Let's discuss how you can show toxic people you're not one to mess with in three steps. If you get these steps right your entire life will change for the better.
Address it before it starts
My first piece of advice is annoying, and I get it. You’re probably reading this post because there is some toxicity already in motion. Still, the best way to show toxic people you’re not to be messed with is to stop it before it starts and this post is all about how to do it.
There’s one thing that toxic people all have in common behaviorally, and that is a complete and utter disregard for their victim's boundaries. To clarify, you may understand your boundaries as your preferences for how you want you and your things to be treated.
Toxic people don't care about your boundaries because they get in the way of their goals and intentions for you. To them, your boundaries are merely an obstacle to overcome. The stronger you make your boundaries the harder they are to overcome. On the other hand, the weaker your boundaries are the easier they are to overcome. The good news is that toxic people begin testing your boundaries early, which means you can address it before it starts.
Don't Fail the Shit Test
When a toxic person first meets you they have no idea if you have how strong your boundaries are. They have to figure it out, and they accomplish the task by “shit-testing” you.
Shit-testing is exactly what it sounds like. It is being given shit by someone so that they can see how far you’ll let them go. Here are some examples of that:
Sliding snide remarks into your conversations
Playing “Devil’s Advocate” to ALL of your opinions
Damaging your property
Gossiping and instigating about someone else
It starts small because it’s a test. If you successfully demonstrate that you notice they're tiptoeing on your boundaries and that their behavior won’t slide, they’ll figure you have strong boundaries and will either move on to the next victim or test you again. However, if you:
Don't tell them what's acceptable behavior in order to be in your life
Continue to engage them in conversation
Continuously allow them to bait you into arguments
Fail to address when they damage your property
Defend your boundaries, feelings, or emotions to them
Entertain their gossip and instigating
You’re effectively showing them you have weak boundaries that they can step right over.
The best ways to demonstrate your boundaries are situational. You can't handle a toxic co-worker the same way you handle a toxic friend. Here are some tried and true methods:
Strongest & Most Effective Methods
Tell them that their current behavior is unacceptable and what you'll accept going forward
Remove yourself from their environment
Remove them from your environment
Great for Work Situations, Co-Parenting etc.
Only engage on strict terms and for strict reasons
Limit your accessibility
Disengage from the conversation
Don't Fail the Follow-Up Shit Test
Now, let’s address the toxic person who tests you again after you’ve appropriately communicated your boundaries. An easy example is a guy who asks for your phone number but when you say "no" he follows up with a “why not?” “Please?” “Oh, you have a boyfriend? Well, can you have friends?” That guy doesn’t want to be your friend, he gets a thrill out of testing women’s boundaries and succeeding is just the cherry on top. If you value your boundaries his insistence will feel “off” to you and make you uncomfortable, thus triggering you to stand firmly. If you have weak boundaries you might giggle, give in, and think “he’s so persistent," "it's cute," "why not?!”
In that scenario, you established your boundaries when you decided that you would not give out your contact information. Next, you communicated your boundary by saying “no” when he requested your phone number. What followed your "no" revealed his character. For example, when a person who respects other peoples boundaries hears “no,” they let the request go and move along. However, when a toxic person hears “no,” they attempt to put you in a position to defend your boundary like in my example above. The prompting you to defend your boundary is the "follow-up shit test."
The follow-up shit test is arguably the most CRUCIAL for you to pass. If you give in, then you’ve effectively unlocked your door and let in a toxic person. If you stand firm then your capacity enforce boundaries increases. There are so many benefits to passing the follow-up shit test. Standing firm in your convictions helps strengthen your confidence and trust in yourself; it also keeps toxic people from wreaking havoc in your life.
Understand that follow-up shit tests aren't always in the form of you defending your boundary. Other examples can be a person telling you to “calm down” asking "why you're so angry," anything that gets you off kilter and makes you question yourself. My favorite follow-up shit test is “it was just a joke.” I've seen people throw up Nazi salutes, get swastikas tattooed, or say the n-word, and say "it was just a joke" when called out. Personally, I dated a guy who got upset because my cat laid on his backpack and left fur behind. The guy balled up his fist and walked towards my cat with rage-face. When I stopped him he said, "I was just joking." Yeah, sure buddy. Exit my apartment, please! OKAY, THANK YOU, BUH BYE!
What Causes Lack of or Insufficient Boundary Setting?
Many times, but not every time, it stems from a childhood where perhaps you had an emotionally disconnected relationship with your parents that was more authoritative than open and emotionally supportive. In that type of parent-child relationship whatever they said went and there was no discussion about it. You didn’t feel comfortable speaking up for yourself. You became used to ignoring your feelings for the appeasement of others and you never developed an "internal alarm" for toxic behaviors.
Don't try to "fix" or "help" them!
First things first, none of us on this earth are perfect and if you've been rendezvousing with a toxic person that means you need just as much fixing as they do. Most toxic people have absolutely no idea that they’re toxic. The reason is that they see life through their own lens like you and I. They have a “me first” perspective on life and they assume that everyone else does as well. Therefore, to them, their behavior is normal, and your reaction to their behavior is what’s "abnormal", "weak" or "an overreaction."
It is not your job to help them see that they’re toxic because that requires you to invest more energy into a bad situation. Your best resolve is to develop your boundaries, enforce them, and optimistically move forward with your life. The greater your ability to filter out toxic behaviors the more room you'll have available for uplifting, supportive, kind, and loving behaviors.
P.S. If you're struggling with toxic people and this post resonates with you, don't feel bad. I was able to write about it because I lived it. It gets better once you establish what and who you choose to allow in your space and ENFORCE IT.