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Surviving Toxicity: Understanding and Overcoming Harmful Relationships

Toxic relationships can quietly infiltrate our lives, leaving behind scars that are often invisible to the outside world. These kinds of relationships can be destructive and can hinder personal growth and self-esteem. It’s important to recognize the signs of a toxic relationship in order to set healthy boundaries and take care of ourselves.

A person with toxic behaviors can add upset to your life, causing mental or emotional distress or harm or frequently causing conflict. “To be toxic means to exhibit a level of power and control over another person,” says Emily Brault, Team Leader at Centerstone. Signs that your partner is toxic may not always be obvious at first, but there are some tell-tale signs that indicate an unhealthy relationship. “As time goes on, the mask slowly comes off and we recognize that this behavior isn’t what we deserve to experience or tolerate from another person,” Brault adds. Here are a few signs to know:

  • You don’t feel emotionally safe: You may feel like you aren’t able to share your thoughts and feelings with that person, like your voice doesn’t matter, or feel like you’re afraid to be totally honest with them.
  • You feel like you’ve lost yourself: You may find yourself doing things you don’t want to in order to please them.
  • You regularly feel judged, belittled, or put down. 
  • You don’t receive empathy.
  • You feel controlled or manipulated.

On the other hand, you may be the toxic partner in a relationship and not realize it. Self-awareness is key and asking yourself the following questions about toxic behaviors can help you be a better partner:

  • Am I inclined to cut ties at the first sign of conflict, or avoid conflict altogether?
  • Do I expect my partner to read my mind? Do I expect my partner to know exactly what I want and get angry when they don’t know?
  • Do I play the victim or not take accountability for my actions?
  • Does the relationship revolve around my needs instead of taking into account my partner’s needs as well?
  • Am I critical, negative, or judgmental toward my partner?

If you find that these reflect your own behaviors, consider a shift in perspective from blaming to understanding and be aware of your unhealthy actions. Discuss the relationship with your partner to better understand the effect of your behaviors and learn to be comfortable with apologies. And, consider therapy to explore tools to help you set healthy boundaries.

Communicating your feelings can be a good next step to changing the behavior. “Talk with your partner about how their behavior is impacting your emotional well-being, and be sure to document in your own way how this behavior impacts you, and to what degree,” says Brault. It can be difficult to address toxic behaviors with your partner, but if you can incorporate the following suggestions, you can feel more confident going in to the conversation:

  • Use ‘I’ statements.
  • Offer compassion, but don’t try to fix them.
  • Set healthy boundaries.
  • Encourage them to talk with a counselor or therapist.
  • Remember that you aren’t at fault.
  • Don’t fall for gaslighting attempts on their part.

Recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship and having the courage to establish healthy boundaries is essential for personal growth and happiness. If you think you may be in a toxic relationship and aren’t sure how to address it, Centerstone can help. Call us 877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) or visit our counseling services page to learn more.

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