Dealing with any kind of toxic person can often be really difficult. And when the person is someone within your own family or with whom you may have to interact from time to time, it can be even harder and more challenging than when the person is someone that you can easily cut off completely. In cases like this, knowing how to interact with someone who's toxic can be really beneficial. So the ways to deal with a toxic mom, according to a hostage negotiator, might be skills that you want to have, should the necessity to use them ever come up.
Being able to handle someone who's toxic is essential if your mom or another family member is the one in your life who fits that description because sometimes ending that relationship isn't exactly an option. "You may not cure her of being toxic, but you’ll find that you have a weapon in your arsenal to avoid becoming a hostage to your emotions, or the manipulation of your mother’s emotions," Robin Burcell, a former law enforcement officer and hostage negotiator and author, tells Romper by email. If you're fairly certain that your mother is toxic or that your relationship with her is, feeling confident that you know how to handle it effectively can make a big difference.
1. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is a super important tool to learn. Burcell says that this is something that hostage negotiators learn to do and can help you when dealing with someone who might be a bit toxic. "Listen to their side, without judging," Burcell says. "Make them aware you're listening by repeating back what they’ve said, but keep your emotions in check. If they’re yelling, do not raise your voice." It won't help anything.
2. It's Hard, But Being Empathetic Is Important
Empathy is also important when dealing with a toxic mother, even though it can be really difficult to be understanding. "Let them know you understand what they’re saying and why," Burcell says. "You don’t have to agree with it. You are listening to their point of view."
3. Try To Build A Rapport
Like active listening and practicing empathy, building a rapport is something that the FBI teaches hostage negotiators, Burcell says. This is also an important skill to use when interacting with your toxic mom. Burcell says that this skill is all about establishing trust and speaking with them in a way that "resonates."
4. Find Someone To Help Or Mediate
If these kinds of things don't seem to be working, but you're able to recruit a family member, close friend, or neighbor who has a "neutral" relationship with both of you, that too could help you get through to them, Burcell says. Just make sure that there's no ganging up on them, because that ultimately won't help.
Burcell also notes that sometimes the best thing you can do when all else has failed is disengage. If nothing productive is happening, disengaging (and before things devolve into an emotional screaming match) can ultimately help.
"If she realizes that her words have any effect, it feeds her drive for power — whether she realizes it or not," Burcell says. "Emotion feeds emotion. It’s a natural inclination to want to get the upper hand, and to strike out when someone says something hurtful."
6. Get Yourself Out Of There
As much as it can feel like giving up or not doing enough, sometimes you just have to walk away and get yourself out of there when choosing to disengage with the conflict. Burcell says that when nothing else is working, walking away can be a good tactic.
7. Use The Phone
And if you and your mom aren't able to be in the same room, using the phone to communicate (at least for awhile) might help. Burcell says that conducting "future visits by phone" can work if your other skills and strategies don't seem to be working.
Burcell says that beyond building a rapport, using active listening, and practicing empathy, the other two things that the FBI teaches hostage negotiators are influence and behavioral change. Burcell notes that the first three are what you should focus on first, prior to moving on to suggesting changes she could make or hoping she'll do what you want her to. Ultimately, some of what she wants is likely to be heard and understood, so if you use Burcell's initial tactics (or get out if need be), you might be able to deal with her more effectively and peacefully.