.

3 Things I Would Have Done Differently in College

College can truly be one of the greatest seasons of your life, especially when you treat with intentionality.

Are there things you would have done differently in college? I loved college, at least most of it. It was full of amazing highs as well as some low lows, great choices mixed with a few poor ones, and of course excellent memories and poignant lessons learned. Taking the good with the bad, I don’t have regrets. Though I wouldn’t go back and change what I learned, given the opportunity I would have done some things differently.

Perhaps you have come to the same hindsight conclusions that I did following your own college experience, or perhaps you are preparing for your own freshman year and have yet to consider how you will tackle this new adventure. Regardless of where you are now, where you are going in the next chapter of your life can be navigated far more clearly and purposefully. I wish I would have done something differently them, but I am choosing to do them now.

3 Things I Would Have Done Differently in College

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1. Make life less about me and more about others.

It’s really easy to focus on yourself in college – after all you are paying an insane sum of money to get an education to better your future success. People tell you to go experience things, try new stuff, and go and “find yourself.” Sometimes “finding ourselves” means only thinking about ourselves, which is not what life is all about.

College is absolutely a season of personal growth, but it shouldn’t be a season of self-focus where you put yourself completely before others. I learned very early in college that I am nothing without good friendships.

We need friendships, people to call us out and challenge us, party with us and learn with us. We need other people. As much as we need quality relationships with other people, they need quality relationships with us.

When we make the focus of our lives solely on ourselves, our needs, and our desires, we tend to push people and friendships away, or worse, use them. I did this a lot in my first years at Washington State University and I saw how it hurt my relationships.

Are you this kind of person? Here’s a quick quiz:

  1. Do you find yourself doing more talking than you do listening?

  2. Does the subject of most conversations eventually come back to you and your life?

  3. Do you find yourself cycling through multiple friendships and social groups?

If you answered yes to any of these habits it can be a relatively easy fix, simply reverse the action.

  1. Choose to listen more than choose to speak.

  2. Realize that not all things are about you, so stop talking about yourself.

  3. Choose a small group of people and stay rooted with them. A few close friends who know you will benefit your life far more than a collection of acquaintances.

This leads to my second correction:

2. Lived more in the present 

Close friendships are built on the foundation of individuals choosing to live life together. Friends may be thinking about their own futures, yes, but they are focused on the people and environment staring them right in the face. 

People would rather be with someone who is always present than who is always perfect. 

This is where the listening more and speaking less comes in. A person living in the present will recognize when a friend needs their time and attention far more than the next project on your to-do list. People rooted in a lasting friendship choose to make time for each other and thereby show that they are others-focused, whereas a person who floats from friendship to friendship and group to group shows that they are self-focused because they have never chosen to live presently with people around them. 

Rooming with other people brings out the best and worst in you. All I can say to my roommates in college was sorry I was a bit difficult sometimes. Whether I was opening the window when they wanted it closed, making fun of their food, getting them up way too early with my alarm, or simply being annoying because they didn’t do stuff the way I would do it - I was self-focused very often.

Through those experiences I have learned the lesson and value of others-focused friendship and the power of living in the present.

3. Thought more long-term.

Isn’t this the opposite of living more in the present? Not at all. Living in the present isn’t an excuse to live life without considering the consequences of my actions-it is choosing to make choices whose consequences will reap benefits and open doors of opportunity for years to come.

Friendships, a permeating theme as you can tell by now, are one of the most crucial catalysts for future consequences as well as achievements. Friends determine the quality and the direction of your life. 

Someone may be really fun, but it doesn’t mean they are a great friend for you. Someone might need your help, but that doesn't mean they need to be you best friend. As I said, be present with the people right in front of you, but be careful and intentional with the people you give access and influence over your life.




That quote that you’ve heart but probably didn’t know is attributed to Jim Rohn rings true, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This is the law of averages. For good or bad, you will begin to share characteristics of the people you closely associate with. Everything from attitude, outlook, speech patterns, drinking and eating habits, work ethic, hobbies and everything in between.

Friends determine the quality and direction of your life.
— Andy Stanley

Since we know this to be true, shouldn’t we be careful with who we build our close friendships with? When selecting and building friendships for the long-term the realization that I am giving these people permission to influence my life and my decisions must be acknowledged. Pros and cons weighed. I’m not saying you need to make a pros and cons chart for each friend in your life, it’s usually pretty easy to determine if a person is someone you could handle spending more than five minutes with pretty quick. Realize that it is ok to be selective of you close friends, and you should be. After all this is your life!

Just because you’re working towards a bachelor’s degree doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re thinking long-term. Yeah we think about jobs we might like, stuff we can do in our field of study, maybe even consider grad school but we miss a lot of relational things that keep us connected as we move forward.

If it’s too late for you to apply these things in your college life, apply them now. Focus on the quality of relationships, think more long-term, and realize that maybe the most important person in your life just might not be you. You will never regret having and being a good friend.