What does it mean to be in a ‘toxic relationship’ and how would you know you were in one? Toxic means poisonous and unhealthy for you to be around; whether that is spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally or a combination of all four. Maslow tells us how important relationships are in our lives. In order to meet our need for belonging and love we form close relationships with others – friends, family, lovers, colleagues etc, but how do you know when that relationship is not right for you? Here are 5 things to consider:-
1) Is the relationship all about ‘the other’?
Does your friend or partner hear what you have to say? Do they respect and consider your opinion even when they don’t like it or agree with it or do you find that their opinion is the only one that counts? Can they put themselves in your shoes and see things from your point of view?
Are you answering ‘no’ to some or all of these questions? Some people struggle to show empathy so they try to learn the social norms for listening to others and considering others views and feelings. Whilst this may be a struggle, it can be done. On the other hand there are those characters who don’t want to consider others and feel that your/everyone’s life should revolve around them and that their way is the only way. These people are selfish and unlikely to ever be able to offer you a relationship of equality.
2) Are you the butt of the joke?
Do you find yourself being hurt or offended by comments and criticisms from your friend or partner, only to be told ‘I was only joking’ or ‘man up’? Toxic people make it their business to put you down and chip away at you – it gives them a sense of power and control whilst you get left with a sense of ‘not being good enough’, which you carry around like a neat little package that they have given to you.
If you are experiencing the above then this person is a danger to your confidence and self-esteem. Being a friend or partner to someone is not about pointing out their bad points or their failings; it’s about accepting them for who they are and embracing their good bits. It’s actually true that ‘no one is perfect’ but its also true that a real friend isn’t looking for perfect. If you are in a relationship which leaves you ashamed to be you then it’s toxic and it will not serve you to stay.
3) Is there something you can’t quite put your finger on but you know you know makes you feel uncomfortable?
Do you feel free to say what you think or feel around this person? If you were looking in from the outside would you say you change your behaviour when you are around them? Are you quieter/louder/shyer/compliant/restless/edgy/meek/defensive or any other type of behaviour that you wouldn’t normally associate with yourself? Are you treading on eggshells, trying to please them or maybe even looking for approval?
If you are displaying any of these types of behaviours (or others) that are not usual for you then you are modifying your behaviour. This is a clear indicator that something is wrong in this relationship. You may have a sense that something isn’t quite right but you may not know exactly what it is – it’s fine not to know but this is your ‘gut instinct’ letting you know that something is wrong. In the book Psychopath Free by PEACE the writer invites you to think about a ‘Constant’ in your life, someone that you know and trust and who allows you to feel safe and loved, someone like a good parent or long standing friend – someone that you can say whatever you like to and totally be yourself around. This is your yardstick for other relationships. A non-toxic relationship or friendship should allow you to feel the same as you feel around your ‘constant’.
4) Are you allowed to grow and develop?
Are your efforts to improve yourself mocked or belittled? Does your partner offer their support to your efforts to ‘give up smoking’, ‘join the gym’ or ‘take up study’? Do you find yourself doing these things in secret or even not doing them at all for fear you will be mocked, criticized or judged?
Every day we change, we have yesterday’s knowledge and experience that we didn’t have the day before, growth and development is a natural part of our cycle. Maslow puts ‘achievement’ right up there as one of our fundamental ‘needs’ towards self-actualisation and being okay with who you are. Anyone who doesn’t want you to grow and develop is negative, selfish and you guessed it … toxic! Don’t defy nature – keep growing.
5) Is the control dressed up as love?
Are you encouraged to go out with and meet new people or learn new skills? Do you dread telling your partner you are ‘going on a course’ or ‘staying away overnight’? Do they not want you to go because ‘they love you and want you all to themselves?’ Does your friend become twitchy and critical when you talk about new colleagues or new friends?
Toxic people often feel the need to exert power and to control others but they will dress this up as ‘love’. They feel threatened by you getting close to others and fearful you may leave or abandon them – this can play out as jealousy. In the beginning it can feel flattering that someone wants you all to themselves and is jealous of your time with others, but jealousy alongside power and control is another one of those toxic emotions that need not be in your relationships and friendships. If your relationship is built on solid foundations such as trust, respect and honesty then there is no place for jealousy. If you feel the other person is behaving in a way to deliberately make you jealous then that is also something to be very wary of.
Overall, relationships are complex and you do need to put work in to keep them healthy but if you are left with regular negative feelings in any relationship then stand back and take a long hard look at what’s happening. It can be difficult to assess your own relationship especially when the boundaries become blurred about what’s acceptable and what’s not. Further confusion comes as many toxic relationships are mixed with great passion and adoration especially in the early days. There are often periods of extreme ‘highs’ or ‘good times’ but boy are there a number of bad times too. Ask yourself – If I carry on down this road where will I be in 1, 2 or even 5 years’ time?
Is this a safe road for you to be on? Or are you going to lose your sense of self the more you stay on it? If the answer is ‘yes’ then seek support from someone you trust such as a close friend or a Counsellor who can help you explore what needs to happen next.