The Definition of Toxic
What would you do if you picked up a bite to eat and the food wrapper was labeled toxic? Would you eat it? Of course not. You know that toxic means something is poisonous to your bodies and can hurt you.
Unfortunately, toxic relationships don’t come clearly labeled like this fictitious sandwich wrapper, but usually, there are plenty of warning signs alerting you that something is wrong.
Toxic relationships are relationships that are poisonous to our bodies, sometimes physically and sometimes psychologically, but either way can seriously hurt our self-esteem, our self-worth, and our overall sense of self in the world.
Toxic relationships take many forms. What might first jump to mind is an abusive relationship in which someone physically or verbally hurts another person, but that may be just the tip of the iceberg. Toxic relationships are any relationship in which one person routinely makes the other person feel insecure, unhappy, fearful, or drained, or causes damage to their self-esteem, is controlling, dominating, or abusive.
Toxic relationships are not a one-time occurrence caused by a temporary loss of temper or good judgment. They are a repeated negative pattern of behavior, and they can happen between parents and children, siblings, friends, co-workers, business partners, spouses, or significant others.
15 Warning Signs of a Toxic Relationship
- You feel drained.
Rather than feeling happy, energized, and cared for when you are with this person, you feel tired, depressed, worried, or anxious.
- You are constantly on edge.
You feel like you are ‘walking on eggshells’ around this person. You are never quite sure what might set them off, so you avoid speaking about specific topics or doing certain activities (like going out with friends) to maintain the peace.
- You are always fighting.
There is constant anger or hostility when you are with this person.
- You avoid saying what you need to because there’s no point.
You may be worried it will cause an outburst or that they will stonewall you and refuse to speak to you, but either way, you know trying to communicate with them won’t result in any progress.
- You are the only one putting in any effort.
They don’t remember events that are important to you, dates that are important to you, dreams, and goals that are important to you. They are entirely wrapped up in themselves and their wants and needs. They are unreliable and make promises that they rarely keep.
- You are not allowed to have an opinion, or say ‘no’.
They are controlling, and it’s their way or the highway. After all, everyone else but them is an idiot. They always know what is best.
- You are always wrong, in public and in private.
It’s bad enough to be continuously berated in private, but even in public, this person enjoys putting you down and making sure others know that you are wrong, and they are right. If you question the behavior, they might respond, “Jeez, can’t you take a joke?”
- You are constantly judged.
Why are you wearing that outfit? What did you do? Why did you go there? Are you going to eat that? Why did you say that? You are criticized and belittled for everything you do.
- You feel constantly one-upped.
Something good happened to you. Rather than being proud and congratulating you, this person must tell you why they are better. Something bad happened to you. They won’t empathize with you; instead, they’ll make sure you know how much harder they have it.
- You don’t trust yourself anymore.
Everything you do is wrong. You are too sensitive, too emotional, too irrational, too stupid, too selfish. Why do you feel like this? Because the other person in your life is continually telling you negative things about yourself or mocking you.
- You aren’t allowed to have any privacy any more.
This person is possessive of you and jealous of your relationships with other people. He or she wants you all to themselves and is always keeping tabs on your whereabouts, your phone calls, your text messages, or your emails.
- Your friends and family are expressing concern.
Love is blind, and sometimes it’s others in our lives who see the warning signs before we do. If multiple people are coming to you expressing similar concerns, you need to listen to them.
- You feel guilty.
You constantly find yourself making excuses for this other person, and you feel like if only you had done this or that better, then they wouldn’t be angry, hurt, jealous, or whatever.
- You feel trapped.
You know things aren’t going well, but you don’t feel like there is any way out. Much like victims of ‘Stockholm syndrome‘, you identify with the other person in some ways and worry that leaving them will lead to their downturn and, possibly, suicide, drug use, homelessness, etc.
- You feel abused.
Abuse isn’t always a beating and it doesn’t always leave a bruise. Abuse may involve being forced to do things you aren’t comfortable with or that make you feel ashamed, such as sexual activities, participating in dangerous behaviors such as substance abuse or reckless driving, or being deprived of necessities such as food, shelter, or financial support.
What should you do if you think you might be in a toxic relationship?
If you suspect your relationship is no longer healthy, it’s important to get help. Your family and friends, especially those who knew you before you started this relationship, may offer a great perspective on how this new relationship has changed you. Speaking with a counselor or therapist is another excellent resource.
Not all toxic relationships are doomed to fail, but if the toxic behavior doesn’t stop with time and assistance, you must be willing to walk away. “Out of the Fog” by Dana Morningstar is a great book to help you navigate your way through (and out of) the toxic patterns of your relationships. Another (shorter) read that is helpful for individuals struggling with recovery after a toxic relationship is “Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship” by Adelyn Burch
Counseling is a great way to regain your sense of self-within-relationship. A counselor can help you gain perspective on the compromises and sacrifices you made in order to make the relationship ‘go’ and re-frame your feelings as normal results of a relationship that’s been totally confusing, sometimes dangerous, and often unpredictable.
At Acadia Counseling, we can help you make sense of your relationship, help you decide what (if anything) you want to change in your relationship, and even assist with navigation about whether to stay or go. You don’t have to face this alone. Please schedule an appointment today; you are worth it!