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I’m not entirely sure why I felt compelled to write a post about toxic relationships today.
I don’t feel particularly strongly about any past toxic relationship (of which I’ve had many) right now, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m in any presently.
However, I’ve learned throughout my life that one of the biggest regrets one can have is not going with their “gut”, which in my experience has never led me astray. That being said, I’m assuming that at some point, someone will read this and feel that it was meant for them, to which I say, yes, it very probably was.
What is a toxic relationship?
I dated someone in my younger years who was incredibly unhealthy for me. I was head over heels (or what I misunderstood as head over heels) for this person, and had no idea that our relationship was completely toxic. Part of the issue was that I was a naive teenager and had nothing to compare it to, but the other part was that I was terrified of admitting the truth.
The truth was that I knew deep down something wasn’t “normal”. I knew that I was being manipulated, lied to, controlled, deceived, coerced and belittled. I just didn’t know that I’d be okay without it.
If it sounds crazy, it’s because it is.
Back then, I didn’t understand co-dependency. I didn’t have an ounce of self-esteem, and I didn’t know who I was.
I was the perfect candidate for someone to take advantage of.
So, how did I not see that my relationship was so toxic? What does a toxic relationship look like?
This article, 5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship, outlines some of the biggest clues that you’re in a relationship that’s less than healthy.
- Your partner brings out your worst qualities.
- There is a constant power struggle.
- You have contrasting communication styles.
- Your partner is prone to irrational and frequent displays of jealousy.
- You feel bad about yourself when you’re around your partner.
When I read a list like this, I think, “yeah, I remember feeling all of those things.” He was so controlling/jealous that he isolated me away from my friends as much as possible. Claiming, “I just want to be with you all the time.” Which is so lame, but to a young teenage girl with no backbone, no confidence and no self-esteem, that was all I needed to hear to feel wanted and loved.
I remember never feeling good. I never liked myself, never liked my life, never had a “good” day, never had “fun”. I felt trapped, never realizing that I was the one holding the key to the lock.
Why would anyone stay in a relationship like this, if it makes them so unhappy?
It seems insane that anyone would willingly stay in a toxic relationship, but it happens all the time. If you’ve never been in one, you have friends or family members who have. In this article on Psych Central, it explains that the reasons people stay are similar to those I mentioned about my own toxic relationship. Low self-esteem, believing it’s normal, hoping the other person will change, the fear of being alone.
Kris Carr writes about her own experiences with unhealthy relationships on her site, www.kriscarr.com. She explains that this spills over into all types of relationships, not just romantic/intimate ones.
How do you know if you have toxic friendships?
I hate having to admit this as well, but I’ve had a few toxic relationships with friends. Real Simple published this article on 7 Signs You’re in a Toxic Friendship, and I couldn’t help but wholeheartedly identify with it.
You may have had a few friendships like this in your past, or maybe you do right now. You dread seeing their name come up on your phone; your stomach knots up, and you’re not entirely sure why, but your subconscious knows that it’s probably because they’re about to use you. Again.
The relationship is all take and no give. Favors are never repaid. They waltz into your life, sucking you dry, and you constantly make excuses for them.
I’ve also had a few toxic friends in my past who were always doling out advice. Not so much advice I guess, but more like, “this is what you’re going to do.” And even against my better judgment, my gut feelings, my personal preferences or my opinion, I would most often just do what they thought I should.
I could kick myself in the shins just thinking about it.
How do you end a toxic relationship?
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’re not looking to me for advice on how to end a toxic relationship, (although at this stage in my life, I’ve finally learned how). For expert advice, this piece on Psychology Today is a great reference.
One of my favorite nuggets of wisdom is to build yourself up. Surround yourself with healthy people and practice self-care. If I could go back to my teenage self, I would tell her that she is so okay without this person in her life. That she’s okay on her own. That she’s got a lot more to offer than she can see. That she’s worth so much more than she’s settling for. Now that I’m older, I forgive that girl for not seeing things as they really were.
The idea of giving up a friendship with someone toxic is different, it’s not the same dynamic as breaking up with a romantic partner. However, I have heard of people doing almost that – explaining that they’re taking a “break” from the friendship, and the reasons why they feel they need to take time and space away from that person.
More important than actually ending the friendship, though, is figuring out how you won’t go down that path again. What was that relationship offering you that you can find a healthier way to satisfy? What unhealthy or negative patterns do you need to identify and heal from?
I know that leaving these relationships, or ending these friendships, can be scary. Especially when you’re terrified of not knowing who you are without this person, or of simply being alone. Please know that you deserve healthy, meaningful, loving and mutually beneficial relationships.
Since I’m a giant book nerd, and a huge fan of self-help/inspirational books, I can’t end this post without a few recommendations. There are links to a some of my favorites here on Amazon. If you have any recommendations of your own, I’d love to hear them.