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Check out more free resources in our Pint-Sized Healing Section. When you find yourself in an emotionally abusive situation that you cannot—or are not ready to—leave, it is important that you start putting up some boundaries. These will protect you from the abuse, and can help you get started on your healing journey.
Cut The Virtual Cord
If you use social media, block, hide and unfriend those people who are abusive toward you. You don’t want to come across their faces and stories even when you are not in the same room as them. Besides, an emotional bully is always looking for ammunition, and your photos and stories about your personal life are great fodder.
“I worked with a severe emotional vampire who I had become friends with on Facebook. After a few months, I started realizing that I was not sharing with my friends what I wanted say because I knew my colleague would use it against me. A night of cocktails with my girl friends would surely lead to remarks to my face, and who knows what gossip behind my back. When I unfriended and blocked her, she kicked up a storm and told anyone that would listen what a horrible person I was.”
Keeping yourself safe online is important, and being considerate what you share is always good policy. We have assembled some information about managing your accounts and privacy settings on our forum.
You Do Not Need To Always Be Available
One factor in emotional abuse is not being allowed to have your own life and identity. Sometimes it seems that toxic people think you only pop into existence in their presence. So when they call, you had better answer on the first ring.
“I remember a time when my mother called. It was a Friday, and I was off sick from work (which she did not know). When she called I was in the bathroom, but I called back within a few minutes. I got a huge telling off for not answering immediately—only to be followed by a chatty conversation about nothing at all. When I hung up I realized how strange it was that she told me off. If I had been at work, I might not have been able to call her back for hours”.
One way to start creating some distance and claiming space for yourself is not to jump to attention at the drop of a hat. Let your voice mail get it, or wait a day or two to answer their email. You will get some grief for it initially. So stand your ground!
“I once canceled a dinner date with my sisters last minute—apparently without giving a satisfactory explanation. My sister called me 19 times that weekend, and texted and emailed me a number of times, too. I answered her emails with short, detached responses, but refused her calls. She was utterly panicked, but why? She knew I was alive and well, all I had done was cancel dinner“.
Don’t Get Pulled Into Gossip And Complaining
Toxic people like nothing more than complaining and gossiping. When you talk to a toxic person there is nothing good enough and no-one free from judgment. Getting involved with their gossip will pull you into a black hole of negativity.
Do not get pulled into that vortex.
Not only will this negativity drag you down and mess up your energy. Also, remember that whatever you say can and will be used against you. If you engage in a conversation about the neighbor, you can be sure that the toxic person will be having a little chat with them about it later. And be sure that they’ll turn it around on you by saying, ‘You will never believe what so-and-so said about you! I thought I would let you know, because I would hate for that rumor to be spread behind your back!’
“When I worked for a toxic boss, he would always try to create distance between the people working in the office. Gossiping about our co-workers was a favored strategy. He would manipulate us into agreeing that they were bad at their job, or had screwed up an assignment. Then at the next staff meeting he would tell someone off, and add a little ‘She agrees with me’ at the end”.
Make Sure You Have An Exit Strategy
Trouble people truly believe that the world revolves around them. So the idea that you would not want to spend all your time with them is alien to them. So not only should you jump when they say jump, you should continue jumping until they are bored. It can be difficult to get away, and so having an exit strategy can be very helpful. When you meet, make it an activity with a clearly defined end.
“My sister would drone on endlessly on the phone. A quick call in her world was 45 minutes of complaining about the people in her work, the mortgage, and her partner. It was hard to hang up until she decided she was done, and would terminate the conversation almost abruptly. If I would need to ask her something or arrange something, I would dread contacting her as I knew I would get sucked into an hour-long conversation that I did not really have the time for. And so I started paying more attention to her schedule. I would try to get a sense of her weekly activities, and call her maybe 10 minutes before I knew she would need to go to yoga class. It meant I could just ask what needed asking, and then the call would end because she ‘had to run’. It was the most useful strategy to limit her phone time”.
Stick To Breezy Topics
Talking about topics that are of significance gives the toxic person more information to be used against you. When you talk about an incident at work, a row you had with your significant other, or even a day with your family that made you truly happy, you give the bully more insight into your emotional state. More insight means more information to perform a custom attack to cause the most possible drama and upheaval.
“I was silly enough to tell my father that my partner was being considered for a promotion at work. It did not take them long to interfere with the employer and destroy his reputation and therewith his opportunities. In the end, it even became so bad that he had to leave the job all together.”
If you can, stick to shooting the breeze. Answer questions about your life with empty phrases like ‘good’ and ‘yes, everything is fine’. Then talk about the weather, or the latest top 40 hit that has been playing day and night.
Say No To Alone Time
In this case, by alone time I mean the following: time alone with your bully. Emotional bullies prefer to unleash their terror behind closed doors. So making sure there are others around who can help. Toxic people are often quite aware of acceptable behavior and can mimic it like a master. Having people around means they will want to keep their masks on. Having witnesses makes it harder for them to throw a tantrum, gaslight you or use any of the other tricks of the trade.
“When attending my sister’s wedding, I spend most of the time close to her new in-laws. These were people that my mother still wanted to impress, and so she would not be openly hostile against me. Fun fact: even in the group shots I seem part of my sister’s in-laws rather than my own family”.
Distance Is The Only Cure
I appreciate that the above strategies are not always easy to implement. So much depends on your situation, and also on the level of the bully’s toxicity. All these strategies are about creating distance, and empowering yourself. It is impossible to have a meaningful and deep relationship with someone who is trying to control and restrict you. And in many cases terminating a relationship altogether is the only true cure.
Also remember that an emotional bully needs a victim as much as oxygen. When they feel they are losing control over you, they usually kick up a storm or launch a charm offensive to get you back in your place. So when you are implementing strategies it is important you stick to them.
It is much like training a dog because consistency is crucial.