How to Say No and Set Boundaries in 5 Easy Ways

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We often encounter toxic people around us–in the form of demanding or manipulative people, or could also be passive-aggressive ones. But whether they’re truthfully toxic or it’s just our fragility, it doesn’t matter. We don’t have to be positive all the time, sure, but we don’t have to be negative either. It’s one perspective to allow people to speak their truth, but a totally different thing to allow their truth to be your truth too. Toxic people shove their truths to you, and this is when you have to say no and set boundaries. So, how do we go about it?

1. Mirror them.

You don’t have to avoid them. Instead, learn to co-exist with them. Instinctively, we argue and resist, simply because we believe that there should be one truth to exist and that the two-way conversation must agree on one side. It doesn’t have to be the case. We can accept their truth without actually subscribing to it. That simply means we can agree to disagree.

In fact, recognize their presence. You are not recognizing the dirt that comes off their mouth, but just being. Just be–around them. The trick to giving them their own dose of medicine, on the other hand, is by mirroring them.

Look at them as if you’re a child. Pretend you’re this innocent child and ask questions. It’s as if they’re the superior adult you’re trying to learn how to live from. Personally, when I can smell a toxic person from a distance, I act stupid and pretend dumb. I am not saying that this is a way to act dumb, but I mirror words and pretend I don’t understand anything that comes out of a toxic person’s mouth. 

When they say, for example, “You have to finish this tomorrow,” respond with “finish?” so that it will give more room for them to talk. When they talk further, you will hear from them the only thing they need, and most of the time, it’s super basic. Also, when they badmouth someone, repeat the negative word as if you don’t understand. That could appear like you’re a useless friend, but this is one foolproof way of shielding yourself. This is also how I switch off from being the emotional sponge that I am.

While unfollowing them on social media could be a healthy move, you are not really removing them from your reality. The reality is that they are (or have been) a part of your life, and you have to accept that. You can change your friends, sure, but they are in your life for a reason. And one reason could be is for you to learn how to co-exist with people who are totally different from you.

If they are so toxic they are a danger to society, then it is not your job to change them. Leave it to that person’s Spirit Guides. You ain’t Jesus. 

Further reading: I used to have a mindset that I can save ‘broken’ people, but it all changed when my ex-boyfriend committed suicide. If you like to read more about that story, it’s here.

2. Do not engage.

How to Say No and Set Boundaries - Do not engage. Image: © Karsten Winegeart via Unsplash

Recognize their emotions but have the willpower to not engage. Identify their emotions as if you’re #1 (a child) who’s trying to learn emotions. Your strength is actually not measured by how smart are you in deflecting others’ negativity, but by how good are you actually in controlling how you respond. Fight a toxic person negatively, and you will be the same person you wish to fight. 

Observe them as if they’re the tiniest microcosm you are about to view through the microscope. Also like a train that passes by, do not board that train of negativity. Because it will wreck eventually, and you don’t want to be a part of that.

When you hate just the thought of them, then don’t feed your mind with negative thoughts of them. Choose the positive ones. I know this is extra difficult, but this is not to change your mind about them. This is to protect yourself from spiraling down to the cave of annoyance. The more you allow it to get to you, the more you lose.

What you can do, however, is to learn to regulate your emotions. Manipulative people are so good at appealing to the goodness of your heart. But when you learn to disassociate your reason with emotions, that’s when you get less affected by them. 

So when they say “You’re so stupid,” read through their emotion. You can actually respond with, “I can see that you’re angry.” Do not assume that you have to do anything right away. 

Toxic people actually love the attention, do not give it to them. If you can’t help it, then notice something petty in them–like their tone or facial expression. If you can’t do that, then try the next one.

3. Say “I’m with you” 

Keep communication short and don’t explain yourself, because toxic people only hear themselves to begin with. So you will give them attention by reassuring them (or pretending) that you heard them. 

Keep in mind that when dealing with a person with whom you want to assert your boundaries, do not initiate the conversation. Converse, only when they initiate it. When you identify a person in your circle as toxic (they drain your soul), reject the small talk, even if they’re too charming.

It wouldn’t hurt to be nice and treat anybody with respect, regardless of how bad their behavior is. I really don’t subscribe to the saying that respect is earned, because respect is basic. 

Sometimes saying “I didn’t sign up for that” cuts it. But most of us are not happy being forthright like this. 

So say, “I’m with you on this.” Add some compliments here and there until they calm down and solve it themselves. Some toxic people just suck at communicating the basic thing they want. All they know is that they are overwhelmed and anxious about themselves, and they project it so they can breathe.

4. You don’t have to mean what you say

Speak kindly, even if you don’t mean to be kind at all. You can stand your ground without hurting the other. Moreover, you can speak your truth without bringing the other down. Indeed, you can wield that want, without casting a spell!

The first rule of the game is always to yes to yourself first. Your guilt and mercy are the magic horses that toxic people use to transport themselves to get what they want through you. You will know that they are about the ride when they ask you something and something just feels off. The moment you cringe or communicate that you don’t like to do it, they will play the victim. 

So, right when you are about to give in to a toxic person’s wishes, redirect that ‘yes’ back to you, and forget about the guilt if you choose to disengage. 

Ask yourself if what they are asking from you would be at the expense of your time or energy. If yes, do #1 (mirror them) until you get a clear picture of what they want. Continue repeating their words until it comes straight from their mouth the most basic step they want you to do. 

Usually, toxic people will demand you to bring the moon to them, but the simplest step on how to get to the moon would actually come from them too. So what would they initially will tell you is that it’s the moon they want, but actually they just need a rocket.

It always depends of course who this person is in your life, but I usually witness this in close relationships. 

I remember when my best friend and I have fallen apart, she hurled negative words against me, and I just responded with, “What you think of me is not my business.” I really felt that I was walking on eggshells when I was with her at that time, and more than the friendship, I know it is my duty to honor myself.

5. Negotiate

© Karsten Winegeart via Unsplash

This is one way you can actually say no, without saying no. The evergreen motivational phrase that can explain this is, “nothing is impossible.” Everything in this world can be solved. Moreover, it’s nice to believe that everything is actually doable in this world–it just comes with a price. Toxic people are not aware of this price or are too self-absorbed to a point that they are not willing to pay the price, even if it wouldn’t cost an arm at all. 

When I say it comes with a price, it just means that with the right condition and all things considered, there is no such thing as impossible.

Saying yes to what life throws at you actually opens up opportunities for you–whether good or bad. When your toxic boss demands something that’s out of your job description, it can actually be an opportunity for you to grow, or to explore another job opening. When a toxic parent expects you to spend a dime on your sister’s education, it’s can be an opportunity for you to learn perseverance or patience. Likewise, when a toxic partner treats you as their emotional punching bag, then it can actually be an opportunity for you to know your worth. 

If a toxic person expects something from you, express what you want in exchange for their request. Just ask, and you must receive. If you don’t receive, then it’s actually opens the door for you–it’s the perfect opportunity to leave.

Final Thoughts

Toxic people just can find their way into our lives, but they are in our lives for a reason. Whether we like this reason or not, that’s not for us to decide. Toxic people are not even aware that they are toxic, to begin with. So you are not in the business to change them.

What we can only change is how we treat them, or how we draw the line when they are in our lives for good. Just because we are sure that we’re doing it right, it doesn’t mean that everybody should do it the same way.

We really don’t have to eradicate them, but we only choose how much of ourselves (i.e., attention) we’ll give to them. We can say hi to them when they drive by, but we really don’t have to ride the car with them.

In any case, never allow any person to dim your light. The most important thing is to know yourself because a toxic person will never succeed in penetrating the energetic space of a person who knows him/herself.

Express your truth, shine anyway, and tread a path that only aligns with your goals–this is the formula to how to say no and set boundaries, without actually going through the 5 steps above.

How about you? In what ways do you also assert boundaries in your life? Feel free to comment below, and I will surely respond!

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