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Are the relationships in your life strengthening, supportive, or just stressful?

You’ve been dealing with these people — or this person — for some time now and it appears there’s a correlation between time spent with them and a decline in your health.

Recognize the following scenarios? The phone rings, you see it’s them and you have to take a deep breath. Your heart skips a beat and then quickens. You steel yourself for it, deep breath, “Hello!” UGH. Or — you see that text pop up from them — and again, the physiological effects begin: quickened heartbeat, shallow breathing.

What’s happening?

It’s stress — both physiological and psychological. You can actually feel your heartbeat quicken and that “pit” at the bottom of your stomach. What you may not realize is how it’s affecting you psychologically. This type of stress is tricky. It may be a “friend” or relative who’s the cause, so not only do you feel nervous about your interactions with them, you feel guilty for feeling that way! It’s a two-fer! A one-two punch!

As MS’ers, we know what stress can do to us. We know that a flare could be right around the corner, and we need to mitigate our stress. But that’s made more difficult when the people in our lives are causing us stress, particularly when they are friends or relatives. So, what can you do to dial down that stress? Great question.

“Toxic people can try to cling on — sometimes for years! They can make you feel guilty and because of that, are not always easy to remove from your life,” says Tara Mackey, author of “Cured by Nature” and founder of The Organic Life.

Identify it: What exactly are they doing that’s harmful to you? Are they manipulative, difficult to please, hard to work with, and never apologize even when they are obviously wrong? Do you feel like you’re constantly having to prove your allegiance to them? That’s exhausting. Are they more of a downer than a supporter? Now that you know what it is that’s toxic to you and your health, you need to deal with it.

Be definitive: Now is not the time to be wishy-washy. Set those boundaries, tell them your intentions (dialing down the stress and limiting your time with them, or eliminating them altogether) and don’t backpedal. This is important. YOU’RE IMPORTANT. They may take this as a challenge and try to persuade you otherwise. Stay strong.

Stick to the plan: If you decided to block them from your phone and your social media, or to no longer attend events where they’ll be, stick to it. Don’t give yourself a backup plan, like maybe you’ll check in with them in six months or so. Unless they’ve had a near-death experience and gotten some serious help, chances are nothing will have changed, and you just opened yourself up to that same stressor.

No more accommodation: You’re a kind person. You find it hard to be “mean” to anyone. Keep in mind: This isn’t being mean and you don’t need to speak to them in an unpleasant manner. But you do have to be firm and quit accommodating them. If they say this hurts them, remember all the times you’ve been hurt. Stay strong and committed to your own health.

“Not my fault, not my responsibility”: This should be your mantra. These manipulators of emotion will often come back around looking for a shoulder to cry on or advice for a problem they’re having. Don’t fall for it. Direct them to any resources that you’re aware of to help them, but do not reinvest in this relationship. It will only cause more pain and stress.

Your energy, your call: They’ll most likely try to demand more of your time when they feel things have “cooled off” a bit. Stand firm. If you said “no more” then mean it. If they’re family, that complicates things a bit. However, you can still set out clearly defined boundaries and stick by those. Perhaps it’s a timeframe — “I’ll speak to you on the phone once per week” or “I’ll see you at family gatherings only.” Or maybe it’s based more on guidelines like “you can call me, but I’m not allowing “CBC’s — criticizing, blaming and complaining,” or whatever your issues with the “offender” happen to be. Be clear. Be firm. Be protective of you and your health.

Energy flows where attention goes: “The more selective you are about where your focus is, the more successful you’ll be,” Mackey says. “The more time you spend away from toxic people, the more time you have for yourself and the people that are positive, uplifting, and important to you.” Focus on you, your (real) friends, those people who love and support you — and your health. Make yourself a priority and you’ll have more love and support to offer others as well.

A book I have found incredibly helpful is “Co-Dependent No More,” by Melody Beattie. I’ve included the clickable link to make it easy to order for yourself. It provided me a lot of “ah-ha” moments and helps remind me of my priorities and responsibilities to myself and my health first.

This article was originally published on FUMSnow.com.

Kathy Reagan Young is the founder of the off-center, off-color website and podcast at FUMSnow.com. She and her husband, T.J., daughters, Maggie Mae and Reagan, and dogs Snickers and Rascal, live in southern Virginia and all say “FUMS” everyday!