What do you do when you recognize that someone is trying to manipulate you?
A typical response is to villainize the offender.
"She's trying to lay a guilt trip on me."
"She is a bully."
"He is toxic."
"I can't trust her."
We gather supporters, circle the wagons, put up barriers to keep them away.
And we set ourselves up as victims.
As if they can make us feel something (because we are too weak to choose how we feel??)
As if we are going to catch something deadly from a toxic person (because we don't decide how we think??)
Not because we are horrible people. Because that's just how we've done it.
Without realizing we are stronger than we think.
You are stronger than you think.
You are not a victim. You are 100% in control.
That one little pig, the one who built his house of bricks, had nothing to worry about.
All kinds of huffing and puffing were going on out there while he played ping-pong in his living room and chocolate chip cookies in his kitchen.
He never yelled at the wolf to stop huffing.
He never called the neighbors to make him stop.
He just did his thang.
The other little pigs...they had reason to worry.
Their boundaries were flimsy. Fragile. Easily blown down.
Imagine that moment when the stars and planets align, pigs fly, cows come home, and you have a moment alone. The house is silent but you don't wait to hear the clock tick even once before you scramble for the book you've renewed 3 times and the pint of Luna and Larry's you hid under the bag of frozen peas. Just as you flop onto the couch and snuggle under the blanket you aren't sharing with 4 other little people, the phone rings.
You freeze in a stomach-gripping moment of indecision where you really do sit and listen to the clock ticking this time.
Because you know who it is.
It's that person. The one who calls in crisis because they weren't planning ahead. Or just can't wait. Or just needs you.
It's not that you don't love being there for her. It's not that she isn't important. You had just really planned on this moment for rest. Recovery. You time.
In this moment if you believe these things, you are going to struggle:
1. You must deserve the time to rest. More than the other person.
This sets us up to reach a point of exhaustion, crisis, and come-apart that requires others to give us permission to rest. When we need to "earn" that right, there is an unspoken limit that someone must reach in order to take time without judgement from others. One that is more than the other person's. Some limit that everyone recognizes. Which in my experience, is monumental and typically miserable for everyone. (Sometimes I would even make it miserable for everyone hoping they won't "let" me get to that limit again. Admit it. You know you've done it too.)
2. Others are responsible for respecting your boundaries.
This means that you give yourself permission to be angry when someone comes over without the invite or calls again even though you said you would not be available. This is simply you, giving your power to respect yourself enough to just hold your boundary and be okay, away to someone else.
3. Making saying "No" mean something bad about you.
We are taught to give of ourselves. To serve. To sacrifice. We are taught to love others as we love ourselves. Are you really loving yourself when you are not taking care of yourself? Running yourself ragged? Sacrificing sleep, proper nutrition and time to complete a thought? Often for others who are not valuing themselves enough to plan ahead and give themselves the care they need?
I taught my kids that we take care of the things we value and realized one day that I was not showing how much value I put on this life of mine. The life that brings me joy, excitement, growth. The body that embodies freedom, creativity, connection. If I put that last on my list, can I call it being grateful? I couldn't.
How about making saying "No" mean something like, "I know you can figure this out", "I genuinely don't want to do that. I'm going to be authentic and say no, rather than not and resentfully do it." Or, "I love myself enough to know that this is not good for me or for them. No." And then when you are rested and taken care of, you can show up rested and willing for those you are ready to serve and take care of. Like those sweet little ones who have your eyes. And that one who always calls.
The next time you notice yourself getting angry because someone is going to ask you to do something you don't want to, remember that you are totally capable of saying no. And accept responsibility for any uncomfortable feelings that come as a result. Holding boundaries means we need to work through our own feelings of guilt, beliefs about what that means about us, our worthiness, our righteousness rather than blame them on anyone else.
The next time you notice avoiding someone because they are toxic, take responsibility for being triggered. Recognize that these are your teachers who can help you learn to love and respect yourself enough to set loving boundaries.
Let them huff. Let them puff.
And let yourself breathe.
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