The Sex Positive Coach

Inara de Luna, Relationship Coach & Sexuality Educator


On My Own Terms: You Have the Right (and the Power) to Protect Yourself From Toxic Interactions

Posted by [email protected] on April 7, 2015 at 4:35 PM

How do you reclaim your sense of personal power after a breakup, especially one in which you lost your sense of self or power or esteem? One of the ways in which to do this is to decide to deal with things on your own terms. Sometimes this means setting extreme personal boundaries regarding contact of any kind. Sometimes this means learning when to let (or make) things roll off your back. Sometimes it means acting as if you’re doing alright (even if you really aren’t yet). There is power in setting your own boundaries, in determinedly not obsessing over things, and pretending to be fine. All of these things will contribute to you eventually being okay, for real.

What Kind of Interaction Are You Willing to Accept

Setting personal boundaries is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to reclaim your sense of personal power. Look at your interactions with the other party and determine if they are usually additive and healthy for your mental and emotional stability. Or assess whether the majority of your interactions leave you feeling bad on some level, mildly guilty, drained, unsettled, or worse. If the average sense is that you feel more depleted than uplifted, then you may need to set some boundaries with this person. Determine when and how contact will be acceptable or at least at a level you can easily cope with. And then express those boundaries to the other person.


For instance, you may decide that you don’t wish to receive phone calls from them during the day while you’re at work, because you find that you’re less able to focus after such calls. Then let them know that this is a new boundary for you and ask them to respect your wishes in this regard. If they persist in trying to call you during these restricted times, you have a choice. You can either answer the call and participate in the conversation that is likely to distress you, thereby choosing to make yourself miserable. Or you can choose not to answer the phone and refuse to feel guilty for standing by your own boundary. If you answer the phone, even after setting and expressing your boundary, you’re teaching the other person that you’re not really serious about it. If you’re willing to break your own rule, then why should they bother observing it? You have every right to protect yourself from toxic interactions. And you have the power to do so, as well. But you must accept that right and that power and the fact that we teach people how to treat us. Treat yourself with no respect, and others will do the same. If on the other hand, you stand by your words and you enforce your own boundaries (in this case, by not giving in and answering the phone), then you begin to show others that you respect yourself enough to protect your own space. This will eventually teach others to do the same or to go away, since you’re no longer as easy a “mark.”

If It's Not Yours, Don't Pick It Up

Once you do have another interaction with this person, they may use all sorts of tactics to try and convince you that it is NOT alright for you to draw your own lines and protect your space, your heart, and your mental stability. People like this are masters of manipulation, but one of the tools you can develop to combat this onslaught of shaming, guilting, threatening behaviors, is to let it roll off your back. If it is honestly not yours, don’t pick it up. When someone tries to make you feel ashamed for ignoring their call, they’re really dealing with their own sense of low self-esteem and just trying to pawn that off on you. If you accept it, then they can convince themselves that perhaps you are actually at fault to “making” them feel a certain way. But we don’t have power over others’ emotions, only our own. So, for instance, let’s continue the example of setting a boundary around when you’re willing to accept phone calls from a particular person. Imagine that they’ve trying calling you during the day, anyway, even though you expressly requested that they not do so.


First of all, acknowledge at least to yourself, how that shows how little they respect you and your space and your wishes. Secondly, when you do accept their call later in the day, accept also that they’re likely to say something to try and make you feel bad about not answering the phone earlier. Practice in your mind, “it’s not about me, I let their drama roll off my back.” No matter what they say to you to try and make you feel badly, repeat this or a similar mantra to yourself. Even if you are beginning to feel badly, do whatever you have to in order to prevent them seeing how they’re affecting you. Instead, you can simply say, “Look, I hear that it was difficult for you not to be able to reach me today, but I will no longer be accepting phone calls during my work day.” Hold to your line. You needn’t be rude or disrespectful. You needn’t explain or defend yourself or your decision. Just calmly and firmly continue to repeat your boundary in response to whatever they throw at you trying to get you to change your boundary.


If the other person’s methods continue to be negative, aggressive, and distressing, you may consider ending the call altogether. “Look, if you can’t let this go, I’m going to have to end this conversation. I’m not changing my mind. Can we talk about whatever it is you wanted to talk about? If not, I need to hang up.” And then DO SO! Again, resist the urge to get drawn into defending yourself or answering their questions about your motives for drawing your boundary. You get to determine how, when, and how much you interact with anyone, without having to prove why you feel that might be necessary. Don’t rise to the bait. Stick by your words and end the call if they won’t let the issue go.

Fake It 'Til You Make It

Unfortunately, no matter how hard we might pretend not to be affected, we often are. These interactions can be so incredibly stressful and changing one’s behavior can lead to an increase in negativity from those around us until they adjust to the new boundaries and expectations. It can sometimes seem to be the easier way out just to cave in and allow the old disrespectful behaviors to go on, because at least then (we try to convince ourselves) we don’t have to deal with the drama associated with changing those behaviors (or at least changing what we’re willing to accept). But then we do have to deal with how bad we feel during and after toxic interactions. So it’s not really any easier. But pretending “as if” a thing is true, often leads to that thing eventually becoming actually true. So if I pretend to someone that their drama doesn’t affect me, then eventually that will be true - their drama will no longer affect me! And how glorious a day that is when it finally happens. When you can look up from the phone and honestly see that the drama is being created by the other person’s issues and that you’re not responsible for the toxicity they’re spewing, you will finally know what it is to be free.


You can step into your power, claim your voice, and protect your space and your heart. You needn’t accept responsibility for anyone else’s issues or emotionality. You do have the right to draw boundaries around the behavior you’re not willing to accept. You have the power to say no, not right now, or not in this way. People will begin to respect those boundaries if you respect yourself enough to defend your boundaries. And you will eventually feel better about yourself and attract into your life the kind of people who will naturally respect you.


Categories: relationship health

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