Breaking Out of a Toxic Relationships
If you’re stuck in a toxic relationship, breaking away might be one of the best things you can do for your mental health, though it definitely won’t be the easiest. While defining a toxic relationship is simple, realising you’re in one is much harder.
A toxic relationship is any relationship between two people who don’t support each other - whether it’s romantic, familial or professional. The relationship is marked by conflict, undermining behaviour, stress, disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.
Although every relationship goes through ups and downs, toxic ones are consistently draining for the people involved, and negatives often outweigh the positives. They tend to be mentally, emotionally and even physically damaging to one or both participants.
Those who damage relationships do so for a number of often subconscious reasons. They may have been involved in a toxic relationship in the past, either romantically or as a child – perhaps they were bullied in school or had a damaging relationship with a family member. They could also be suffering from a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or from past trauma, as with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In other cases, toxic relationships may simply arise out of unsuitable pairing, such as a relationship between two people who are controlling or one person who is highly critical with another who is very sensitive. Regardless of the underlying cause, toxic relationships are destructive, so it’s important to recognise when you are in one and to know how to break out of it.
Here’s what you need to know about toxic relationships:
Warning Signs of Toxic Relationships
The signs of a toxic relationship can range from the more obvious, such as physical violence, abuse or overt harassment, which should be dealt with promptly, to the more subtle signs that slowly erode your sense of self. These might include:
One of the most common indicators that you may be in a toxic relationship is a persistent feeling of unhappiness. Rather than bringing you joy or making you feel supported, the relationship may leave you feeling sad, frustrated or angry.
Stress and anxiety
If you find yourself constantly feeling nervous or uncomfortable in the relationship, it may be toxic.
Self-doubt, insecurities and negative thoughts can be red flags for toxic relationships.
During the course of a toxic relationship it is not uncommon for someone to feel constantly stressed; and even develop depression, clinical anxiety, or an eating disorder.
Lack of Communication
Feeling like you cannot voice concerns or talk openly with a significant other or family member is a common indicator of being in a toxic relationship.
If your boundaries are constantly being crossed, or seem to be gone completely, your relationship has likely turned toxic.
This is a major warning sign of a toxic relationship. Your significant other may minimise your feelings; use denial or gaslighting (manipulate you into questioning your own perceptions or memory of events); become emotionally unavailable (stonewalling); or accuse you unfairly of things you haven’t done.
Friends & Family
It is much easier to spot a toxic relationship from the outside than the inside. If your friends and family are concerned about your relationship or dislike your significant other this could be a red flag.
How To Get Out of a Toxic Relationship
Identifying that you’re in a toxic relationship is a courageous first step towards escape. Once you’ve recognised your situation, try to implement some of these steps:
You don’t need to do this alone. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members who recognise your value.
Ask a Professional
A specialist support service, therapist or other health or medical practitioner can give you objective, professional advice on how to safely leave a toxic relationship. They can also help you re-establish boundaries, rebuild your self-esteem and identify factors within your power to change that may help you avoid similar situations.
Plan Your Exit
If you are concerned that ending the relationship could escalate into violence or another uncomfortable situation ensure that you have a solid, reliable exit plan. Give yourself permission to seek support. Make use of the professionals and organisations who are skilled in helping people exit difficult relationships, so that you may keep yourself and your loved ones physically and emotionally safe. Many specialist services have 24 hour helplines.
If a toxic relationship is, or has any potential to become dangerous to yourself or others, we strongly advise seeking skilled, professional advice to help prepare your exit plan before telling someone a relationship has ended. In less harmful circumstances, you may exit the relationship once you have empowered yourself with the best possible support network and exit strategy. Try being firm, calm and non-judgemental. Avoid heated conversation or inflammatory remarks. The other party may use their disempowering strategies to try and pull you back into the toxic dynamic, so be prepared for this and stand your ground.
After Leaving the Relationship
You May Miss Them
When you finally leave a toxic relationship you may be surprised that you miss the person, but understand that this is perfectly normal. Very few relationships are ‘all bad’ or ‘all good,’ and it is okay to miss the good parts or even the good parts that might have been. This does not mean you should restart the relationship, even if the person appears to change their behaviour to try to convince you to return. Once a relationship has turned toxic it is likely to remain toxic, so it is important to stick to your decision.
Use your support network to help you work through your emotions and to stop yourself from gravitating back towards the relationship. Friends and family can be a great support system. You may even want to join a support group and meet other people who have had similar experiences.
Break the Pattern
Now that you have left the toxic relationship the next step is to ensure it doesn’t happen again, whether it is returning to the previous relationship or starting a new one. Seeing a Clinical Psychologist is an excellent way to establish healthy boundaries, heal and find value in yourself again.
Take the time to reconnect with yourself and re-establish your sense of self. If you’re lucky enough to have the resources, you may be able to take a break, pick up a hobby or get back into an old activity that you used to enjoy. Even small acts such as taking a long bath or reading something you enjoy is a great idea.
Leaving a toxic relationship doesn’t mean you will feel better immediately or instantly get back to your old self. Any anxiety or depression you developed during the relationship may continue afterwards, and it can take some time to build up your self-esteem. Friendships that may have disintegrated due to you being isolated by the toxic relationship can also take some time to be rekindled. Be patient with yourself and others.
Letting go of a toxic relationship is a bold step towards a better future for yourself. Whether the toxic relationship is at work, with a romantic partner, or with a friend, surround yourself with supportive individuals and trust that you can cope with the situation .
If you feel that you need help with a toxic relationship, get in touch with us today.