We talk quite often about the traits of abusers, and the strategies they use to control their targets. But how can you recognize the toxic and abusive nature of a relationship when you are first getting to know a person, OR when you are so enthralled in the abuse that it become hard to make sense of things? We are looking at 7 simple personal rights that abusers typically do not respect. They are very basic, and in any healthy relationship, no matter in what setting, you should feel comfortable with and about these.
If you find yourself in interactions with someone who does not respect these, then you are dealing with a person who is trying to limit and control you. This may not always be or lead to a full-on abusive situation, but it would definitely be a sign of unhealthy interpersonal interaction. So, let’s get started.
This is about bullying at the basest level. My mother is a bully and as a child,
I was her verbal / emotional punching bag. It’s tough to deal with a bully at school.
What do you do when the bully runs your home?
You should always be allowed to express yourself, of course while respecting the other’s opinions, feeling and needs too.
When you feel like your stories and expressions are not valued or listened to, you will begin to feel that they do not matter. Being allowed to express yourself, finish your thoughts and speak you mind are signs of a healthy and balanced relationship. Even if you don’t agree with the other person (more on that later) you should still feel comfortable to express those opinions.
“In my family I was constantly interrupted. It did not even really matter who i was talking to. I don’t mean the kind of interrupted when you are just in an animated discussion, or if something just jumped into the other person’s mind and the have to let you know before the forget. Those types of interruptions usually lead to you being able to continue your story or thought. My family members would just cut through my words and start their own – unrelated – story. My mother was especially bad for this, and we very rarely spoke about anything other than her day at work while having dinner.”
Nobody can “do it all”, and the choice what makes it onto your to do list is entirely your own. If you think volunteer work is more important that having a sleep in on Saturday, kudos! If you decide the other way around, that is fine too. It also means that you can make decisions about what you like and don’t like to do. If you enjoy singing and hate hiking, you will want to prioritize the first. Toxic people do not respect your right to make those choices about your life. They will expect you to follow their priorities and likes or face the consequences.
“My favorite color is black, because I had no choices. By the time I was born, mother had assigned favorite colors to each of the children and herself. Yellow, purple, blue and two others were already claimed with conviction or indifference by my mother and siblings. My father had no color that I am aware of. So… I chose black. In retrospect, that is the absence of color and I was correct in my selection”
Without owing any further explanation or justification (even if you have previously said yes to the same thing). Saying no is not always easy, but it should not be downright impossible. The more I experience healthy relationships, the more I realize that saying no really is not the end of the world. For a toxic person though, it is an impossibility. You are after all not in charge of your life, activities, opinions… You are merely an extension of the toxic person.
“When I was on sick leave from work, my mother figured I had plenty of time to do some volunteer work for her Church. Having suffered a massive break down, even going to the supermarket was challenging for me, so you can see how waitressing for a day was not going to be an option. At the very least not without facing the consequences to my health. My mother however sees ‘seeming a good Christian and active Church member’ as a much higher priority than ‘my daughter’s health and well-being’. So my protest fell on deaf ears, and it was through sheer luck that I managed to get out of her commitment of my time”.
When it comes to your physical, mental and emotional well-being, you are allowed (in fact, you really have an obligation to yourself) to keep yourself safe from attacks.
That means that, regardless of your relationship to someone, if they make you feel unsafe you are free to protect yourself. Friends, partners, parents, sibling… nobody should make you feel you are under attack. If they do, it is up to you to protect yourself. Putting up boundaries or even removing yourself from the situation all together are simply ways to ensure your safety. They are not “punishment” to the toxic person (although they will try and convince the world they are).
“Last year I invited an old friend up to stay with us for a while. I knew she was still in contact with my sisters and parents, but I figured 35 years of friendship would count for something. The whole week she was around I felt triggered and defensive. She kept commenting that “I did not have to be so defensive, she was not attacking me”, but the truth was that she was. Maybe not intentionally or consciously, but she was. Why else did I constantly feel I needed to justify and defend my life, my choices… In the end I decided I was better off cutting her out of my life too. It was heartbreaking, but she was causing me more harm than good.”
Just because you disagree with someone on some points does not mean the end of intelligent discourse, or at least it shouldn’t. People in healthy relationships can disagree on any number of issues, without it influencing their relationship. In fact, it can lead to lovely discussion, new insights and personal growth. Not with abusers though! Since they are the center of their universe, theirs is the only opinion that matters and is right. No debate, no discourse… you either get with the program or you are doomed.
“My manager would frequently comment: ‘You are not paid to think!‘ when one of us would make a suggestion about the work or our processes. He used to make it sound like a joke, but really it was his management style. He would simply not accept any idea, opinion or suggestion that was not his own.”
Even when you disagree, say no, or decide on different priorities, nobody should make you feel 2 inches tall.
You know that you can treat someone respectfully, even if you don’t like them very much or your disagree on something. There really never is a reason to disrespect and marginalize another person. Not when you are having a bad day, when you disagree, when they do something you think is stupid, not when they turn you down or when you achieve something. Those are all instances when the Toxic Person will dig into you, and take you down a peg or two!
“After I spend 3 days in the kitchen baking for an elaborate high tea for my mother and her 60 birthday guests. I got a compliment from a neighbor who teaches at a culinary college about the achievement. My mother overheard him, and spend the rest of the party center stage telling embarrassing stories about my childhood.”
If someone is expecting or demanding you make choices that clearly stop you from building a fulfilling life, you may want to decide not to let them have such influence on your life. Some distance or even a complete removal of toxic people is often the best way to keep them from bringing you down. It may seem extreme, and even a little scary but you are worth the prospect of living the best life possible.
“When my partner and I were trying to sell our house, so we could try our luck somewhere else, my sister agreed to rent our home while it was on the market. She was living with my parents at the time, since her job had relocated her back to the area we grew up. We agreed on a rent and a moving date. After a couple of months she still had not moved or paid any rent. The strain of paying our mortgage and a rent became too much, and we had not choice but to move back to our flat. After we moved back my sister paid the rent for all the months she would have (but did not) live in our home. Gracious? Sure, if she hadn’t told my other sister the reason she was not paying was that she ‘did not want to contribute to the biggest mistake of our lives’. It was a complete manipulation! If the move was a mistake, it was at least ours to make!”