Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively

Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively

Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively

Episode 003: Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively

Podcast Smart Relationship Moves

In this episode, you will

  • understand three levels of toxic dynamics
  • learn five strategies on how to address toxic behaviours
  • know how to interpret the other individual’s responses in a way that it’s good for you.

How to Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively

Toxic dynamics in our lives can have many different shades of grey. They can be very subtle so that’s really hard to put a finger on it. They can be very obvious so that you can identify them easily. So in this episode, I will talk about toxic dynamics in general. Please also evaluate your own relationship and choose those elements that are valuable for you and let go of the others.

In my personal life, I had my fair share of toxic relationships, whether it was with my sister or with my father. Sometimes it happened in a workplace or in relationships. I experienced them to be very exhausting and draining, and also that on the long run toxic relationships can steal my joy. In this episode, I would like to present you with some ideas so that you can reclaim your power and your joy in your relationships. I hope that it supports in making choices that are good for you.

Toxic Relationships as an Opportunity to Grow

I personally consider toxic dynamics also as an opportunity for growth. I learned a lot about myself when I was in these toxic relationships. They taught me what I wanted in my life and what I didn’t want in my life. In these toxic relationships, I learned to love myself, to respect myself and to set healthy boundaries. They also showed me areas of my past that still needed some healing.In those relationships, I learned what my sore spots were. This allowed me to take care of them so that I wouldn’t be manipulated again.

Sometimes we end up in toxic dynamics because maybe we feel guilty, or maybe we have some sore spots that we haven’t fully healed yet, or that we are not fully aware of yet, but often the person with a manipulative behaviour is very much aware of them and they use it to control you. Or to manipulate you.

Start Your Hero’s Journey

Change toxic dynamics by starting your hero's journeyTake Responsibility

In this context because being in a toxic relationship, is a continuous journey of growth. I see it as our hero’s journey on how we navigate this. The first step of the hero’s journey is to take responsibility and asking myself what is mine, and what is not mine, and evaluating the dynamics in the relationship, and looking at myself: what are my emotions? What are my behaviours? What are my thoughts? And what can I do to transform these?

Create Self-Awareness

Another element of the hero’s journey is to create self-awareness, which means I need to become aware of those aspects in myself that I feel insecure about: those aspects of myself are that it is maybe hard for me to have healthy boundaries and thinking about how I can improve these elements. It is a little bit like peeling an onion, for example, the relationship with my sister existed for a very long time and I learned these behaviours when I was very young. The more I healed myself, the more I became aware of these dynamics, and the better I was able to manage them.

Part of self-awareness is also having patience with ourselves because sometimes, especially when the relationships existed for a long time. We may also need some time to create awareness about what’s going on in these relationships.

Explore Your Choices

Additionally, the hero’s journey is about making choices. Choices in toxic relationships are not only either you go or you stay, it can be about what behaviours have you already tried? How did they work for you? What did not work? What can you learn from it? How can you grow? Also what behaviours have I not yet tried and maybe I can give them a try to find out how it might change the dynamics.

Make a Decision, Take Action and Evaluate

When we have evaluated the different choices concerning the toxic dynamics, we need to make a decision and take action on one of these choices. Afterward, we need to evaluate: how did it work? For example, when you set a boundary for the first time, it might not necessarily work: maybe some of it is how you communicated the boundaries and maybe some of it is because the other person simply ignored your boundaries. It is about focusing on what is going and how does it work. Does it help me to improve the relationship or not? And, what can I learn from it? How can I grow from it?

Manage Toxic Relationships By Focusing on Yourself

Self-empowerment to manage toxic relationships effectivelyAs the first strategy to manage toxic relationships effectively, I invite you to explore is focusing on yourself. If we are in a toxic dynamic, we usually tend to ruminate about these dynamics and to think constantly about the partner because we try to understand them. However, it is probably impossible that we can ever understand them because they won’t be honest enough to reveal themselves. We may even blame them for their behaviour, which is a sign that we don’t agree with the behaviour but it doesn’t change anything. No matter how much you blame your partner for their behaviour they’re likely not to change it. Furthermore, we may try too hard to understand the other person.

For me, some toxic dynamics felt like being drawn into a dark hole. And no matter what I did, it seemed that my complete energy and time was gone. As long as we focused more on the other person than ourselves, it is easy to get lost in these dynamics.

Focus on What is Within Your Control

The first step is to focus on what is within your influence. This means you need to dedicate yourself to the things that you can do something about. For example, if you blame your partner, you have not yet set a boundary. You can make it about yourself by setting a boundary. You cannot control whether your partner will respect this boundary or not, however, you can control how you are responding.

Stop Making Assumptions

Additionally, we need to liberate ourselves from some misconceptions about human nature and human behaviour. Many people believe that everybody is the same and that everybody wants the same. I fell into this trap in my relationship with a friend: I assumed that this friend wanted to have a healthy friendship and he wanted to experience connection and some meaningful conversations. However, this was not at all what he wanted. So I projected onto him the same things that I wanted in this relationship. I never clarified what his intentions were.

I think this happens frequently because we see the other person, and like the other person. We hope that they want the same as we do, but this is not always the case. This hope doesn’t allow us to see clearly that the behaviours of the other person are ruthless. They are focusing on winning no matter what. They’re not at all interested that you get something out of this relationship. A person who has toxic behaviour very often is only interested in their win, and they want to win no matter what. So, they don’t necessarily care that the relationship is mutual or not. They just care that they get out of the relationship what they want. And often in toxic dynamics, the other side doesn’t clearly state what they want. However, it’s hard to ever understand their intentions because the other individual is probably so different that you cannot understand.

Let go of the belief that everyone is the same and want the same. If you want to be clear about it, maybe have a conversation with the other person about what your intentions are relationship and ask them what their intentions are and maybe we can see that, whether they’re aligned or not.

Love Alone Isn’t Enough

Another misconception is that love changes everything. Often people with toxic behaviour have difficult stories, and painful experiences and so it’s easy to fall into the trap to think, Oh, if I just sent them enough love and they will change.

The problem is that nobody can heal the other person’s pain. We can just heal our pain. Often, a person with toxic behaviour might have a very empty cup, and they might feel very desperate. The problem is that you can only support them on the journey, but you cannot walk the journey for them. Even if you love them as much as you do. Love doesn’t necessarily change anything if the other side isn’t willing to change and isn’t willing to take responsibility for what is theirs.

Love doesn’t change another person’s behaviour

This was something I struggled with for a long time in my relationship with my sister because I loved her. However, she had toxic behaviours and I learned that no matter how much I love her, I wouldn’t be able to change her if she did not take responsibility. Be aware that you can love somebody but it doesn’t mean that this will change the other person. Go back to the cycle of influence, like the things you can control with our relationship. You need to look at your behaviour, and then evaluate the response from the other person, and then adjust your behaviour. Another element of the cycle of influence is sitting down with yourself and thinking about your needs and wants in the relationship. Think about how you can communicate them to the other person, and request them whether they are willing to do this or not.

Clarity Brings Relief

In the toxic relationship with a former friend. I sat down and said, well, to have a friendship with you, I would need some meaningful conversations and that you share more about yourself and your life so that we can create a connection. And the answer was no. This gave me the clarity I needed to decide to end this friendship.   

If you want to, sit down with yourself and think about what do you want in this relationship, what do you need in this relationship. How can you request it from the other person? Then, also be aware of what their answer is. If they say yes, observe whether they really implement these changes or do they just say yes and never change anything.

Manage Toxic Relationships by Changing Your Behaviour

The second strategy to manage toxic relationships effectively is to change your behaviour, and the behaviour in a toxic relationship depends on the level of toxicity. I see three different levels of toxicity that depend on the reactions of the person with the toxic behaviour.

Strategies to address toxic behaviour
Strategies to address toxic behaviour dependent on the level of toxicity of the other individual

Adapt your Behaviour to the Level of Toxicity

Strategies for Level 1 Toxicity

The first level is that you have entangled boundaries and the communication is toxic. However, you have not yet set any boundaries and you have not yet asserted your needs. Therefore, you do not know how the other side will respond if you set a boundary. If you are in level 1, evaluate what do you tolerate in this relationship that is not okay for you. Start to set a boundary and to start to assert your needs.

The Reaction of the Other Person Defines the Level of Toxicity

An important element of this is that you observe what the other person is doing. For example, you are setting a boundary, be mindful of the other person changes their behaviour. Does the person respect your boundary, or not? The same is applicable if you assert your needs: does the person say yes, and adjust their behaviour, or do they say yes and then nothing ever happens?

Focus more on the concrete action as the words. In a toxic dynamic, it is common that the other partner promises you everything you want, but then never follows up on it. If you set a boundary and the other person is just completely ignoring it, interpret this as an action and take this as a sign that the other person is not willing to change.

Level 2 Toxic Relationship

If the other person is ignoring your boundaries or is not willing to change your relationship is in this second level of toxicity, which is more complex. If you want to have a healthy relationship, two people need to take responsibility for what is theirs and two people need to grow. It is a sign that the other person is not willing to change if they have ignored your boundaries or rejected your needs. Maybe they have made a lot of false promises but they have never changed. This is a sign that you are in level 2.

Choose Your Battles and Suggest Win-Win Solution

At level 2, you need to choose your battles. If you want to be treated as if you’ve been in a healthy relationship, this is unlikely to happen. Choosing your battles means that you choose certain topics that are extremely important for you and that you define a strategy to set your boundaries and assert your needs.

You also need to make some suggestions for a win-win solution. Because the other side wants to win that they are unlikely to even consider your needs. If you want to stand up and get your needs met, you need to suggest a solution. You also need to make them some suggestions about how the solution could look like.

Limit Your Communication

The other element of level 2 is that you can limit your communication. And you can also limit the topics you talk about. For example, with a person at this level, I wouldn’t share too much about me because it’s likely that they use my emotions against me. There is also a risk that they will use it against you and they may use it to trigger your sore spots for their manipulative tactics.

Self Preservation

Additionally, you can choose to start using self-preserving statements. For example, the person is making a very critical comment about you and you just reply, this is your opinion and I agree to disagree. You don’t need to give any further explanations because it doesn’t matter. The other person isn’t likely to consider your opinion anyway.

Find The Distance You Need

Furthermore, I invite you to put some distance from the person. For example, if it is a romantic partner, it could be that you find some activities that you can do without your partner. If it’s a sibling, you can choose to avoid seeing them as much as you can and just meet them on special holidays. Or you might just decide to talk about the weather instead of anything else.

Level 2 Toxicity versus Level 1 Toxicity

In level 2, you manage the relationship in such a way that you can go through the relationship and take care of yourself as much as possible. At this stage, it is unlikely that the person will change. Therefore, you adjust your behaviour, and you just focus on what’s important for you as well as on preserving your energy and yourself. Furthermore, you find a distance from this relationship that is good for you. Working towards a healthy relationship is not possible at this stage. In level 1, a healthy relationship would be possible if both sides were willing to take responsibility, willing to change, and willing to taking care of their growth. This includes that they take action and work towards healthy behaviours in relationships.

Level 3 Toxicity: Risk of Physical Abuse

A level 3 toxic relationship is a relationship where there is a risk of physical abuse or a threat of physical abuse. In level 2, your physical safety is not at risk. In level three, your physical safety is at risk. At this moment, you need to put your safety first, which often might also mean that you cannot choose your battles but that you may need to give in to keep yourself safe and protect yourself.

Create a Safety Plan

At level 3, it is important is that you create a safety plan. And it might sound scary to create a safety plan but it is about taking care of yourself. Don’t make it about the other person but about how can you keep yourself safe. This might collide with our beliefs about love and our beliefs about how safe you want to feel in a relationship. It might be hard to think about thinking about a safety plan because we want to be loyal to a partner and maybe some part of us just doesn’t want to believe that physical violence is possible. That’s common, and that’s natural. However, I believe it’s better to have a safety plan and not need it than not having a safety plan and needing it.

My father used to stalk me so I always had a safety plan. I had certain people in my life who knew about it and who I could call in case he would find me. They supported me so that I could find a way on how we can navigate the situation. So, it might be uncomfortable to have a safety plan, but on some occasions, it is necessary to have one. I don’t know how your relationship looks like, however, I just would like to invite you to trust your gut and not talk yourself out if you have a sense that your physical safety is at risk.

Strategy 3 to Manage Toxic Relationships: Self-care

Strategy 3 to manage toxic relationships effectively is about self-care. What I mean by self-care is any type of conscious actions you take to care for your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well being. Spiritual in this context doesn’t mean religious at all. It can be something like going for a walk in nature, or just enjoying the sun. It’s any kind of connection you have with your inner self, or with your higher self, or however, you want to call it.

For self-care, no one strategy fits everyone. So I give you some suggestions, but also please check in with yourself what resonates with you. How can you take care of your emotional health? What self-care strategies are working well for you? Toxic relationships are very draining. If we are in a toxic relationship, it can affect our emotional, mental, and physical health, in a negative way. Therefore, self-care is extremely important. We may also need to increase our self-care activities so that we can stay sane in this environment.


One idea you can consider is meditation. If you’ve never tried it before, maybe it is time to experiment with it. Be skeptical about it, give it a good try for a couple of weeks. Check-in with yourself afterward: how do you feel? 


Another element of self-care can be journaling and writing about the dynamics you are experiencing as well as expressing your emotion. It allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the toxic dynamics and work through your emotions.


Self-care also includes being a nature, whether it’s going for a walk going for a hike, or maybe just sitting by a river and enjoying nature.


Furthermore, you can use creative outlets like drawing, painting, or making some other artwork. This allows you to express your emotions and to connect with yourself.

Traveling alone

If you live with your partner, you can also go n a road trip alone because it might help you to find some distance from the toxic dynamics. This way you may gain more distance about the toxic dynamics since they can be very confusing if you are constantly in the same area as the other person. It might also help you to evaluate the situation with more clarity for yourself.

Starting a new activity

Additionally, you can start a new activity you have never tried before and you just always wanted to do. Just experiment with and find out how it feels for you.

Self-care is also something that gives you some relief, whether you feel more emotionally aligned with yourself or you feel a bit calmer.

Mantras and affirmations

Furthermore, I also invite you to use some sort of affirmation or mantras. Depending on the level of toxicity in the relationship, you might be constantly exposed to critical comments about yourself. Probably most of us try not to take them in but there is a risk that you might take them. If you start to use mantras, it can support you in improving your self-esteem and your self-confidence, it can be helpful for you so you are better able to resist these toxic messages you might be hearing. For example, I sometimes do mirror work. This means I stand in front of a mirror and I tell myself that I love myself, I believe in myself and I approve of myself. Just find affirmations that resonate with you and give it a try.


Self-compassion is another aspect of self-care. Toxic dynamics are often very confusing, and it’s easy to blame oneself if we are in a toxic relationship. However, there are probably millions of reasons why you ended up in this situation. Self-compassion can help us to refrain from self-blame and to refrain from taking on too much responsibility for something that is not ours. Even though you’re currently trying to adjust your behaviour, the toxic behaviour of the other person is not your fault. You are not responsible for the toxic behaviours of the other individual, so self-compassion is also very helpful to let go of guilt, and maybe even shame.

Stop Rumination

Another strategy for self-care you can use is to distract yourself if you start to ruminate about the relationship. For example, if you notice that you spend a lot of time thinking about the dynamics, visualize a stop sign and then find an activity to distract yourself, whether it is dancing, watching a movie, or going for a walk. This way you can break the cycle of constantly

ruminating about the relationship and focus your energy on yourself.

Strategy 4 to Manage Toxic Relationships: Find a supportive person

Strategy four to manage toxic relationships effectively is about finding a supportive person with whom you can talk about the relationship. Since toxic dynamics are often very confusing and crazy-making, it can be hard to deal with them all alone. You need to find somebody who can support you through this. However, this individual needs to have awareness and knowledge of toxic dynamics. It needs to be somebody who believes you, who was able to label the toxic dynamic, and also somebody who validates your experience. Try to stay away from people who are not very aware of emotional abuse and toxic dynamics: if you talk about these dynamics for somebody who doesn’t understand them, they may even further blame you or they might guilt-trip you. This can do more harm than good.

Strategy 5 to Manage Toxic Behaviour: Gain Clarity

Strategy 5 to manage toxic relationships effectively is about gaining clarity. What does this mean? It’s about checking in with yourself: what type of relationship you want to have? How much does your relationship comply with this relationship? What change is possible? Spend some time alone and write down the characteristic of relationships you want to have. Evaluate the current relationship and think about to which extent does this relationship fulfills these characteristics.

Assess Differences in Values

Furthermore, you can evaluate the values you are having and the values the other person is having, because often these relationships, also have a value conflict in them. For example, I had very different values compared to the values of my friend or the values of my sister. Acknowledging these differences and also acknowledging that these values were conflicting helped me to gain clarity about these relationships and to make decisions that are healthy for me.

Minimum Standard

Additionally, you can look at the relationship and specify certain behaviours that the other person has that are not okay for you. Which behaviours are intolerable? Which ones could you give in to without being resentful? Think about the minimum qualities you want in a relationship. Meaningful conversation? Going for a coffee and having small talk? Hiking? For example, if the person is toxic on level two, it’s unlikely that you will have a meaningful connection with them. You only have a very superficial connection with them before they start to take responsibility and change. In this case, think about what the minimum is that you want to have in this relationship. Would make it okay for you to be in this relationship?

Reflect on the changes that you would need to see so that it would be okay for you to be in this relationship. If you request these changes, observe if the other person is willing to change and if they take action. As I said before they might promise you many things, but the important thing is that they change their behaviour. I know it’s risky because if you ask for clarity, you might receive an answer which is hard to hear. However, I also believe that it is good to know how reality looks like to make a decision that is good for us.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Last but not least, you can try a cost-benefit analysis, which means you sit down and you ask yourself: what are the benefits of being in this relationship? What are the costs of being in this relationship? Compare the costs with the benefits and evaluate whether you would like to continue with this relationship.

Take Away – How to Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively

Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively
Manage Toxic Relationships Effectively

If you are in a toxic dynamic, consider the following steps:

  • Do something different, apply new skills, and evaluate their effectiveness.
  • Negotiate a healthier relationship. See what is the other person doing and what are they not doing.
  • If your partner is not willing to take any action towards a healthier change, find more distance from this relationship. This could signify to have a more superficial relationship. You may get your need for connection met in friendships. Or you enjoy your life with some new hobbies that you do alone. 
  • If this doesn’t help and the relationship is not at all what you want, you can choose to leave the relationship. It can be temporarily or permanently. This is your choice.
  • If you want to have a healthy relationship, both people need to change: the person with toxic behaviour is responsible for their behaviour, and only they can change it. You can request a change, but you cannot control it.
  • Create awareness about how much you’re willing to lower your standards to be around a person with toxic behaviours. Assess where your limits are.

I hope you have found some inspiration to manage toxic relationships effectively. I am curious what strategy to manage toxic relationships effectively resonates with you? What would you like to do differently in your relationship?

If you want to work with me, please check out my Video Counselling for Toxic Relationships.

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

Boundaries – Interconnections

Communication of Boundaries

 Episode: Boundaries – Interconnections

In this episode, we will take a deep dive into the art of setting healthy boundaries. Listening to Boundaries – Interdependence,  you’ll

  • Learn about the myths & truths about boundaries
  • Find out about easy strategies to communicate your boundaries
  • Understand healthy and toxic responses
  • Discover signs of entangled and healthy boundaries

Myth about boundaries

Myth 1: Boundaries push people away

Truth: Healthy boundaries are the foundation of a healthy relationship. They allow us to be closer together and increase safety in a relationship. As a result, they increase trust in a relationship and prevent resentment.

Myth 2: Love has no boundaries/ love is limitless

Truth: While love may be limitless, relationships need healthy boundaries.

Healthy love includes having a balance in loving the other person and respecting ourselves. If we do not set healthy boundaries, we are not respecting ourselves. Since respect is the foundation of love, we do not act loving towards ourselves if we don’t set healthy boundaries.

Myth 3: If I set boundaries, I am selfish.

Truth: If I put myself first, I can give my energy to more people.

Do you remember the safety procedures in an airplane in case of loss of cabin pressure? It says that you have to put on your mask first before you can help others. Why do they have this rule? If you help others first, you’ll run out of oxygen very quickly and won’t be able to help anybody. If you put on your mask first, you can help more people.

This is also true for our relationships. If you feel drained, resentful, and exhausted, you cannot help anybody. However, if you learn to put ourselves first, you have more energy to give to others.

Healthy boundaries allow us to feel safe in relationships and build more trust. They support us in having a healthy balance between loving the other person and loving ourselves. Last but not least, you can support people in a better way if you put yourself first and set healthy boundaries.

Communication of Boundaries

Say “no”

Using the word “no” is the easiest way to communicate your boundaries. You do not need to justify it or explain it. The word “no” is enough. If you choose to, you can also include your needs and feelings. For example, a friend wants to go to the cinema with you. You can say something like No, I don’t want to go tonight because I feel tired and want to go to bed early.

If you don’t have an answer, communicate that you need more time

I am not sure about you, but I sometimes don’t have a clear answer right away. If this also happens to you, you can say something like: “I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know tomorrow,” or “I need to think about it. I’ll come back to you in five days.”

If a behaviour is not ok for you, use the word “stop”

The word “stop” indicates to the other person that they should stop the behaviour they are currently doing. For example, if somebody yells at you and that is not ok for you, you can say, “stop yelling at me.”

Setting a boundary if you disagree

Two different individuals are creating a relationship. Since each person is unique, it is likely (and to be expected) that we have different opinions and perspectives. In a healthy relationship, we learn about our differences and respect them. If we handle opposing views positively, we give our relationship room to grow. If we acknowledge the areas where we disagree with each other without the need to overpower the other person, we respect our boundaries. Other options to acknowledge disagreements are “I agree to disagree,” “This is hard for me to say, but I see it differently than you,” “I value your opinion. Mine’s different in this case,” and “I hear what you say. I have a different opinion.’

Communicating a boundary if you deal with projections

Sometimes, you may meet a person who is projecting onto you. While you cannot change their projections (they’d have to do this), you can use the following strategies to protect yourself from their projections: “I don’t see it this way.” “I don’t take responsibility for this.” “This is your opinion.” Remember you don’t need to explain your statement.

Setting a boundary if you don’t want to answering certain questions

Boundaries are also important if somebody asks you a question you do not want to answer. Remember, you do not need to answer any question a person is asking you. You have the right to choose what you want to disclose about yourself and what you do not want to disclose. You can use one of the following phrases if you don’t want to answer a question: “I want to keep it to myself. “I don’t feel like talking about this.” “That’s my business.”

There are many options to communicate boundaries. Start with those options that are easy for you and choose more sophisticated options when your boundary setting skills improve. Have patience with yourself and celebrate the efforts you put into growing.

Possible Responses to a Boundary

Since setting a boundary is an interaction with another person, you may experience different responses from this person.

If the person responds healthily, they will accept your boundary without discussing it and adapt their behaviour.

Unfortunately, this will not always happen and you may experience a wide range of responses. If you have never set boundaries before, people may resist the change. At this moment, stay persistent and repeat your boundary. Remember that you do not have to explain or justify your boundaries.

If the person ignores your boundary, set a consequence. A consequence is an action that you are willing and able to do if the person ignores your boundary. For example, you could say something like “if you do not stop yelling at me, I will leave the room and go for a walk.” The consequence you set must be an action you can take and not an action the other person has to take (since you cannot control the behaviour of another person).

Communication of Boundaries – Take Away

  • If you communicate a boundary, stay grounded, and have a firm tone of voice.
  • State a consequence if the other person ignores your boundary. A consequence is ideally practical, actionable, and based on what you can control. Be consistent and do what you say you will do.
  • Avoid setting consequences that are empty threats because they can damage the relationship
  • Repeat your boundary when the other person ignores or blames you. Stay firm.
  • Put yourself and your safety first. Remove yourself from the situation if needed

Boundaries are not negotiable. A healthy response is that the person accepts your boundary and changes their behaviour. If a person ignores your boundary, there needs to be a consequence. Consequences are only effective if you are consistent

Signs of Entangled Boundaries

As I already mentioned, having healthy boundaries is an art form that requires practice and self-reflection to practice it. The following list of signs of entangled boundaries gives you some indication in which areas your boundaries may need some improvement.

We have entangled boundaries if we:

  1. don’t say no out of fear, guilt, or need for approval
  2. feel angry, abandoned, or rejected if somebody says no to us
  3. are in relationships that have an imbalance of giving and receiving (either we constantly giving more or we constantly receive receiving more)
  4. spend our time and energy helping others and we neglect our own needs and wants.
  5. take on other people’s problems as our own.
  6. take responsibility for how others feel or we give others responsibility for how we feel
  7. have a high tolerance of boundary violations and disrespect
  8. have difficulty identifying and asking for what we want and need
  9. value other people’s opinion or feelings more than our own
  10. compromise our values and beliefs to please others or avoid conflict
  11. share intimate information before we have established a mutually trusting and sharing relationship

I am curious which symptoms that are mentioned on the list would you like to improve on? How could you take one step to do so?

Signs of Healthy Boundaries

While the previous list shows where our boundaries need some improvement, here’s a list of the signs that show that we have healthy boundaries.

We have healthy boundaries if we:

  • feel comfortable saying no.
  • are ok if others say no to us.
  • have a strong sense of our identity.
  • our relationships have a balance of giving and receiving and if there is reciprocity.
  • feel comfortable putting ourselves first.
  • can discern what issues are ours and what issues belong to the other person.
  • listen to another person’s problem, have empathy but we don’t need to fix them.
  • don’t tolerate boundary violation and disrespect.
  • communicate our needs and wants assertively even if we recognize that we might be turned down. We can make requests and not demands.
  • commit to exploring and nurturing our full potential.
  • take responsibility for our happiness and our emotions. We realize that others are responsible for their emotions and happiness.
  • value our opinion as much as the opinion of others. We can embrace our differences and able to agree to disagree. We share power and negotiate win-win solutions.
  • don’t compromise our values or integrity even if we might risk rejection.
  • share information slowly in a mutually trusting and sharing relationship.

On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 meaning not at all and 10 meaning always, how would you score for each of these areas?

Learning to set healthy boundaries is a complex and gradual process. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Focus on one area you would like to improve upon. Revisit the list later on and re-evaluate your boundaries. Overtime, your boundaries will become stronger in every area.

If you are interested in working with me, check out my services.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Boundaries – A Smart Foundation

Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is an art and a continuous practice. Listening to the episode Boundaries – A Smart Foundation,  you’ll

  • Learn about the basics of healthy boundaries
  • Find out about behaviours that violate your boundary
  • Learn how emotions are signs of boundary violations
  • Get to know some boundary pitfalls that may block you in setting healthy boundaries
  • Get some ideas on how you can strengthen your boundaries

Why do Healthy Boundaries Matter?

I am not sure about you but I never have learned to set healthy boundaries as a child. I grew up in a family with toxic dynamics that violated my boundaries many times. Nobody in my family knew or talked about boundaries. As a result, I did not know how to set healthy boundaries as a young adult.

This influenced my relationships negatively because I often did not stand up for myself or set a boundary when my boundaries were crossed. Over time, I felt more and more resentful and our relationship went out of balance. After this relationship ended, I decided to start counselling because I wanted to have healthy relationships. Over time, I learned to take good care of my boundaries. As a result, the quality of my relationships has increased.

Having healthy boundaries is an act of self-care and self-love towards myself. While I cannot control how people behave towards me, I can take care of my boundaries to protect myself. Having healthy boundaries is not a one-time event. It is a daily practice and a growth process because new situations require to adjust our boundaries.

Our boundaries act as a fence and have several functions in our lives. First of all, they protect us from harmful behaviours and actions that are not ok for you. because they support us in keeping those behaviours outside of the fence. They also allow us to set a standard for our lives by setting a standard about who and which behaviours we want to allow into our lives. Furthermore, healthy boundaries support us in letting go of relationships that aren’t good for us anymore. They also define who we are as individuals. Last but not least, healthy boundaries help us manage our energy levels and time commitments and protect us from burn-out.

Overall, setting healthy boundaries is an act of self-respect. Having healthy boundaries is an art we need to learn as adults. It reduces our risk for burn-out, stress, fatigue, and health problems and increases our well-being.

“It is necessary, and even vital, to set standards for your life and the people you allow in.” Mandy Hale

What is Important to Know?

  • Boundaries are personal.
    Each of us is unique, therefore we have different boundaries. And that’s ok. We need to learn to accept, respect and embrace our differences. For example, I have never in my life liked yelling because it is not ok for me. However, it might be ok for another person.
  • Boundaries need to be communicated.
    Since our boundaries are unique and different, other people cannot know them because their boundaries might be very different. Therefore, we need communicate our boundaries.
  • They depend on the relationship and the context.
    Our boundaries may often also be different depending on the relationship and the context. There is no one-fits-all recipe for boundaries that can be used for every relationship. We need to be flexible and adjust them to the specific relationship and context.
  • They may change over time.
    Boundaries may change throughout our relationships as well as through personal growth. 

What are Generally Harmful Behaviours?

While each person has individual behaviours that are not ok for them, there are certain behaviours that in general violate our boundaries. These behaviours include:

  • Any kind of abusive behaviour, whether it is physically, sexual, or emotionally abusive behaviour from another person.
  • If you are the target of manipulative actions or bullying.
  • Any behaviour that intends to overpower you, e.g. you are confronted with a person who has an “I win, you lose” mentality or a “my way or the highway” mentality
  • In case that another person takes advantage of you or doesn’t appreciate you.
  • If you are the target of contempt, ridicule, mockery, and sarcasm.
  • Whenever you are exposed to heavy judgments and constant criticism.
  • If you are the target for any racist or discriminative behaviour.

While these behaviours violate our boundaries, we can also take specific actions to strengthen them: Boundaries are in our bodies, so our bodies will signal us where our boundary is. We can strengthen our boundaries when we say no when our inner sense is no and when we say yes if our inner sense is yes. Furthermore, we improve our boundaries if we respect our feelings and our intuition. We also empower ourselves if we stand up for ourselves if our boundaries have been harmed. Last but not least, we can take care of our boundaries if we are curious about ourselves and find out who we are.

Emotional Signal

Our emotions are usually a good indicator of boundary violations: Some people experience anger if their boundaries have been crossed. Some people may experience resentment, confusion, or irritation.

For some people, it can also be a sign that their boundaries have been violated if they constantly blame another person or if they find justifications for behaviours that are not ok for the.

Boundary Pitfalls

Pitfalls are any type of often unconscious patterns that can prevent us from setting healthy boundaries. These patterns include shame and guilt. Both emotions often cause us to abandon ourselves and neglect our boundaries. Various forms of fear may also interfere with our capacity to set healthy boundaries. Other areas we need to be mindful of are self-doubt and an exaggerated sense of obligation. If we have experienced trauma or other painful childhood experiences, we may need to do some deeper healing to increase our capacity to set boundaries. For some people, it might also be helpful to ask for professional help in order to improve their boundaries.

How do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?

  • Emotional well-being
    Your boundaries are healthy if you experience emotional well-being. This includes that you feel good about yourself and that you have an optimistic perspective on the future. You can manage stress well and experience happiness and satisfaction.
  • Embracing your uniqueness
    If you have healthy boundaries, you have a strong sense of your identity. Also, you know who you are and who you are not. Furthermore, you take responsibility for your life and can hold people accountable for theirs (e.g. you don’t need to rescue them). Additionally, you know what is yours and what is not yours. Apart from this, you are putting yourself first, even if you risk to let somebody down. In addition to this, you stick to your values and stay in integrity even if you fear to be rejected.
  • Accepting our differences
    If we have healthy boundaries we see that we are unique individuals but we can also accept our differences. We respect each other while we allow us to be who we are. For example, I am a cat lover and some of my friends don’t like cats. And that is ok. I respect that she does not like cats and I tried to keep my cats away.

I am curious how you feel about the quality of your boundaries after reading this article? Which areas are you feeling confident about? Which areas would you like to improve?

Check out how I could support you.

Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash

7 Principles Ashtanga Taught Me About Healing Effects Of Childhood Abuse

Healing the Effects of Childhood Abuse

I sat in the room on the wooden floor together with about 20 other students. I did not know what to expect, my mind was restless: Why was I sitting here? Why did I have such a stupid idea? I have always been skeptical about spiritual things. I heard my late mother’s voice in my head, “You are crazy to believe in this crap.” However, I felt magically drawn to give it a try. The sun was softly shining through the windows. At the front was a small Buddha statue. The instructor stood at the front with a warm smile on her face. She said: “Welcome to Ashtanga – you have chosen the most strenuous form of Yoga, you can do.” While her message did not sound very encouraging, her energy was. I awkwardly followed her instructions.

Over the following years, my practice accompanied me throughout three countries, Germany, Spain, and Canada. I cannot tell you why I stuck with it. It just felt like the right thing to do. It transformed me. My practices helped me find important principles that supported me in my healing the effects of childhood abuse.

I am not sure where you are on your journey, but I would like to share 7 principles Ashtanga taught me about healing the effects of childhood abuse.

Principle 1: Start where you are

When I started with Ashtanga, I did not know what to expect. I had never tried Yoga before and my body felt rigid and stiff. I awkwardly moved from posture to posture. Sometimes, I needed to drag me to the studio because I felt scared of being judged. After each session, I felt a sense of inner peace I had never experienced before. If I had never started practicing, I would never have known how much I could change. If we have experienced childhood abuse, we may not know where to start and what it means to heal. Our minds may tell us to ignore our past and just move on. Social stigma may want us to stay silent forever. Let’s face it: healing is uncomfortable. However, if we never start, nothing will ever change. Instead of overthinking, take the first step and start where you are. Trust your intuition and look for healing modalities that resonate with you. Be skeptical but give it your best try.

Principle 2: Be Uncomfortable

When I started Ashtanga, I felt uncomfortable. Everything was new to me. I was scared to make a mistake. Each posture felt weird to me. Over time, I started to get more comfortable with some postures. However, the journey never ended. Practicing Ashtanga is not about doing it perfectly but become better. I came to accept that discomfort is part of growth. During our healing journey, we will not feel comfortable. While we find in environments where we feel safe and supported enough, sharing painful stories is probably always outside of our comfort zone. Growth doesn’t happen without feeling uncomfortable. If we want to develop our full potential as human beings, we need to get out of our comfort zone.

Principle 3: Be Gentle with Yourself

While Western philosophy is often based on ignoring our body and focusing on our mind, Ashtanga taught me to respect my body and be gentle with myself. While my mind sometimes wanted me to be faster or more flexible, Ashtanga taught me to be gentle with my body and respect its limits while not giving up on improving. During our healing journey, we need to learn to be gentle with ourselves. Healing cannot be forced. It happens at its own rhythm. Healing is about developing self-compassion with those parts of us that are hurt, angry or wounded. Healing the effects of childhood abuse is also about being gentle with our fears while not allowing them to overpower us.

Principle 4: Stop comparing, focus on yourself

When I started Ashtanga, I looked at the people in the room. I was wondering whether they were better than me. However, these thoughts kept me stuck and did not allow me to progress. It would have been easy to convince myself that it was not worth the effort. I decided to stop looking at others and to focus on my practice. Suddenly, I started to feel happy about the progress I made. As survivors of childhood abuse, we may feel broken. Society often gives us this ideal picture of how our childhood should have been like. I am not sure about yours, mine never was. We may look at others as if they are better than us. However, what do we know about other people’s lives? Each person has an individual burden to carry.  We are complex beings with many layers. Every one of us is work in progress. No matter what our burden is, the main question is how we can grow and become the better version of ourselves.

Principle 5: Challenge the limitation of your mind

One of the closing postures of Ashtanga is Utpluthih, a posture where you lift your body up while sitting in lotus. The first time I saw it, my mind told me that I would never be able to do it. One afternoon, I decided to challenge my mind. I sat down calmly in my living room and sat down with my legs crossed. I connected with my breath and tried to push my body up… Nothing happened. I continued breathing and focused on my core. I tried again. Suddenly, I felt a slight upward movement I never had felt before. I stayed calm and tried again… All of a sudden, it worked. I was able to lift my body from the ground. If we have experienced childhood abuse, our minds may have many negative thoughts. We may believe that we can never create a more joyful or more authentic life. Our painful and difficult experiences shape our reality and we may see everything as dark and hopeless. Nothing can change the facts about what happened to us. However, if we choose to heal, we can transform these negative perceptions, release painful emotions and learn to discern what is good for us and what is not. While the facts cannot be changed, we can transform our emotions around them.

Principle 6: The Importance of the Breath

Ashtanga Yoga uses a specific breathing technique, Ujjayi breathing. The breath builds the foundation of the practice and guides me throughout the different postures. It helps me focus on the present and be connected with myself while reducing stress and anxiety. Throughout my healing journey, I faced difficult memories and painful emotions came up. The calm voices of my fellow group members reminded me to breathe. It reminded me that I was in a safe space and allowed me to stay present in my body while facing those memories.  On our healing journey, we may experience intense emotions. Reminding us to breathe can help us to not get overwhelmed by our experience but stay present with our emotions and release them.

Principle 7: Commit to your process

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who developed Ashtanga Yoga stated that it is “99% practice, 1% theory.” While the theory is one aspect, what matters is the action. While I can read about how to do the “perfect” posture or watch endless youtube videos, I need to practice Ashtanga so that my body may ever get there. How does this relate to your own healing process? You can read about it. Maybe you know all the theories about it but nothing will change if you do not take action towards healing. Nobody else can walk this path for you. While you were not responsible for what happened to you as a child, you are the only person who can heal the effects it had on you. Nobody else can take the pain away. Nobody can walk this path for you. This doesn’t sound fair, does it? I hear you, however, I invite you to consider a different perspective. What if you could finally be free from your past? I cannot promise you how long it will take you but healing is the path that leads to freedom. How would it feel for you if you were finally free?

If you want to find freedom from the effects of childhood abuse, I am here to support you. Check out my services:

Image by Wim De graaf from Pixabay

How to Fall in Love in a Smart Way

Fall in Love in a Smart Way

Your heart is tingling when you are close to them. Your world becomes a little more vivid when you around them. Your eyes shine brightly when you see them… Do you know this feeling?

Falling in love is such a beautiful moment. However, what if this precious time is clouded by fears and doubts: What if I get rejected another time? What if I end up in a toxic relationship another time? Let’s face it: falling in love may be a difficult theme after heartbreak or betrayal. We may want to avoid it because we don’t want to repeat the pain from the past. However, if we do so, we allow fears and our past to control our live. While this can protect us from further hurt, it can limit our lives. Do you want to allow this to happen? What if we could fall in love in a smart way?

So, what options do we have to fall in love in a smart way?

Let’s be real: Not everybody we meet will be a good choice for a relationship. However, when we meet somebody we are interested in, it may also be an opportunity for creating the loving and healthy relationship we wanted for a long time. Nobody knows in the beginning how the story ends. If we don’t give it a try, we will never know what the result may be. So, how can we fall in love in a smart way? How can we avoid the pitfalls of the past? I don’t know which pitfalls you experienced in your life, but I had my share of them. While they were painful, they also taught me to look for a different way on how to fall in love. Here some ideas that I’d like to share with you.

Take it Slow

Getting to know a person takes time. If we have met them three times, we might have butterflies in the stomach, but it does not say if we are compatible. People are complex individuals with their individual experiences, their strengths, and weaknesses. If you want to create a healthy relationship, you need to be able to accept your partner as they are. Don’t force yourself to make decisions if you don’t have enough understanding of your partner. Take your time to get to know them. Make a conscious decision whether you want to have a relationship with this person taking into account all aspects of their personality. Don’t fall into the trap to hope that people will change. Look at them and ask yourself whether they are compatible with you as they are right now.

Understand yourself

Not every person we meet will be compatible with us. The better we know ourselves and the better we can communicate it, the more likely we can see whether the other individual is a good match. Know your values, what you can accept in a relationship and what is not acceptable. Talk about it. Understand your needs and communicate them. If your possible partner is not compatible with you, your relationship has not really a good prospect in the long run. It will save you a lot of time and unnecessary heartbreak.

Be yourself

When we are interested in somebody, we may want to only show our best sides and hide those aspects of us we consider socially unacceptable. However, a healthy relationship needs authenticity and vulnerability. While revealing yourself is a process, you need to show your possible partner who you are over time. It allows them to see you and to make a choice they agree with. If somebody doesn’t want to be with you when you are authentic, they are not a good match in the first place.

Let Go of Control

Falling in love again is an insecure moment. While we might hope that everything works out for the best, there is a risk that it won’t. We cannot control if the other person will return our interest. We also cannot control whether they might commit to us. Focus on what you can control: Yourself. Be yourself in the relationship. Be curious about the process of getting to know the other person, but don’t get obsessed about the possible outcome. Stay present in what is going on for you in the relationship. Remind yourself that you cannot make anybody love you. Have the courage to let go of the person if they don’t return your love.

Check your assumptions

When we fall in love, we may assume that our love interest shares our hopes and dreams. We may think that the words we use mean the same for them. However, each individual is different and has their unique perspective of the world. Create awareness about the assumptions you make about your partner. Be aware that you do not know whether they are true. When I was younger, I used to assume that people had the same dream about a relationship I had. However, I learned that this is not true. Each person had individual desires concerning love and relationships. Don’t take it for granted that your partner sees the world as you do it. Ask your partner questions to clarify the level of truth in your assumptions. Talk about your differences and seek to understand your partner’s world.

Respect Yourself

It is easy to get carried away if we meet a new love interest. We may want to please them, we may want to be there for them, and we may not want to disappoint them. Therefore, we may ignore our boundaries or give more than we should do. However, the initial phase sets the stage for the future. If you want to fall in love in a smart way, you need to respect yourself and set healthy boundaries. If they respect them, it is great. If they ignore them or get angry with you, this might be a warning sign. If your love interest is violating your boundaries, attacking your dignity or ignoring your most profound principles or values, you are better off without them.


While we may want to spend every free moment with our new love, it is important that we need to balance intimacy and autonomy. If we want to create a healthy foundation for a relationship, we need to love for our partner while loving for ourselves. Don’t put your partner first. It is essential that you have space for yourself, that you continue with your personal or spiritual goals and follow professional and personal goals outside of the relationship. If this balancing is lacking, we are likely to end up in a dependency. In this case, take a step back, self-reflect and evaluate how you can transform the patterns so that you can put yourself first.

Creating a new and healthy relationship is not about needing the other person; it is about consciously choosing to be with the other person. I hope that they give you some inspirations to fall in love in a smart way. If you notice that you need them, you might need to deepen your own healing work. Hope for the best but don’t be too attached to the outcome or the thought that “they must be the one.” Trust and follow your inner voice. It is the best compass to guide you in a direction that is good for you. I wish you all the best on your journey to fall in love in a smart way.

If you want to find new love, check out my e-program Your Vision of a Healthy and Joyful Relationship.

If you want to deepen your healing journey, check out my services. I am happy to collaborate with you.

Image by edmondlafoto from Pixabay

Pathways to Healing for Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Pathways to Healing

When I started my healing journey, I often had doubts about whether healing was possible. Social stigma told me that I was forever broken and deterministic worldviews imposed on me that I would never recover. Most research I read told me what was wrong with me but did not tell me how I could change it. While these voices left me hopeless, I also found true stories from people who had recovered. I also read books by experts who believed that recovery was possible. Those voices inspired me to go through my healing journey. Overtime, I found my individual pathways to healing.

I guess there will always be some people who don’t believe in healing for  whatever reason. However, full recovery is possible, even if each healing journey is unique and different. Some methods will work for you, while others won’t. Unfortunately, there is not the only methodology that will solve all your problems. It does not exist. While it is frustrating if things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean that you are a hopeless case. There are many pathways to healing. It just means that it wasn’t the right tool or professional for you, and it is time to look for a new one.

Here are some pathways to healing that you may find beneficial for your healing journey as an adult survivor of childhood abuse:

Owning your story

The first step to overcoming negative childhood experiences is to acknowledge what happened to you and making sense of how the past influences the present. It includes that you explore your childhood experiences with curiosity and that you reflect how they influence your current experience Based on your reflections, you work on breaking those patterns. Furthermore, it means that you explore which unconscious decisions you made concerning survival in this work.

Healthily connecting with your emotions

Healing doesn’t mean that the facts change. For example, if you have experienced sexual violence, it has happened to you. Healing means that you own the emotions related to the incident, work through and release them. Since we often learned as children to numb our emotions since we weren’t equipped to deal with them, we need to learn as adults to connect with them again. This process takes time and you will find your rhythm to go through it.

Become a loving adult for your inner child

Inner child work is a loving concept to nurture those parts of us that were hurt by childhood abuse. The more we can create a compassionate and honest relationship with our disowned parts, the more we will connect to others meaningfully. It may help us to heal painful emotions due to abandonment and rejection. Inner child work can be an important foundation for your healing journey because it allows you to understand the impact your experiences as a child had on your past and present and to make peace with it.


There are many different meditation styles available: Zen meditation can help you to improve your relationships and create self-awareness. Mindfulness has proven to improve our attachment styles. As survivors of childhood abuse, we may have insecure attachment styles that influence our relationships in a negative way. Mindfulness together with therapy can help you to transform your relationship style and create an earned secure attachment style as an adult.

When we are faced with unprocessed childhood experiences, it often may appear very overwhelming to deal with them. However, healing does not mean that you need to rush through the process or force it to happen. It means that you learn new skills that you can work through those experiences in a safe space and confront them when you are ready for this. You do not have to do this alone, counselling will help you to work through it. While healing might be an uncomfortable process, it will help you to transform your life.

Find out what services are available for you.


“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Tom Robbins

Image by lefteye81 from Pixabay

Don’t Let Them Steal Your Joy

Toxic Behaviour

5 Strategies to Respond to Toxic Behaviour

People with toxic behaviour are difficult to handle. I had my fair share of them. How about you? Toxic relationships influence our well-being and reduce our sense of joy. We feel confused or irritated. Maybe we feel completely overpowered, hopeless and hurt. I am not sure about you but I felt all those emotions. I felt stuck and powerless.

You cannot change toxic behaviour; You can change your response

Unfortunately, we cannot change other people’s actions, no matter how unjust or unhealthy it is. Only they can change it if they are willing to do so. While we cannot influence their behaviour, we can influence our responses. The toxic relationships that I experienced in my life taught me an important lesson about self-love, self-acceptance, and empowerment. Just to make it very clear: I am not saying that you are responsible for the toxic behaviour in any way but you cannot control how a person treats you. Their toxic actions are their responsibility; you can only control how you respond to it.

Unfortunately, we do not live in the ideal world. There are people in our society who behave in a toxic way. Sometimes, those people are our beloved family members, partners, or friends. We don’t want to lose them but we also don’t want to allow them to overpower us.

So, how can we be around them and not allow them to steal our joy?

I invite you to experiment with the following suggestions:

Put some distance

If a person has toxic relationship behaviours, you might feel as you are inside of a dark cloud. You may feel very confused. The longer you stay in this toxic cycle, the more likely you are to lose self-esteem and confidence. Put some distance between you and the person with unhealthy relationship behaviours: maybe you limit the number of phone calls, or you define some topics you will not talk about with this person. If you live with them, you may go for walks alone or take a weekend trip alone. Distance will help you to increase your clarity and work through your emotions.

Find an ally

If you are in a toxic relationship, it is important that you find allies with who you can talk about it. This individual can be a friend, a colleague, or maybe even a counsellor. Make sure that your ally is a person who knows what toxic relationship dynamics are. The person needs to be able to help you to identify and acknowledge the unhealthy relationship behaviours. A person who finds excuses for toxic behaviours doesn’t qualify as an ally. Talking about the behaviours and your emotions will support you in your journey of self-empowerment.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries protect your dignity and your emotional well-being. An individual with toxic behaviours needs firm boundaries or they will exploit you. Start with small steps. Don’t tackle the most difficult topic first. Ask yourself the following questions: what do you need to say no to? What behaviours do you need to say stop to?  What discussions do you need to agree to disagree? Setting healthy boundaries is a journey of self-exploration. The better you get to know yourself, the easier it is to set healthy boundaries.

Take Self-Care

Being around an individual with toxic behaviour is difficult. It affects our mental and emotional well-being. Therefore, it is important that you take self-care to reduce the effect of the manipulative behaviours. Ask yourself what activities you enjoy doing. Do them regularly. Start journaling about your emotions. Take care of your body and do some physical activities that you enjoy. Explore your spiritual site even though you may never have done it before.

Get to Know Your Unmet Needs

Usually, it is hard to get our needs met if we are in a toxic relationship. However, talking about your needs can give you clarity about what your partner is willing to change or not. Ask yourself about the needs you do not get met and what concrete action you need from your partner. Prioritize your list and identify those that are non-negotiable for you. Communicate the need and request to your partner if they are willing to do it. If they agree, it could be a sign that they are willing to change. If they disagree with your requests, it could be a sign that this relationship just won’t work for you. This clarity can be a good foundation for you if you face a decision about staying or leaving a relationship. In the end, you have a right to choose relationships that are good for you.

After reading this article, I am curious what action you choose to start today. If you do not take action, nothing will ever change. If you need any support, I am happy to be there for you.

Find out more about how I can help you.

You can download a needs inventory from the Centre for Non-Violent Communication.

Photo by Emerson Peters on Unsplash

Protection From Emotionally Abusive Behaviour

Have you ever had a landlord with emotionally abusive behaviour? Unfortunately, I met one a couple of years ago. Let me tell you my story:

The banging at my door was loud and aggressive. I was alone in my apartment. My roommate had just left. They knew that I was at home. I had no chance but to open the door. My landlord’s face was red, his wife was right behind him. He yelled at me right away, “Here is your written notice. I will get into your apartment now.” He pushed the paper onto my chest with so much force that I was thrust aside.

I tried to resist and told him that the law required a 24-hour written notice. Therefore, he would be able to enter the next day. His face turned dark red, “You do not have any rights. You are not even Canadian.” His wife who stood behind him threw her arms in the air and also yelled at me.

My intuition told me that there was a risk that he would be physically violent if I did not allow them in. I did not know anybody in this area. I had moved into this apartment just four months ago. I did not have my phone to call the police. I took a step back. They rushed into the apartment, constantly yelling. I cannot remember what they told me. I just tried to go through the situation without having it escalating.

After my landlord and his wife left, I phoned the only friend I had in Canada. This time, I was in tears. I felt horrified. I had just moved to Canada and this situation was not really what I had hoped for. She calmed me down and suggested to file a complaint with the tenants association, which I did.

The next day, I started to look for a new apartment. It had not been the first incident with my landlord and his wife. I had seen red flags before that day. I had addressed those issues with them. However, while they had verbally promised me to change, their actions demonstrated the opposite. They repeatedly ignored the boundaries that I had communicated. This environment was toxic for me and I did not want to stay there.

The day my landlord received the complaint, my roommate texted me that he had gone crazy. When I got home, I heard an incredible noise. The walls of the house were shaking. It felt as if he was throwing bowling balls onto the floor of the apartment above. We had a sense that the ceiling would be breaking. My roommate told me to phone the police. When they came they talked to my landlord but they also said that they could not do anything because it was his house. If he was invading our apartment, we should phone them again.

We spent that night in my roommate’s room. I feared that my landlord would come down into our room with a gun. The staircase that connected our apartments did not have a door. I wondered if I would be able to phone the police if he would really do this. I held a golf club in one hand and my phone in the other. The next morning, I packed my three cats into their crate and we moved out.

My roommate later stated that she would just have endured in this situation. I guess that I would have stayed longer when I was younger. In my late twenties, I was not able to recognize emotionally abusive behaviour and stayed in situations that were toxic. It was related to the fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional family and did not know where my boundaries were. During my healing journey, I re-created healthy boundaries. Emotionally abusive behaviour violates my boundaries and is damaging to my well-being. I believe it is an act of self-love to leave toxic situations. While I cannot influence how people treat me, I am responsible to respect my boundaries and take care of my safety.

If you struggle with setting boundaries or taking care of your safety, you are not alone. Growing up in a dysfunctional family or experiencing childhood abuse reduces our ability to have healthy boundaries. Therefore, we may consciously or unconsciously tolerate behaviours that aren’t healthy for us. However, you can choose to change this. Through counselling, you can recover and learn to set healthy boundaries. As a result, you will experience a higher level of personal fulfillment and joy.

Find out how counselling can help you.

Photo by Vitaliy Paykov on Unsplash

Gender is a Social Construct

Gender Identity

How do you relate with your gender identity?

I sat in the workshop. The instructor said, “Let’s do an icebreaker exercise. Everybody gets a card with a color and, then you just connect with whoever you feel drawn to without talking.” I saw the cards – red, blue, green. They looked so beautiful. I love the colors. The facilitator came to me. They gave me a pink card. I looked at this pink card in my hand and thought, Shit, pink again. Why did I receive this stupid pink card out of all the colors they had in their hand? I felt lost. This card represented to me the one concept I had never understood: how to be a woman. Don’t get me wrong, I have a female body but the complete concept of being a woman has never made sense to me.

To which extent is gender socially conditioned?

As a child, I had short hair and loved to play with cars. When puberty came, people suddenly started to label me based on gender. I felt shocked because I did not know what it meant. “Woman” or “girl” was just a word to me, even though society told me that I was supposed to be a woman. In my inner world, I did not connect with gender. I guess people always sensed that I was different: when I worked for a mobile network operator, my (male) colleagues usually had cell phones “just for women” in their portfolio. After four years of collaboration, one of my colleagues told me that they had never asked me to select one because I just was not a “typical woman.” I knew that I would have been the wrong person to ask.

Do you fit into the stereotype society imposes on you?

The older I grew, the more I collided with society and the meaning of being a woman. Once, I went to a workshop about my Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality type. The facilitator asked us to position ourselves on the quadrant that best described us. I found my place and was perfectly happy with it. She looked at me and called out that I was too male to be a woman. I felt confused because I did not know what she meant. However, I understood that there was something wrong with me. I started to doubt myself. That day, I gave in to the pressure of society. I had to find out what it meant to be a woman.

Part of the journey to find yourself: Find out who you are not

I connected with my intuition. My hope was that I would become a woman this way. However, I found out that intuition has nothing to do with gender. We are all intuitive. We just need to choose to connect and listen to it. So, it did not really work for me. I did spiritual meditations to connect with my feminine side. They did not really change anything. I expressed my gender confusion and concerns to my counsellor. She brushed them off. I read the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” because it seemed to be the perfect choice to explain to me what gender means. I felt completely confused by it because I could not make sense out of it. My inner world concerning gender just did not seem to fit into the two boxes. I threw the book away. The more I tried to explore what it meant to be a woman, the more lost I felt.

Allow yourself to be who you are

The last partner I dated explained me his version what it means to be a man and a woman. It was a confusing, evolutionary story about the times when human beings were still living in caves. While he passionately explained his theory, I sometimes wondered why he was holding on to such a limited narrative and how it related to modern life. When he broke up with me, I decided to stop trying to be a woman and to allow myself to just be myself.

Gender is a social construct

One day, I gained the insight I had been missing for many years. I learned that gender was a social construct and that sex we are assigned at birth can be different to our gender identity. My life suddenly made perfect sense. I just did not identify as a woman. I was gender queer and I never questioned my gender identity again. Gender just does not exist for me. I felt relieved.

Explore your gender identity

While we live in a world that is still shaped by being a “man”  or “woman,” there is also an increasing awareness that our gender identities are more diverse. We also need to be mindful that the labels we carry represent a social stereotype and may limit is if we do not fit into its box. There is a difference between our social conditioning and who we truly are. Part of our life’s journey is to overcome the limitations society imposes on us and find out who we truly are, independent of our gender identity. Every person has their individual meaning for their gender identity and they need to explore it. The beauty of life is that we are all unique and different and my hope is that we all learn to respect each other for our diversity and embrace it.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Find out about my online services for queer people.

Learn more about gender identity.

Laura Ockel

How to Break Free From Unhealthy Relationships

What unhealthy relationships do you experience in your life?

Throughout my life, I had a fair share of unhealthy relationships, whether it was my sister or a close friend. Being in these relationships, I often felt confused and powerless. It felt easy to blame the other person for their behaviour. However, I also noticed that I had a responsibility for unhealthy dynamics. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that their unhealthy behaviour was ok. They were responsible for it. However, the reality is that blaming them for their behaviour did not allow me to make better choices for myself. Some people may change, others won’t. Therefore, I asked myself how I could empower myself in these situations. I chose to be honest with myself and reflected on the dynamics.

What is holding you back from making healthier choices?

Overtime, I found out important principles that help me break free from unhealthy relationships. They also helped me choose healthy relationships in my life.

Stop making excuses

I noticed that I excused and explained their unhealthy behaviour, but I did not respect my boundaries. In the case of my sister, I deeply loved her and I knew her. I understood why she behaved the way she did since we have grown up in a dysfunctional family. I saw the abused child in her but I never saw in her the adult who was now responsible for their choices. She never chose to heal herself and break the cycle of violence. She never changed her unhealthy behaviour and violated my boundaries. I stopped excusing her and saw the adult she now was.

Hold people accountable for their behaviour

Therefore, I was able to hold her accountable for her actions – or inactions. I addressed the behaviour that was not ok for me and requested her to change. While I have compassion for people’s suffering, I stopped making excuses and took care of my boundaries.

Heal your blind spots

While it took me a while to recognize it, my sister and my best friend knew my insecurities better than I knew them. Each time I did something that they did not like, they used those aspects of me that I felt guilty for or insecure about against me. They were those parts of me that I avoided looking at because they were painful or I considered them as being worthless. The more I was able to take care of those parts, accept them and integrate them, the more I was able to liberate myself from emotional blackmail. I was able to stand up for myself and confront what was going on.

Acknowledge your needs

Last but not least, I sat down with my painful emotions and asked myself what the unmet need was underneath it. For example, in my relationship with my former best friend, I noticed that I often felt angry or bored and I asked myself what need I did not get out of this relationship. My friend never shared his story, and I needed this to feel connected with him. I asked myself what I needed in this relationship to continue with it.

You can make requests, but you cannot command people to change

I reflected on the specific behaviours I could request from him to get them met. I also marked those needs that were essential to continue with the relationship. Later, I had a conversation with him and explained my requests. He denied all of them. While it was a difficult conversation, it gave me the clarity I needed to let go of the relationship. It suddenly became easy.

If you do not take action, nothing will ever change

I am not saying that breaking free from an unhealthy relationship means that you have to let go of it. There is no definite rule for it, it depends on the other person and what you are willing to tolerate or where your boundaries are. However, stopping to find excuses, healing your blind spots and acknowledging your needs will help you to gain clarity about what your options are.

Change is uncomfortable, but nothing is as painful as staying where you are

While it is easy to write about it, I do not necessarily think that it is simple to implement when we are in the middle of an unhealthy relationship dynamic because our emotions may be messy – we may feel confused, angry, devastated, powerless, and full of doubts. Therefore, I think that it is a sign of strength to get help when you are in an unhealthy situation. At least, this is the promise I gave myself if I ever ended up in an unhealthy relationship again.

Check out my program “Break Free From Unhealthy Relationships.”