Toxic relationships have many faces – they pop up in both our personal (parent-child, siblings, friendships) and occupational (supervisor-employee, coworkers) lives. You know the type – you lend a family member money, or a co-worker your car; or you care for their children while they go on vacation hoping they will one day return the favor. Unfortunately the toxic person doesn’t pay you back, returns your car damaged with no offer to repair it and asks you to watch their children again next vacation without ever offering to watch yours. It doesn’t happen once, it happens repeatedly in different forms. You feel hurt, taken advantage of and angry – at the offender and yourself. Bottom line is: you are consistently being brought down. You feel “used.”
Past negative time perspective and the toxic relationship:
The tendency to unconsciously seek out toxic relationships frequently starts with past negative experiences when we are children and might carry on throughout our lives. They can become so deeply ingrained in the way we think and feel that we don’t realize we are steeped in toxicity until (or) hopefully when someone else points it out. The toxic person in our lives (and maybe it’s us), is generally concerned about themselves and their needs; the relationship is classic codependent. And the worse form of toxic relationship is when that other is your partner or mate, supposedly there forever!
Five signs you’re in a toxic relationship:
In toxic relationship research, Yvette Bowlin distilled the myriad indicators of toxic relationships into the following five signs: it seems like you can’t do anything right; everything is about them and never about you; you find yourself unable to enjoy good moments with this person; you’re uncomfortable being yourself; and you’re not allowed to grow and change. If you’re experiencing even just one of these signs, check in with yourself to see if the relationship is doing more damage than good.
Five steps to end a toxic relationship:
So how do we get out of toxic relationships? Drawing upon clinical experience as well as research, the following steps are essential to ending toxic relationships in a healthy way:
1. Review past negative behaviors – start by distancing yourself from denial. This is a difficult first step to take as it requires an honest evaluation of how you feel about your relationship. As yourself if, when spending time with him/her, are you energized or drained. Do you feel like you have to spend time with, or do you feel sorry for him/her? Are you the giver and she/he the taker? Does your time with him/her leave you feeling put down, angry, disappointed or frustrated? Do you really like her/him?
2. Discover how you feel in the present – start by identifying the benefits in the relationship. Relationships, including toxic ones, have paybacks. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t stay in them. We may be reluctant to delve into what it is exactly we get from a toxic relationship, but it’s important to dig deep here. Ask yourself if he/she makes you feel good (or guilty) in some way; or if he/she reminds you of another toxic person from your past. The latter is particularly tough to look at because she/he may unconsciously be providing you with a deep-seeded toxic comfort level.
3. Practice selected present hedonism – fill the hole left behind from ending the relationship. Do things that make you feel better and in ways so that you don’t have to rely on others. For instance, revisit that project you put on the back burner, learn meditation or yoga, call friends, and remind yourself that you won’t feel this way (sad, angry, upset) forever.
4. Be pro-social – surround yourself with positive people. Hopefully these folks are working on their boundaries as hard as you are and aren’t enmeshed in their own share of toxic relationships and therefore become somewhat toxic themselves. The stuff is contagious. Be smart with whom you choose to hang out.
5. Replace past negatives with a bright future positive – work toward healing the part of yourself that may be attracting toxic relationships. This may mean exploring past toxic relationships, forgiving yourself for the part you played and realizing that you deserve the right kind of love and attention in order to create a brighter future for yourself.
Let go of the negative past and give love permission to enter your life. Let go of toxic relationships – the past negative people that bring you down and create past negative and present fatalistic experiences. You’ll create room in your life to focus on the good things, like past positive experiences and can start making plans for a new and brighter future. You’ll automatically start living in a more fulfilling and meaningful present.