Chances are you are reading this post because there is a relationship in your life you are second guessing. It could be a friend, a spouse, a relative, or even a colleague. You may be feeling emotionally neglected or taken advantage of. It seems like all of your encounters with this person leave this looming dark cloud well after you have parted ways. Take a moment to consider you may be in a toxic relationship.
There is a term in talking about relationships called reciprocity. What that term can be broken down to is essentially to describe the “give-and-take” dynamic that should be in every relationship. This means you can call your friend to vent about your awful day and they dutifully listen, without expecting a favor in return because they know that the next time they have a bad day, you would do the same for them.
Toxic relationships do not carry this characteristic.
For people in toxic relationships, there is one party that is always giving and never receiving anything in return. This is not normal. If you dare to address this dynamic with the other party, there is chance you will in turn be called ‘selfish’ or ‘needy’. That’s thing about toxic people, they are great at one thing and that is manipulation.
How Do I Know If I’m In a Toxic Relationship?
Think briefly about the term toxic. It is used to describe a poisonous substance that pollutes something good. Toxic is used as a descriptor to warn us of elements that could potentially harm us or make us sick.
This pretty accurately describes toxic people and relationships. They harm your health: physical and emotional. They break down elements of your self that were once unique.
But how do you really know what is considered a toxic relationship? There are a few tell-tale signs that will warn you of a relationship or person’s toxicity:
- Look at their behaviors that occur with and without you. If this person is constantly engaging in illegal activities or activities that make you uncomfortable, and expecting you to participate or bail them out constantly.
- Do they try to control you? Does this person try to control what you say, how you dress, think, or who you hang out with? Control can take many different forms: from the parent who wants to control their child’s career path to the spouse who dominates how their spouse dresses and presents themselves. We all need to have a sense of individuality and freedom to make our own choices in our life. Losing control of the things that make you an individual can cause serious emotional distress.
- Do they belittle, demean, or demoralize you either in private or in public? Sometimes verbal and emotional abuse will be followed with excessive apologies, gifts, and promises that will go unfulfilled. This kind of behavior can be confusing because you have developed a relationship with this person and want to believe that they have learned their lesson. Everyone makes mistakes every once and awhile but if this is a persistent cycle, it is time to re-evaluate the relationship.
- Are you boundaries respected? In the example of a professional environment, if you ask your co-worker to not look over your shoulder as you work and they continue to do so, your boundaries have not been respected. Another example of violated boundaries would be if you ask a family member to not unexpectedly show up at your home and they continue to make unsolicited visits. If someone does not respect the boundaries you have set in the relationship, they do not respect you.
- How do you feel when you are around this person? Do you feel anxious, afraid to say or do the wrong thing, or like you are constantly walking on eggshells? Relationships do not exist to make us feel bad. We form relationships with others to fulfill our emotional and social needs and find companionship.
Okay, Maybe I’m in a Toxic Relationship
But now what?
Let me firmly state that you are not obligated to continue the relationship with someone who brings this level of negativity into your life. You have been manipulated and torn down by someone and that will leave an impact on you. You may not feel strong enough to end the relationship right now and that is okay. You are not a weak person for deciding to stay but you do need to protect yourself from future manipulation.
Leaving or severing contact is a hard thing to do. I will not even try to make it an understatement. I want you to consider that this is probably not a person you can change. Toxic people are often unaware that they are toxic and are fantastic at playing the “blame game”.
Setting (and Keeping!) Boundaries
I know that sometimes in the instance of a job or a family member, it is not always an option to just sever all contact. In this case, set your boundaries and stick to them. This will make the other person uncomfortable and possibly angry. You will be switching things up on them and standing up for yourself, when they could so easily violate those boundaries before.
If you are like me, it will feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first to maintain your ground when challenged. Afterwards, you will be left with a piece of mind knowing that you did the right thing for yourself.
Ending the Relationship
If you are ready to cut the toxic person out of your life, it can be as simple as letting them know you are uninterested in continuing the relationship and would prefer to cease contact. If they want to know why, let them know honestly. Tell them there are behaviors they have engaged in that have compromised your peace of mind and leave it at that. They will try every trick that has worked before to try and reel you back into their web but remain strong.
Cutting toxic people and relationships out of your life can be difficult but the freedom you will experience is a rewarding and satisfying experience you could never achieve while being in a toxic relationship. You are worth more than what you are being reduced to, I can promise you that.