A toxic relationship is a one that makes you think poorly of yourself, feel devalued, misunderstand, or otherwise attacked. At a deeper level, any relationship which makes you think badly of yourself or others can quickly become toxic over time. Toxic relationships are most often found in the interpersonal world–in the playground, at the office, in the romantic world, and so on. However, they can also come from a variety of places, such as a doctor’s office, a church, even a retail store.
Studies show that there are often warning signs in toxic relationships. These signs may include feeling insecure and angry, withdrawing from other people and from life in general, feeling depressed or unmotivated, resorting to violence, frequent headaches, poor memory, spending excessive time alone or with a single person, frequent mood swings, constant worry, frequent temper tantrums, difficulty concentrating or paying attention, and feeling like your head is spinning. Although some of these signs may be signs of other problems, if your relationship has gone on for some time and it is starting to show signs of unhealthy cycles, then you probably have a toxic relationship in your own mind.
Signs of a Toxic Relationship can often go unnoticed by the partner in question, or they may not even recognize them as being damaging. They may believe that the problems are merely trivial and that the relationship will improve when things get better. They may also feel that since the other person is making the accusations, they must be right and that their partner is going to leave them in a day or two anyway. The truth is that these signs can become a way for the toxic person to feel better about themselves, which can actually do more harm than good.
The first and most obvious sign of a healthy relationship is self-discipline. The partner who feels ignored, belittled, taken for granted, or who feels incompetent is the one who will likely look for affirmation from others that they are worthless, useless, and stupid. When they are unable to muster any self-discipline on their own, the partner who is incompetent will seek out others to take care of them and make sure that they feel worthy of being loved, valued, and respected. If the partner who is incompetent feels invalidated or unworthy, they will usually find someone to validate their feelings.
The second sign of a healthy relationship is consistency. The partner who is abusive will stop doing the things that caused them to feel unloved, neglected, and invalidated long before the healthy relationship gets through the early stages. This toxic behavior will include verbal abuse, leaving the house during times when the partner is supposed to be at work, denying the partner access to cell phones or keeping them off the phone when on their cell phone, ignoring the partner on important phone calls such as important emails, etc. The toxic behavior will also include physical behavior such as locking doors and not allowing the other person into certain areas of the home or not allowing the other person into the house at all. The pattern of the toxic behavior will continue until the relationship can no longer take it and the partner will then seek out validation from others that they are worthless, stupid, and need to leave.
What is the answer to ending these toxic relationships? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. I once had a client who wanted to end a violent relationship and I suggested that he should take some deep breathing exercises and talk to his ex-wife and see what was triggering the episodes. The ex-wife was actually quite supportive of their conversation, and she understood why their relationship may have been toxic. What she didn’t understand was that there were some signs of the toxic relationship, and by changing those signs, they might very well end the violent episodes and save the marriage.
When it comes to ending a toxic relationship, you need to take a hard look at your own self-esteem and mental health. Are you self-critical and depressed on a regular basis? If so, then you may need to work on your self-esteem and mental health and get rid of all those negative thoughts about yourself and others. A toxic person has no room for constructive criticism and usually lashes out in anger, rather than listen and try to make corrections, learn from their mistakes, and improve themselves.