1. “Thank you for your concern.”
Example prompt: “I wouldn’t wear that if I were you.”
What can they say in response—”I wasn’t concerned, I was just trolling”? Exactly.
2. “Because I want to.”
You don’t need to justify your personal decisions. “Reasons are for reasonable people” (to quote Captain Awkward), and anyway, wanting to is enough of a reason to do anything.
3. Upbeat: “Yep, it certainly is unfortunate.”
- “Your kitchen is such a mess. How can you live like that?”
- “Your shoes clash with your outfit.”
- “What a terrible day for your [special event].”
They’re picking something that may be a sore spot for you and trying to make you feel bad about it. But just because it’s messy or ugly or whatever, doesn’t mean you need to feel bad (or care)!
Repeat after me: “I am at peace with myself and my limitations.”
4. “I sure wish I could, but I can’t.”
Related: “I could, but I’m not going to 😛 ”
5. –shrugs– “Maybe I am.”
This works in response to accusations like “You’re being selfish!”
Obviously, it is not selfish to do what you need to do to protect your own sanity, but if they want to call that selfishness—so be it.
6. “That’s between me and [whoever].”
(Unspoken: “And therefore it’s none of your business.”)
7. “I’m not willing to discuss that.”
If they push it, escalate in this order:
- “I’ve said what I have to say about that.”
- “Isn’t there anything more interesting we could talk about?”
- “I’ve said that’s not up for discussion. You can either drop it and let us talk about something else in peace, or I will leave—now.”
8. “Do not contact me again under any circumstances.”
(Say this once in writing, then block them everywhere and do not respond to any other attempts to contact you.)
Update—April 29, 2022: Originally, I had something like “Please never contact me again. Goodbye, [name].” This is too polite. If it reaches this point with someone, leave no doubt. Go nuclear.
9. “What are you looking at? Can I help you?”
If they respond with something lewd: “Why would you say that? Ew, gross.”
Further escalation: Point at them and get the attention of bystanders— “Excuse me, this guy is following me/being creepy.” Get out your phone and start filming them.
Further escalation: Stop in your tracks, square up and stand your ground, look them dead in the eyes, and say loudly, “GO. AWAY. I don’t want to talk to you. Leave. Me. Alone.” Repeat until they wander off.
Further escalation: Scream at the top of your lungs, yell for someone to call 911, and run; or fight, kick, scratch, and claw out their eyes.
It’s too bad my posts about social skills tend to veer down such a dark path. But I can’t help it; they’re related. These stock phrases are necessary for people who repeatedly cross your boundaries. People who don’t respect your verbal/emotional boundaries often won’t respect your physical boundaries either. Protect yourself and your dependents at all costs.
10. “Hmm, what do you mean by that?”
Example prompt: “I’m surprised you chose such an interesting outfit.”
Crazy people often phrase things passive-aggressively; you might get the sense they’re insulting you, but it’s not clear.
Call them out like this, by saying “Hmm, why do you say that?” in a completely neutral tone of voice, and they’ll change tack and pretend they meant to say something neutral/friendly all along.
Go with the direction change. You already know you can’t trust this person; you’re just trying to have as pleasant an interaction as possible in the moment.
11. “Well, that’s nice that that’s your opinion.”
Phrase this in a way that comes naturally to you, so you can say it in a pleasant, upbeat, offhand tone of voice. You’re saying, “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one,” but in a more neutral way.
(If they’re like the person I said this to, they will sputter “That doesn’t even make sense,” and leave you alone. Success.)
Important: You must follow all of these phrases up with a complete change of subject (think of a few neutral topic-starters in advance), or “Anyway, got to run, bye!”
 I did not come up with this magical phrase—I read about it many years ago on Jezebel or The Hairpin or something (upon googling what to say in a tricky situation)—but now I can’t find the article anywhere.
 She says this a lot, because it’s true. See, for example, this post, “Letter #781: ‘The whole family agrees with me!’ and other manipulative logic.”
 See Cheryl Strayed’s poem, which ends with “Go, because wanting to go is enough,” as quoted in this article, Leaving a Good Man Is Hard to Do.
Update—April 5, 2021: To clarify, I don’t endorse leaving a loving partner on a whim because you’re bored one day (which is how some people told me the poem comes across).
I needed to hear this message—that it would theoretically be okay to leave “even if your leaving would devastate him,” “even if you once said you would stay”—in order to leave an
emotionally abusive relationship. (Since I felt that I didn’t have any “good reason” for leaving, just the feeling that something was not right—when the truth was that he put on a good show for other people and I was too ashamed to admit what was really happening.)
Update—Nov. 14, 2021: Crossed out the word “emotionally.” See my more recent post, How it feels to be in an abusive relationship.
Update—Apr. 29, 2022: You know what, no. (Crossed out the two updates above.) I’m done justifying myself. Wanting to go is enough. People who are safe to be around understand that.
 As advised in the book Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger.
 See part nine in this series on responding to borderline provocations, by David Allen: Hostile-Sounding Comments.
P.S. Another recommended read (and inspiration for the title of this post) is the book Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life by Mark Goulston.
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