Standing up for myself makes me want to die.
I end up shaking inside. My body aches all over.
I have this irrational fear that I’m going to get punished for saying anything. You’re not supposed to call anyone out. You’re supposed to go with the flow. No one likes a complainer.
I’m with you. I shouldn’t be terrified of something as normal as standing up for myself.
But I’ve learned to do it anyway.
The Pitfalls of Toxic Communication
Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of an angry email. Whoever wrote it was too mad to think before they typed.
Their email was full of so many accusations and attacks that it killed any desire you might have had to resolve the situation.
You can’t work with this person. All you can say is, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Toxic exes are particularly good at venomous emails. Once they’ve broken up with you, they don’t have to be kind and reasonable. They’ve lost the ability to hurl accusations in your face, so they vent their rage via text or email.
Their words brim with self-righteousness. They want you to feel like scum. They think their arguments will make you see the light. You’ll be filled with shame at the horrible things you’ve done.
But the only shame you feel, after having read it, is the shame of having associated with someone like that.
Responding off the cuff in anger is not the same as standing up for yourself.
Oh, it’s tempting! You can think of all sorts of cutting things to say. But it doesn’t help. It doesn’t heal the relationship. And it doesn’t—in the long-term—make you feel any better.
Dealing with a Toxic Ex
Years ago, after a particularly toxic relationship ended, I found myself fielding one nasty email after another.
Blocking my ex was out of the question. We needed to resolve certain issues. How could I get the conversation back onto civil ground?
I tried copying the emails to a third party, so he knew someone else would be reading them. That didn’t work; he relished an audience.
I asked a third party to read the emails for me and extract the important points I needed to know. That helped, but I worried I was missing information a third party wouldn’t be able to catch.
I was stuck. The only thing I knew I could do was stand in integrity with my own communication.
His communication showed the type of man he was. I wanted my communication to show the type of woman I was.
So I implemented some rules to ensure I wouldn’t say anything I’d regret.
4 Rules for Constructive Communication
I knew that I needed structure if I was going to communicate with my ex in a constructive way. So I came up with 4 rules that would help me stick to my values.
Don’t even think of replying until at least 24 hours have passed.
When I got an email from my ex, I got triggered.
Sometimes, I’d be shaking in anger.
I knew that my mind produces nothing constructive when I’m angry. It’s all rumination and argument.
So I made a rule. I couldn’t even think about replying until at least 24 hours had passed.
My ex didn’t use this rule. His emails were nearly always sent the same day he’d received an email from me. The nastier his correspondence, the less time it took him to dash off.
He wasn’t using email to correspond with me. He was using email to vent his anger towards me. He couldn’t rage at me in person any more, but he could still spill his vitriol in an email.
Except he’d forgotten the cardinal rule of breakups…
Once you’re no longer in a relationship with someone, they’re no longer your punching bag. You don’t get to do that anymore.
Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want published online.
The problem with electronic communication is that you’ve lost control of it the moment you press Send.
He could take your email and put it up on his blog or Facebook page. He could forward it to a dozen of your closest friends.
So treat your emails as a public document. Assume that whatever you write will end up being shown to people you don’t want to see it.
Nothing but the facts.
If an email isn’t the place to tell your ex what you think of him, then what is it good for?
Laying out the facts, presenting options, and outlining the consequences.
No emotions. No accusations. No subtle digs.
Write it like a report. Dull as dishwater.
Draft in a second or third pair of eyes.
You can’t know how he’s going to read your words. You may have thought you were being kind, but he may read your words as patronizing.
That’s why, if you’re writing an important email, you need to get a second or third pair of eyes to look at it.
Ask them to look for anything that might cause offense. Tell them that this is a volatile situation. You want to make things better, not worse.
They may ask you to take out something you really wanted to say. Something you stuck in there because it was really, really bugging you.
And that’s okay.
Your job is not to tell your ex what you really think. It’s to get a constructive outcome.
The sooner you sort things out, the sooner you can end communication with him.
And that’s sometimes all we can hope for.