Toxic relationships are unhealthy relationship patterns that exist between two people and are found across different contexts – romantic relationships, parent-child, in friendships as well as work relations. The premise of these relationships is humiliation, control, and lack of support, blame or manipulation or unhealthy communication. Generally, to maintain any healthy relationship requires work from both parties. However, toxic relationships become emotionally more draining and unsettling to remain in as there is more pain than joy. Toxic relationships border almost on abuse and narcissism but these traits are very subtle in toxic relationships, especially in the beginning, and as a result, “red flags” may be difficult to notice until later.
Core to toxic relationships is the high level of co-dependency, meaning people come with unhealthy patterns in the relationships, such as insecurity. For instance, in parent-child relationships where children are seeking acceptance or love, parents can be manipulative in the manners how such needs will be fulfilled; conditions may be placed by parents to show love. Vice-versa, children, including adult children, can also guilt-trip parents to support their endeavours, such as buying expensive gifts or take out loans on behalf of the children if children feel that parents weren’t or aren’t available for them emotionally.
Similarly, in romantic relationships, toxicity can occur in the form of humiliation, where some partners may suppress expressing their thoughts/feelings because of fear of upsetting their partners or being insulted, therefore, may feel as if they are constantly walking on eggshells. Suppression of speech is common also in work spaces, where employees may avoid raising concerns affecting them negatively due to power dynamics and the consequences of such actions. In friendships, while healthy friendships are supportive, toxic friendships may lack the balance and some friends may feel used because they overextend themselves in friendships. People with certain mental disorders such as depression, and bipolar are more susceptible to being in toxic relationships due to their predisposition to negative thoughts.
Indicators of toxic relationships by Elizabeth Scot: You give more than you’re getting, which makes you feel devalued and depleted; you feel consistently disrespected or that your needs aren’t being met; you feel a toll on your self-esteem over time; you feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or attacked; you feel depressed, angry, or tired after speaking or being with the other person; you bring out the worst in each other. For example, your competitive friend brings out a spite-based competitive streak that is not enjoyable for you; you are not your best self around the person. For example, they bring out the gossipy side of you, or they seem to draw out a mean streak you don’t normally have; you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around this person to keep from becoming a target of their venom; you spend a lot of time and emotional strength trying to cheer them up; you are always to blame. They turn things around, so things you thought they had done wrong are suddenly your fault.
To break free from toxic relationships in general is challenging more so, in family and work relationships. However, the following guidelines may be useful to manage such relationships according to Elizabeth Scott: Be assertive about your needs and feelings while also taking responsibility for your part in the situation. Talk about what you’re witnessing with the other person; discuss what you see as a problem and decide together if you want to change the dynamic to ensure that both of you get your needs met; re-evaluate your relationship and ask yourself: Is this person causing real damage to my self-esteem and overall mental health; limit the time you spend with people who bring frustration or unhappiness into your life. If this person is someone you need to interact with, like a family member or co-worker, you may need to limit interactions; if you decide to talk about your concerns, use “I feel” statements when describing your feelings and emotions. Doing so helps keep them from feeling defensive; realise that some toxic people simply are unwilling to change—especially those who lack self-awareness or social skills; try to non-confrontationally stand up for yourself when the situation warrants it; set boundaries – limit your contact both physical and verbal, if possible, for self-preservation; seek professional help.
Disrupt toxicity and enjoy healthy relationships.
“Just because you’re part of a tree doesn’t mean you can’t branch out.”
- Justine /Oaes
* Justine /Oaes (Clinical