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How to Shut Down a Toxic Person and Establish Your Boundaries

by | Mar 2, 2022 | 0 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

I feel like I can start every article I write on this blog with: “Ugh, toxic people. Am I right?”

When you have a child with one, you may believe you are doomed to withstand their behaviors until the end of time.

If you’re here to find out how to shut down a toxic person, I have good news.

It’s possible! And it all has to do with establishing boundaries.

Keep in mind that I said “possible,” not easy.

You’re really going to have to dig in your heels and face some nasty behavior, but, ultimately, it will pay off, and you will discover a newfound sense of calm and safety.

Ready to get started? Let’s talk boundaries!

Why is it Hard to Establish Boundaries with a Toxic Ex?

Boundaries in relationships are necessary whether the relationship is romantic, platonic, or professional.

However, establishing boundaries with a toxic person can seem downright impossible.

You may be hesitant to establish boundaries with a toxic person because you are worried about how they may react or because you simply know they won’t respect them.

You should never let their feelings or behaviors take priority in your own life when it comes to your needs. Ultimately, you can never do enough to keep your toxic ex happy or compliant.

And you shouldn’t shy away from creating boundaries just because you know your toxic ex won’t follow them. There are ways to put your foot down that don’t rely on whether or not your ex will comply.

But ultimately, establishing boundaries with a toxic person is hard because of their egocentric nature.

In their efforts to control you, they have it in their heads that they own you. They believe they have unfettered access to your life and can treat you however they please.

Again, don’t let this discourage you! Just because they believe they have control over your life doesn’t mean you have to let them get away with crossing your boundaries.

Interacting with Your Toxic Ex Comes With a Price

If you’re in a situation where you have to interact with your ex because there is a child involved, this makes shutting them down difficult.

Dealing with a toxic person is a two-sided coin: If you do or say nothing, you may feel like you are “giving in” to your ex and not standing up for what you believe in. Alternatively, standing up for yourself may incur their wrath.

Shutting down your toxic ex is a careful balancing act between knowing when to say something and knowing when to ignore them.

Ignoring them doesn’t mean they are “right” or that you are diverging from your morals – it simply cuts off the supply of attention they are so desperately seeking.

Whenever you have to communicate with your ex, consider if the outcome is worth saying anything.

For instance, if you are having difficulties getting them to stick to an access schedule with your child, something needs to be said. However, if you’re frustrated because they let them eat out of the peanut butter jar during their visits, there isn’t much you can do.

When it comes to dealing with a toxic person, you have to choose your battles, but there are definitely ways in which you can shut them down and establish boundaries:

How to Shut Down Your Toxic Ex

Yes, it can be hard to establish boundaries with a toxic person – but it can be done! How to shut down a toxic person is all about creating barriers and taking back control of your life.

Will your ex recognize this strength and resilience? Nope, but that doesn’t matter. All they’re going to see is a dried-up supply while you get to live your best life with your newfound confidence!

Follow these steps for shutting down your toxic ex:

1. Draw the Line

First of all, you need to be clear with yourself about what you are willing to accept and not accept. For instance, you’re probably not all that keen to accept name-calling and bullying – and you need to say so.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying: “If you keep calling me names, I’m ending this conversation.”

In fact, I have shut my ex down before by saying: “This is what I have to say in this matter, and if you can’t respond with anything civil, I am blocking you until {day}.”

No surprise…I had to block him.

Remember that you don’t owe your ex an explanation for your boundaries and don’t engage with their reaction to them. They will probably call you more colorful names, start an argument, or try to convince you that you are being unreasonable.

Let them. Your boundaries are not up for debate, and establishing them will help you feel safer, calmer, and stronger.

2. Establish Consequences

In the examples I used above, clear consequences were stated in relation to a toxic person’s behavior. However, it’s important to decide beforehand what you want to do if your boundaries are violated or ignored.

However, you can’t withhold access to your child (especially if you have a court order). Family court doesn’t look kindly on parents that use their children as punishment against the other parent.

Knowing the consequences ahead of time will help you deal with the situation clearly and quickly. State the consequence one time, without explanation, and follow through with it immediately – every single time.

Just be prepared for your ex to escalate their attacks each time you stick to your boundaries. They may amp up their behavior to try and “beat” you, but, over time, they will grow tired of the efforts, and you may even notice a decrease in their toxic treatment of you.

3. Don’t Take the Bait

One thing toxic exes tend to do is to try to bait you into an argument or conflict. They thrive on attention, whether it is good or bad, and will do whatever they can to get a reaction from you.

Avoid engaging with them whenever you can. Again, this is difficult when you have a child together, but there are ways you avoid unnecessary encounters.

If you do have to communicate with them, and they try to get your goat, ignore them or respond calmly. Don’t give the thrill of knowing that they have upset you, and don’t give them the emotional response they are looking for.

Stick to the facts, be logical, or just don’t respond if you don’t have to.

4. Get Ahead of Their Behavior

Over time, you’re probably going to notice certain patterns when it comes to your ex’s behaviors. I know with my ex, there was a period of time where I knew every 3 to 4 months I was going to be put on blast for something ridiculous.

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen anymore, but I was at least able to prepare during that timeframe in case I was verbally attacked out of nowhere.

Think about the types of things your ex may say or do. Write them down how you plan to respond:

“If they say/do ______ then I will say/do ________.”

Knowing how to shut down a toxic person is all about taking back your power. When you prepare yourself for an “attack”, you are not giving them the satisfaction of causing as big of a disruption to your life as they had intended.

5. Don’t Justify or Explain Yourself

You can explain yourself to your ex until you are blue in the face, but NOTHING is going to change the way they act or perceive you and the situation.

For example, if you do say to your ex, “If you call me names again, I am hanging up,” don’t follow that up with an explanation as to why the name-calling hurts your feelings and causes you stress.

They won’t care, and they won’t stop. In fact, they may increase the name-calling because they know how much it upsets you.

If they criticize you, don’t try to defend yourself. This isn’t going to prove the toxic person “right” but actually the opposite: It’ll show that you are confident in your actions and don’t need their advice.

6. Be a Gray Rock

Another way you can establish your boundaries with a toxic person is to use the Gray Rock technique. This means withholding personal details about your life so that you are as boring as, well, a gray rock.

It’s also a great analogy because it will show them that you are as tough as a rock too!

Along with keeping your personal life to yourself, don’t show any interest in your ex’s life either. You don’t want to give them the impression that you care.

Save your energy for those that deserve it. Show your vulnerability to those that love you and care about you.

By making yourself a gray rock, your ex will have nothing to come at you with. If they know nothing about your personal life, they can’t share their unwanted opinions and commentary, and they can’t use what you are doing against you.

7. Stop Apologizing

There is no reason on this green Earth to apologize to your ex!

Apologizing to a toxic person is not great for your self-esteem since it serves as a reminder to yourself that you did something wrong (which you didn’t).

Plus, apologizing will only feed their ego and strengthen their “I’m Always Right” campaign against the world.

They won’t see an apology as a sincere sentiment, only validation that they are perfect and you are flawed.

So just don’t do it. There is nothing you can do to your ex that necessitates an apology (unless you ran over their cat). Whatever you can do to them now is nothing compared to the way they treated you.

Now, when it comes to apologizing, I’m referring to saying sorry for the way you make them “feel.”

Of course, if you’re late dropping off your child or you do run over their cat, a simple “Sorry” will suffice.

In the grand scheme of things, especially when it comes to going to court, you want to demonstrate that you are civil and open to healthy communication.

(Don’t worry. They will certainly do the work proving that they are not!)

8. Don’t Take Things Personally

Ugh. This was perhaps the hardest part of setting boundaries with my ex. Because my self-esteem was so reliant on him when we were in a relationship together, it hurt when he said mean things about me.

Toxic people are often needy and empty people who hide behind a facade of perfection and amazingness. Simply put: They bully others to feel better about themselves.

For so long, I had to listen to him tell me that I am a horrible person and a horrible mom. I knew it wasn’t true, but for some reason, these accusations and insults had me doubting myself.

Eventually, I stopped responding to his insults and even communicated to him that I didn’t care what he said about me.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what your ex says about you, and there’s no reason you should take their insults or accusations to heart!

9. Communicate in Writing

Lastly, especially when you are parenting with a toxic ex, you should have EVERYTHING in writing.

Communicating in writing, whether it be text or email, is a great way to clearly establish your boundaries and the consequences for disrespecting them. You can clearly and concisely lay it all out in a way that cannot be misconstrued.

Sticking to written forms of communication is also helpful because:

  • It’s great evidence if your ex tries to accuse you of lying or being manipulative.
  • You don’t have to look at their face or listen to their voice.
  • You can choose when to respond and take time to think about how you want to respond.

If you are dealing with access, visitation, or custody in court, having things in writing can be submitted as evidence as well.

Setting Boundaries With a Toxic Person is a Continuous Process

Unfortunately, setting boundaries with a toxic person is not a one-and-done process. They will constantly fight against your boundaries and find new ways to try and elicit a reaction from you.

Or their behaviors may lie dormant for a while before ramping back up again.

Overall, it’s important to manage and adjust your expectations when it comes to shutting down your ex. You may have to establish new boundaries and implement new consequences.

But stick to your guns! Your ex is going to run out of steam or lose interest in provoking you eventually.

Does this mean they will stop entirely? Probably not, but you’ll find their behaviors will decrease the more consistent you are with your boundaries.

As I always say: It won’t be perfect, but it can be better!

How do you put your foot down with your toxic ex? What works for you? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. 8 Signs of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome: What Does Narcissistic Abuse Feel Like? - Motherhood + Mayhem - […] likely you gave up setting boundaries during your relationship and now you have difficulty establishing them in your life.…

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