How to recognize a toxic relationship and practice self-care?
Sometimes you need a little help recognizing when something isn’t good for you, especially when emotions are involved. Here are some red flags that your relationship might be toxic and how you can care for yourself
As human beings we are wired for connection, we come into this world ready to connect. Relationships are such an important part of the human condition we tend to take them for granted. We all have an inherent desire to connect with others. Relationships are the glue that holds us together during stressful times, add meaning to our life, create stability, increase our emotional stability, allow us to learn and grow, give us a way to understand ourselves and add to our feelings of meaning in life.
Healthy relationships are vital to having healthy emotional and mental health, just as toxic relationships can erode our sense of wellbeing. In fact, poor social connection and loneliness can be as detrimental to your life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So while you are focusing on eating well, moving well, practicing self-care and pursuing a health work life balance, you could be undoing all your hard work by staying in a toxic relationship.
The thing is it is not always easy to recognize when a relationship is toxic, especially with emotions involved. And relationships always have a context you need to negotiate and a dynamic you need to understand. A healthy or toxic relationship can be with a significant other, a family member, authority figure, work colleague or friend. A toxic relationship can be familial, friendly, romantic or professional. As part of being well, we at Wellbe want to encourage you to practice self-care in all facets of your life, including your relationships.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship is any relationship which results in either party feeling unsupported, experiencing excessive negative implications and conflict and where one party seeks to undermine the other. Disrespect is usually a key feature. Yes, every relationship will go through ups and downs but what makes a toxic relationship different is that the negative impact outweighs the positive, causing emotional, physical and mental harm to either person. When one person in the relationship consistently undermines or harms the other, whether it is intentional or not, a relationship can be considered toxic. In fact, you may realize you are perpetuating the toxic behaviors without even being aware. Often times a toxic relationship may not even be a fault of either person, but rather because of an incompatible pairing. For example, a people pleaser might end up with someone who is stronger and more controlling, causing a toxic situation where the one person consistently sacrifices their needs to gain the approval of the other.
The other thing is, people who are toxic in a relationship may have very good reason to be, but that does not make the relationship ok. Essentially despite the cards you have been dealt, there are things you need to let go. Often times those who are abusive, toxic or bully others are modelling this toxic behavior on past experiences they have had. Sometimes the toxic individual is someone with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression or past trauma. Perhaps, the person on the receiving end of the toxic behavior will have experienced it in their childhood, causing them to accept the same themes as acceptable in their later relationships.
It is important to note that a toxic relationship may be an abusive relationship. And abuse is never ok. If you suspect your relationship is abusive you should reach out to someone you trust or get professional help.
What are the red flags of a toxic relationship?
When you hear the term toxic relationship, your mind probably jumps to a situation which is violent, abusive or involves harassment. The truth is most toxic relationships are subtler. Sometimes the warning signs can be missed and we end up staying in them for longer than we should, compromising our wellbeing. Here are some red flags to look out for in your relationships.
How does the relationship make you feel?
Reflect on how a relationship makes you feel, if any of the below describe how you feel most of the time in a relationship it may indicate it is toxic:
- Consistent unhappiness: any relationship which makes you feel anxious, sad, frustrated or angry could be toxic.
- Negative shifts in your mental health, personality or self-esteem: any relationship which makes you feel depressed, anxious, perpetuates an eating disorder, makes you feel worth less than you did previously or causes you to change and withdraw from your usual personality.
- Negative impact on other relationships or how you spend free time: any relationship which causes you to withdraw from relationships that usually bring you joy or if your relationship makes you feel guilty for pursuing things which usually give you joy.
- Feelings of guilt: if another person consistently makes you feel guilty or ashamed of who you are, what you enjoy or your lifestyle it may be toxic.
- A worse version of you: if you find that you are becoming a version of yourself you no longer like and consistently display your worst character traits, it’s time to consider whether this relationship is healthy.
- Drains your energy: sometimes after spending time with certain people we feel drained and exhausted, often avoiding that person if we can. This is a telltale sign that the energy in the relationship is likely toxic.
Do you recognize any of these toxic behaviors?
Perhaps it is easier to identify a toxic relationship by looking out for behavioral red flags. The toxic relationship could be characterized by of the following patterns of behavior:
- The other person only calls you or spends time with you when they need something
- Time spent together is always focused on them or conversation centers around what they want to talk about
- They put you down or make fun at your expense in front of others
- You always leave time spent with them feeling negative, drained or worse about yourself
- They are aggressively competitive towards you, often jealous and controlling
- They bring drama into your life and behave in a way that makes you uncomfortable
- They often disrespect you, forget to include you or exclude you from things
- They gaslight you, making you question your feelings or perspectives
- You have to walk on eggshells around them
How to practice self-care when you are in a toxic relationship
Depending on who the relationship is with, it can be very difficult to resolve, fix or end the toxic relationship. We want to encourage you, that part of caring for yourself is finding a happy medium between having healthy boundaries, healthy self-esteem and having healthy relationships. In fact, there is never a situation where it is ok to compromise caring for yourself to meet someone else’s needs. It brings to mind the lyric from a Jason Gladwin song that goes, “I set myself on fire to keep you warm”, and that is not ok.
It is important to remember that there is a difference between toxic relationships and abusive relationships. There is never an excuse for an abusive relationship. If your relationship is drastically impacting your self-esteem, isolating you or causing severe physical and mental distress, we recommend you contact a professional and seek help.
In a toxic relationship, whether you can fix the relationship or not, actually depends on both of you. The other person must also be willing to change and heal the toxic patterns. Here are some things you can do to ensure you take care of yourself:
- Accept responsibility for your part in the relationship and letting the toxic behaviors become a pattern.
- Set healthy boundaries by recognizing when things make you uncomfortable or feel bad a make a point pushing back.
- Learn to be assertive in a polite and kind manner letting the other person know when they are doing something you do not want to accept.
- Don’t dwell on the past, start to focus on building new and positive patterns in your relationship.
- Find support through a friend, support group or even therapy as sometimes you just need someone to encourage you and figure out why you let yourself get into this toxic pattern in the first place.
- Practice healthy communication with a focus on how you speak to one another, tone of voice and your body language.
- Heal individually to heal the relationship together, as we mentioned there is usually a reason people act the way they do and sometimes you need heal yourself before you can function in a healthy way in a relationship.
A word from WellBe&Co
Through the sharing of knowledge and experience, we want to help build communities, organizations and individuals become the most optimal version of themselves, both physically, emotionally and mentally.
Your health is your wealth so make lasting changes, one habit at a time.
The WellBe Team