A toxic relationship is any connection that poisons your well-being, confidence and/or personal safety. Although most often toxic relationships are romantic or intimate partnerships, this dynamic also occurs in parent-child relationships, friendships, and other relationships.
Toxic relationships can be difficult to identify. Often, even though you know the ‘toxic’ person in the relationship has problems and is harming you, you still love them. There are probably still times you like being around them. Or perhaps you need them for financial resources, childcare or housing, making it difficult to leave.
Here are just five of the tell-tale signs of a toxic relationship:
- They put you down. They insult your taste in music, clothes, the people you like, or even the way you talk or laugh. They call you names or accuse you of not doing enough for them. They reject your ideas just because you suggested them. In a healthy relationship, each person listens to and accepts the other.
- They are controlling. They tell you who you should and shouldn’t spend time with, what you should and shouldn’t wear, what you can and can’t eat, when you can leave the house, or for how long. They restrict your phone or social media usage. Even if someone does not explicitly control these things, they may use manipulation, guilt trips, or threats to get you to do what they want. You are your own person who deserves to make your own decisions without feeling threatened.
- You find justifications for their behavior. You may excuse this person’s unacceptable behavior by attributing it to their past traumas, mental illnesses, physical health problems, or even current difficulties. You might think or even say to others, “They’ve been under a lot of stress lately.” You might minimize what they’re doing, or tell yourself that you are being too sensitive or overreacting. Spoiler alert: You are not overreacting. Your feelings are important. And no amount of trauma or stress justifies unacceptable behavior.
- You have become someone you don’t recognize since this person has come into your life. Perhaps you’ve done things that are completely out of character, or even become physically or verbally abusive yourself. Often this leads to more self-blame, shame and guilt. You may even feel your behavior ‘proves’ that you deserve the other person’s poor treatment. At the same time, deep down, you know this person is not you. In healthy relationships, both parties bring out the best in each other.
- You often fear anger and retaliation. You may walk around this person on eggshells, anticipating that if you make one wrong move, they’ll explode. You may worry constantly that the person is angry at you, or spend time wracking your brain to try to figure out whether you did something to upset them. These persistent feelings of fear can lead to your own stress, burnout, or even anger outbursts.
Even if you have identified a current relationship as toxic, it is always your decision whether or not, and when, to leave. Leaving can be dangerous, and it’s helpful to create a safety plan with a therapist, case worker, or someone else you trust.
If you are interested in talking to a professional about your situation, here are some resources to use:
Illinois Domestic Violence Helpline: 1-877-863-6338 (toll-free, confidential, multi-lingual, and open 24-hours)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-779-7233
What advice would you give to someone in a toxic relationship? Let us know in the comments.