How to Set Boundaries with Toxic People (2023)

It isnt easy to set boundaries with toxic people, but its something we can all learn to do and when we do, its empowering.

Boundaries are a way to take care of ourselves. When we set boundaries, were less angry and resentful because our needs are getting met. Boundaries make our expectations clear, so others know what to expect from us and how we want to be treated. Boundaries are the foundation of happy, healthy relationships.

Ideally, people will respect our boundaries when we communicate them clearly. But we all know that some people will do everything they can to resist our efforts to set boundaries; they will argue, blame, ignore, manipulate, threaten, or physically hurt us. And while we cant prevent people from acting like this, we can learn to set clear boundaries and take care of ourselves.

There are three parts to setting boundaries.

  1. Identify your boundaries. Be clear about what you need before trying to communicate or enforce the boundary.
  2. Communicate your boundaries or expectations clearly, calmly, and consistently. Stick to the facts without overexplaining, blaming, or becoming defensive. For example, its more effective to say Im calling a cab. Im not getting in the car with you when youve been drinking, than to lose your temper and say I cant believe youre going to drive home after youve been drinking all night! Every time we go out, its the same thing. Im not going to take it anymore! And if youre making a request, be specific so that you both know exactly what youre agreeing to.
  3. If your boundaries arent respected, evaluate your options and take action.

This article will focus on the third step what we can do when our boundaries arent respected.

Toxic people can be family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. They ooze negative energy and leave us feeling worse whenever were around them. If we tune into our instincts, we usually know when someone is toxic and not healthy to be around. However, toxic people can be manipulative and charming (a dangerous mix) and often try to convince us that they aren’t mistreating us or that we are troubled, unreasonable, confused, and are to blame for their behavior.

Below is a list of common characteristics of toxic people, which can help you identify toxic people in your life.

  • Lie frequently
  • Dont respect your boundaries
  • Manipulate you to get what they want
  • Dont consider other peoples feelings or needs
  • Feel entitled
  • Rarely apologize and if they do, its shallow, coerced, or fake
  • Blame others and dont take responsibility for their actions
  • Drain your energy
  • Have a lot of drama or problems, but dont want to change
  • Think the rules dont apply to them
  • Talk, but dont listen
  • Criticize
  • Overreact
  • Invalidate or ignore your feelings
  • Undermine your relationship with your spouse, kids, or other relatives
  • Use passive-aggressive behavior (such as the silent treatment, deliberate procrastination, forgetting, or criticism disguised as a compliment)
  • Gaslight (a powerful form of manipulation that makes you doubt your perception of whats going on)
  • Refuse to compromise
  • Yell, curse, or call you names
  • Make unreasonable demands
  • Expect you to help them, but they arent available to help you
  • Ruin holidays and special occasions
  • Create so much stress, anxiety, and pain that your health, ability to work, or general wellbeing are negatively impacted
  • Interacting with them makes you feel worse
  • They are always right (and you are always wrong)
  • Lack genuine concern or interest in you and your life
  • Have volatile or unpredictable moods and behaviors
  • May become physically aggressive
  • Belittle your values, beliefs, choices
  • Gossip or speak ill of you behind your back
  • Have temper tantrums or fits of rage when they don’t get what they want

Setting boundaries is an ongoing process and there isnt a quick fix for dealing with boundary violators. The bottom line is that we cant make people respect our boundaries, but we can control how we respond. The following ideas can help you choose the best approach for dealing with chronic boundary violators.

Decide whether this boundary is negotiable.

Some boundaries are more important than others. Identifying what youre willing to accept and what you consider intolerable or non-negotiable will help you decide if youre willing to compromise. Compromise can be a good thing if both people are adjusting. However, true compromise isnt abandoning your needs to please someone else or accepting treatment that you consider a deal-breaker. If someone repeatedly violates your most important boundaries, you have to ask yourself how long youre willing to accept such treatment. Ive seen people accept disrespect and abuse for years and years, hoping a toxic person will change only to look back in hindsight and see that this person had no intention of changing or respecting boundaries.

Write down whats happening.

Record the boundary violations and your responses. This will help you check for weak spots in your boundaries. Its hard to repeatedly set the same boundary with someone who isnt listening and often we start to give in and become inconsistent with our boundaries. If you notice that you arent consistently setting healthy boundaries, make adjustments. And if you are being consistent, writing things down can help you get clarity about what youre willing to accept and how you feel about it.

Accept that some people will not respect your boundaries no matter what you do.

This is a difficult truth to accept because wed like to be able to convince people to respect our boundaries. I know its disappointing to realize that you may need to decide whether you want to continue to have a relationship with this person. But you cant change someone elses behavior. You can choose to accept it or you can choose to disengage.

Practice loving detachment.

Detaching is a shift away from trying to control people and situations. When youre in a state of fear, its understandable that you want to control things to protect yourself. But trying to control other people never works. When we detach, we stop trying to change others and force the outcome that we want. You can detach from a narcissistic or toxic person by:

  • Physically leaving a dangerous or uncomfortable situation.
  • Responding differently. For example, instead of taking something personally or yelling, we can shrug off a rude comment or make a joke of it. This changes the dynamics of the interaction.
  • Declining invitations to spend time with them.
  • Letting them make their own decisions and deal with the consequences of those choices.
  • Not giving unsolicited advice.
  • Choosing not to participate in the same old arguments or taking space away from an unproductive conversation or argument.

Detaching doesnt mean you dont care about this person, it means youre taking care of yourself and being realistic about what you can do in each situation.

Consider limiting contact or going no-contact.

Sometimes the only way to protect yourself is to stop associating with toxic people who dont respect you. Limited or no-contact isnt intended to punish or manipulate others, its a form of self-care. If someone is hurting you physically or emotionally, you owe it to yourself to put some distance between you and this person. Despite what others may say, you dont have to have a relationship with family members or anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. Family and friends should lift you up and support you, not leave you depressed, anxious, angry, or confused.

Follow through on consequences.

Boundaries shouldn’t be idle threats. Nor should they be a way to punish or control someone else. (Remember, boundaries are a way to take care of yourself.) However, there are consequences to violating someone’s boundaries. The consequences may be some of the things we’ve already discussed such as limiting contact or leaving the room. In other situations, the consequence might be calling the police or speaking to your supervisor or human resources department about a boundary issue at work. The consequence could also be simply letting someone experience the natural consequences of their actions, such as getting a DUI if they drive drunk.

Get support.

You dont have to go through this difficult experience alone. I encourage you to reach out for support from friends, family members, your religious community, or others. A therapist or support group (such as Codependents Anonymous) can also be an important part of healing and sorting through your feelings and options, especially if shame or embarrassment makes it hard to talk to your friends about how this toxic person has been treating you.

One of the great things about being an adult is that you have choices. You dont have to continue to be friends with someone who takes advantage of your kindness or work for someone who criticizes and belittles you non-stop or stay in a romantic relationship with someone who gaslights you.

We all have choices — sometimes we dont like particularly like any of them, but its important to know that we have them. We arent trapped or powerless.

Choosing to end relationships (even abusive relationships) is painful. And for practical reasons, you may not be able to end a toxic relationship right this second. But you can look for a new job or stay with a friend or at a shelter in order to eventually free yourself from a person who hurts you physically and/or emotionally.

If were honest, sometimes were just not ready to go no-contact or end a relationship even though deep inside we know its unhealthy to continue. If this is the case, you can: 1) Identify your choices (such as detaching physically and emotionally, limiting contact, avoiding being alone with the person, practicing self-care); 2) Choose the best option (none may be ideal); 3) Respect yourself; 4) And trust your instincts.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Sometimes others will be angry or offended by your choices even though you arent setting boundaries to be mean or difficult and sometimes you cannot continue to have these people in your life. Boundaries are a way to protect yourself from harm and maintain your autonomy and individuality. These are priceless gifts that you deserve to give yourself.

Finding Emotional Freedom After a Toxic Relationship

It’s OK to Cut Ties with a Toxic Family Member

Sign up for my free newsletter and Resource Library (over 40 free tools for overcoming codependency, building self-esteem, knowing yourself better, setting boundaries, and more).

2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. Adapted from an article originally written for Photo by domeckopo from Pixabay


How do you set boundaries on toxic people? ›

4 tips to set boundaries and maintain them with toxic people
  1. Know your limits. We should not let people push past us. ...
  2. Communicate boundaries clearly and assertively. ...
  3. Don't make excuses for their behaviour. ...
  4. Be willing to walk away from the relationship.
Oct 22, 2022

How do you set boundaries with someone who is always negative? ›

And remember, some toxic people thrive on breaking the very boundaries that you're trying to keep intact.
  1. Identify your core values. ...
  2. Stay calm, and communicate your boundaries. ...
  3. Limit the time you spend with them. ...
  4. Assess your social media. ...
  5. Don't expect change right away.
Jan 31, 2020

How do you protect yourself from toxic people? ›

Read on for tips on how to respond to this type of behavior.
  1. Avoid playing into their reality. ...
  2. Don't get drawn in. ...
  3. Pay attention to how they make you feel. ...
  4. Talk to them about their behavior. ...
  5. Put yourself first. ...
  6. Offer compassion, but don't try to fix them. ...
  7. Say no (and walk away) ...
  8. Remember, you aren't at fault.
Nov 21, 2019

How to set boundaries with someone who doesn t respect you? ›

How to set boundaries with toxic people
  1. Identify your boundaries. Be clear on what you need before trying to communicate or enforce the boundary.
  2. Communicate your boundaries or expectations clearly, calmly, and consistently. ...
  3. If your boundaries aren't respected, evaluate your options and take action.
Dec 14, 2017

What are the 7 types of boundaries? ›

7 Types of Boundaries You May Need
  • What boundaries do you need? ...
  • 1) Physical Boundaries. ...
  • 2) Sexual Boundaries. ...
  • 3) Emotional or Mental Boundaries. ...
  • 4) Spiritual or Religious Boundaries. ...
  • 5) Financial and Material Boundaries. ...
  • 6) Time Boundaries. ...
  • 7) Non-Negotiable Boundaries.
Apr 23, 2020

How do you neutralize toxic people? ›

How to eliminate toxic people from your life.
  1. Let them know how you feel. While you do not owe them an explanation, this is probably more for you. ...
  2. Put some distance between you and them. ...
  3. Set hard boundaries. ...
  4. Don't be pulled into a crisis. ...
  5. Spend more time with positive people. ...
  6. Talk to someone. ...
  7. Forgive but don't forget.
Sep 25, 2020

How do you set boundaries with manipulative people? ›

One simple tactic you can use is to simply say, “I think you are deflecting things away from the issue I'm bringing up right now. I feel strongly that there is something here that we need to look at and I'm not willing to just sweep it under the carpet or take the blame.”

Who gets upset when you set boundaries? ›

"The only people who get upset when you start setting boundaries are the ones who benefited from you not having them."

What kind of person doesn t respect boundaries? ›

Conflict avoidance and people pleasing are common in codependent relationships. Among others, these behaviors may signal difficulty in establishing and respecting boundaries. Feeling resentment for the things you do for the other person, even if you've volunteered, is also a sign of codependency.

What are the signs of a toxic person? ›

Signs you're in a toxic situation with someone
  • They gaslight or lie to you. ...
  • They don't apologize properly. ...
  • They don't understand how their behavior makes others feel. ...
  • They think they are superior to others. ...
  • They see themselves as a victim of their own behavior. ...
  • People can't change their toxic personality traits.

How do you break toxic behavior? ›

How To Work Through Your Own Toxic Habits
  1. Listen To The People You've Hurt. ...
  2. Acknowledge Your Harmful Behaviour. ...
  3. Accept Responsibility For Your Actions & Be Accountable. ...
  4. Don't Be Afraid To Be Vulnerable & Ask For Help. ...
  5. Commit To Change. ...
  6. Don't Expect Forgiveness. ...
  7. Forgive Yourself.
Aug 4, 2020

How can you tell if you're a toxic person? ›

Signs of a toxic person.
  • You're always sarcastic.
  • You deal with conflict in a roundabout way.
  • Everything is a competition.
  • You turn everything into a joke.
  • You want to fix everyone and everything.
  • You secretly crave disaster because of the care you receive from it.

How do you politely set someone's boundaries? ›

How to set boundaries with kindness
  1. Keep the focus on your feelings and needs. Setting a boundary is about communicating what you need and expect. ...
  2. Be direct. ...
  3. Be specific. ...
  4. Use a neutral tone of voice. ...
  5. Choose the right time. ...
  6. Consider the other persons needs.
Jan 25, 2019

How do you set boundaries with a narcissist? ›

15 ways to set boundaries with a narcissist
  1. Understand what and who you are dealing with.
  2. Don't allow yourself to be manipulated.
  3. Know your limit.
  4. Don't feel the need to defend yourself around them.
  5. Listen to your gut.
  6. Don't show them how their behavior affects you.
  7. Choose the best way to react.
  8. It's okay to say no.
Apr 19, 2023

What are the five types of boundary violations? ›

There are other variations of boundary violations, but watching for these 10 in your own life is a good place to start.
  • 1) Lies and Deception. ...
  • 2) Manipulation. ...
  • 3) Gaslighting. ...
  • 4) Harassing, Nagging, Arguing, Convincing. ...
  • 5) Taking Advantage of a Child, Dependent Adult, or Older Adult.
Oct 18, 2021

What are 5 healthy boundaries? ›

Here are five examples of healthy relationship boundaries:
  • Expecting others to communicate during disagreements with maturity.
  • Letting go of codependency and having your own identity.
  • Asking for personal space and quiet when you're working.
  • Voicing your concerns rather than holding onto resentment.
Apr 13, 2022

What are 3 examples of natural boundaries? ›

Rivers, mountain ranges, oceans, and deserts can all serve as physical boundaries.

What are the 3 personal boundaries? ›

These boundaries typically fall into a few specific categories: emotional (protecting our own emotional well-being) physical (protecting our physical space) sexual (protecting our needs and safety sexually)

What happens when you cut off a toxic person? ›

“There can be a real grieving process when cutting off a toxic family member,” says MacMillan. “Grief that the relationship is not working, especially if it once did. Recognizing this process takes time and cutting yourself a little slack when it comes to self-judgment is key.”

What makes a toxic person toxic? ›

People with toxic traits can sometimes refuse to admit when they've said or done something wrong. They may not take responsibility for their own actions or feel the need to apologize. They may find a way to shift the blame to you or try to defend their offensive behavior.

What happens when you ignore a toxic person? ›

Toxic people are often pessimistic, and their attitude can be contagious. If you spend too much time around them, you may start to doubt yourself and question your ability to achieve your goals. Additionally, toxic people can be manipulative and Machiavellian.

How do you outsmart a manipulator? ›

6 ways to disarm a manipulator
  1. Postpone your answer. Don't give them an answer on the spot. ...
  2. Question their motivations. Manipulators often hide their real motivations because they don't like to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors. ...
  3. Show disinterest. ...
  4. Impose boundaries. ...
  5. Keep your self-respect. ...
  6. Apply fogging.
Jun 23, 2021

What do manipulators fear? ›

The manipulator may feel stress and anxiety from having to constantly “cover” themselves, for fear of being found out and exposed. The manipulator may experience quiet but persistent moral crises and ethical conflicts, and may have a difficult time living with themselves.

How do you stand your ground with a manipulator? ›

Be Assertive

Be direct and persistent, and use "I" statements to avoid generalities and accusations. For instance, you could say, "I would feel taken advantage of if I did that" instead of, "You're taking advantage of me!" Manipulators will often change the subject or use other avoidance tactics when you confront them.

What personality disorder pushes boundaries? ›

People with borderline personality disorder tend to have trouble understanding and respecting boundaries. Like Lisa, they often push limits. Psychologist Daniel S. Lobel, Ph.

What is the psychology behind setting boundaries? ›

Setting boundaries in relationships (including friendships and romantic relationships) can help you retain your own identity, may help prevent others from taking advantage of you, and can help both people have more empathy for one another and maintain mental and emotional well-being.

What happens when you set boundaries with a narcissist? ›

Self-care. If dealing with a narcissist is more than a one-time event, people must spend time cultivating boundaries to protect themselves. Once an individual begins using boundaries, the narcissists lose credibility and those things that used to feel validating to them.

Why do people hate when you set boundaries? ›

When you establish a new boundary with someone, the most common form of resistance is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves.

What does violating boundaries look like? ›

You could probably list some obvious boundary violations, such as nonconsensual touch, name-calling, unsolicited advice, taking what's not given, and sharing confidential information without permission.

How to deal with someone who disrespects you? ›

  1. Realize that rudeness is nothing new.
  2. Stop the spiral of rudeness.
  3. Don't take rudeness personally.
  4. React to rudeness with kindness.
  5. Use humor to defuse a difficult person.
  6. Call the person out on his or her behavior.
  7. Don't escalate.
  8. Show empathy and sympathy.
Jul 22, 2019

What are the 4 toxic behaviors? ›

The four behaviours are Blaming, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. Relationship expert Dr John Gottman termed these "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" as they spell disaster for any personal or professional relationship.

What is a truly toxic person? ›

A toxic person is anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life. Many times, people who are toxic are dealing with their own stresses and traumas. To do this, they act in ways that don't present them in the best light and usually upset others along the way.

What are some things toxic people say? ›

Toxic phrases that can slowly destroy your relationship
  • “You don't deserve me.” ...
  • “Stop asking if I'm okay. ...
  • “You're pathetic.” ...
  • “I hate you.” ...
  • “You're a bad parent.” ...
  • “You're being crazy.” ...
  • “You're so needy.” ...
  • “I'm over this.”
Feb 13, 2023

What triggers toxic behavior? ›

Many people who behave in a toxic manner have been through trauma themselves, and instead of dealing with that trauma, these people start exhibiting toxic traits. These people usually don't know how to process trauma and stress in a healthy manner, so they end up being unpleasant around people.

What is toxic thinking? ›

Toxic thoughts are false beliefs that negatively influence your life (and the lives of those who are close to you). Your thinking can also affect your health, sleep patterns, anxiety levels, and more. Consider these examples of toxic thinking: Personalizing failure. Fearing rejection.

What are the stages of toxic people? ›

Toxic relationships generally follow three stages: idealizing, devaluing, and discarding. Learn about each of these stages and the impact it has on you.

What is a subtle toxic trait? ›

Toxic traits may also manifest in more subtle ways, such as passive-aggressive behavior or manipulation. Toxic people may attempt to control conversations by steering things in a certain direction, change topics when things don't go their way, or use guilt-tripping tactics to get you to give into their demands.

How do you set boundaries with emotionally draining friends? ›

What is the best way to set boundaries?
  1. Take a step back. Taking a step back can help you to assess how you are feeling right now. ...
  2. Be direct. ...
  3. Be honest with yourself. ...
  4. Accept your feelings. ...
  5. Make self-care your priority. ...
  6. Stay strong.
Nov 26, 2022

What are the narcissists weakness? ›

A monumental weakness in the narcissist is the failure to look internally and flesh out what needs to be worked on. Then, of course, the next step is to spend time improving. The narcissist sabotages any possibility of looking deep within.

What triggers a narcissist? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to: Environment — parent-child relationships with either too much adoration or too much criticism that don't match the child's actual experiences and achievements. Genetics — inherited characteristics, such as certain personality traits.

How do you outwit a narcissist? ›

Eight Ways to Outsmart a Narcissist
  1. Recognize you're dealing with a narcissist.
  2. Understand the behaviors they use to manipulate or control you.
  3. Create boundaries for yourself.
  4. Express those boundaries in advance.
  5. Share when your boundaries have been crossed.
  6. Don't be afraid to have open conversations in front of others.
Oct 18, 2022

What are 3 examples of boundary crossing? ›

Boundary crossing often involved clinically effective interventions, such as self-disclosure, home visit, non-sexual touch, gifts or bartering. Dual relationships or Multiple Relationships in psychotherapy refers to any situation where multiple roles exist between a therapist and a client.

What are examples of boundary rules? ›

Examples of Boundaries

If there is someone very angry in your life, consider saying: "You may not continue to yell at me. If you do, I will leave the room and end this meeting.” If there is someone who pressures you for things to be done immediately: "I have a policy of not making snap decisions.

What are boundaries examples? ›

Some examples of personal boundaries might be:
  • I'm cool with following each other on social media, but not with sharing passwords.
  • I'm comfortable kissing and holding hands, but not in public.
  • I'm okay with regularly texting, but I don't want to text multiple times in an hour.

How do you set boundaries when disrespected? ›

Essential ingredients of effective boundary setting:
  1. Tell the other person what you are going to do, not what they should do. ...
  2. Be firm but dispassionate, clear and concise both when boundaries are established and when enforcing. ...
  3. Make it about you and your limits — NOT about them or what's best for them.
Nov 16, 2019

How do you set boundaries with emotionally draining people? ›

Speak openly, respectfully and clearly about how you are feeling and why you think boundaries may be helpful. Ensure you ask them what they think, how they feel, and if there may be any boundaries they would find helpful, too. Remember: it's ok to compromise!

How do narcissists set boundaries? ›

Refuse to engage in further interaction, no matter what they do or say. When you set such boundaries, narcissists may cycle through their repertoire: arguing; blaming; minimizing your feelings; acting like a victim; saying that you're too sensitive; or becoming rageful.

What triggers a toxic person? ›

Many people who behave in a toxic manner have been through trauma themselves, and instead of dealing with that trauma, these people start exhibiting toxic traits. These people usually don't know how to process trauma and stress in a healthy manner, so they end up being unpleasant around people.

How do you shut down a rude person? ›

The best way to avoid rude people is to meet their acts of rudeness with kindness and then remove yourself from their presence. If you can't do this and can't walk away, try grey rocking, which involves acting as unresponsive as possible like avoiding eye contact or not showing emotions when conversing.

What kind of people disrespect boundaries? ›

Unfortunately, people who are manipulative, narcissistic, and have a poor sense of self tend to repeatedly violate personal boundaries. One of the biggest challenges that people have with boundaries is figuring out what to do when someone repeatedly violates them.

How do you tell someone they drain your energy? ›

Gently, let them know that it was hard for you to support them and be a good friend and that it was causing you mental anguish and stress. Don't blame them for the end of the friendship or make them feel bad for going through a tough time, but instead take ownership of your decisions and your choices.

How do you emotionally detach from a toxic person? ›

Tips for detaching from a toxic relationship
  1. Try to avoid sexual contact. Try to stop all sexual contact with the person you're leaving. ...
  2. Try to stay away from alcohol or drugs. ...
  3. Consider joining a support group. ...
  4. Consider asking for help.
Aug 20, 2021

How do you tell someone to stop emotional dumping on you? ›

Manly suggests stopping the dumping mid-stream with a comment like, “I hear that you are upset, but I don't have the mental or emotional space for this talk right now.


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