What is a Toxic Relationship? Signs, Impacts, & How to Fix it

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Siffat Kaur Arora

18 January 2024

14 Mins

If you clicked on this article, it means you know a thing or two about toxic relationships. It could be you personally, having dealt with one in the past or dealing with one right now. It could also be someone in your life, your friend, parents, significant other, etc., who is dealing with the baggage that comes with being in a toxic relationship. If the world was a better place, and everyone took the time to process and heal from their traumas, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Unfortunately for us, here we are.

What is a Toxic Relationship?

Let’s understand the toxic relationship meaning! Toxicity in relationships can be understood as a combination of behaviours that is both caused by and results in toxic thinking and toxic emotions of those involved. Unfortunately, toxic relationships hold both the victim and the perpetrator in a cycle of stress and negativity, which many a time seems impossible to break, ultimately resulting in the acceptance of the very situation at both ends. Arguably the most devastating thing about toxic relationships is that they trap victim and perpetrator (and in many cases, the people involved play both roles at various times) in a cycle of stress and negativity that feels impossible to escape and, over time, conditions both the parties to accept the situation and not even try to get out. These relationships are marked with unpleasant feelings on one side and a lot of realizations and insights on the other, ultimately having some major effects on our mental health.

How Can Toxic Relationships Cause Trauma?

Trauma caused through toxic relationships is often referred to as Post Traumatic Relationship Syndrome, i.e. PTRS , involves a number of symptoms, wherein trauma from past relationships is seen to affect a person's way of living as well as thinking. Studies also indicate that traumatic interactions with someone over time can cause actual brain changes. Unlike PTSD, in which people tend to avoid the source of trauma, PTRD sufferers uniquely and inadvertently often retraumatize themselves. They tend to do this through repeated sharing and review of the past relationship as they interact with others, which can go on for years. Thereby, they unknowingly energize the bad feelings and compound their emotional pain and mental suffering. More often than not, we hear people say they identify a pattern wherein they relive their trauma, which indicates how unintentionally such patterns may also be reinforced again and again.

7 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

If you think you’re in a similar situation as mentioned above, look for these signs now!

  1. Trauma from a past relationship can actually make you hypercritical of other people, wherein you might see yourself reacting to the tiniest of things, which other people might usually let go off.
  2. Avoidance is one of the key symptoms of PTSD, wherein people tend to create walls for themselves by avoiding communicating their feelings, desires and issues to people in order to avoid conversations that may turn out to be heavy.
  3. Persistence of unhealthy coping mechanisms is also a sign of PTSD, which may help people feel secure in their own ways - Binge eating, excessive drinking, or taking drugs are all forms of self-medicating are attempts to cope with a traumatic experience.
  4. Small memories or details of past relationships are enough to trigger you to an extent where you start to experience intense emotional reactions.
  5. Having low self-esteem to a point where you start to believe that there is no possibility of having a healthy relationship is another sign of PTSD, wherein your ability to look forward to the future is affected.
  6. You tend to treat new relationships with excessive suspicion without having given a chance to the person at first.
  7. Even after whatever may have happened, one continues to blame themselves for the failure of the relationship.

Types of Toxic Relationships

Here are some common types of toxic relationships that you should be aware of:

Controlling Relationships

This type of relationship involves one partner trying to control the other partner's every move. Does your partner try to limit your partner's social life or even career choices? If your partner tries to control your every move, it's time to reconsider the relationship.

Narcissistic Relationships

In a narcissistic relationship, one partner puts their own needs and desires above their partner's. Your partner may be self-absorbed, lack empathy, and try to manipulate you. If your partner constantly puts themselves first and doesn't seem to care about your feelings, it's a red flag.

Abusive Relationships

This type of relationship is one of the most harmful. It can involve physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. If your partner is abusive in any way, it's important to seek help and get out of the relationship as soon as possible.

Co-dependent Relationships

In a codependent relationship, both partners rely on each other for emotional support to the point where they lose their own identity. Your partner might be unable to function without you and can become very clingy.

Gaslighting Relationships

Have you ever been in a situation where your partner constantly lies and twists the truth to make you feel confused or crazy? This is a form of emotional abuse called gaslighting, and it's a serious red flag in any relationship.

Effects of Toxic Relationships

Sometimes all you need is reassurance

It’s heartbreaking to witness your loved ones only remembering you in times of need, but giving away all their love to everybody, but you. Such actions can really make you question your importance and worth in that relationship, leaving you feeling insecure on most days.

Elder sister

Think before you say: “I’ll love you, no matter what

Sadly, one of the key features of toxic relationships is that the people involved, as well as the people around, both somehow try to rationalize mental/physical abuse, in the face of commitment, patience and love. It is okay to unconditionally, but it is not okay to love yourself conditionally!

Trusting a guy

Do we really believe in second chances?

Every relationship has its own dynamics, but ignoring the wrongdoings of the other person is very prominent in toxic relationships, which is commonly expressed in terms of denial. More often than not, people involved in such relationships actively deny the toxic behaviours of the other, either to secure themselves from facing the harsh reality, or from losing the relationship at all.

second chances

Feel free to reduce your burden yourself!

There’s no second thought that every human relationship requires some amount of effort to keep it going, but if those efforts leave you feeling mentally exhausted on most days, then it is your sign to let things go, and give your mental health the peace it deserves.

Emotionally drained

We learn from our mistakes, always.

Undoubtedly, relationships marked with toxicity lead to a number of issues, but sometimes the experience may also be insightful for people, in a way wherein they may realize their fault. Such experiences only help people to be mindful of their actions in their other relationships, as they tend to be much more aware than before.

Learning from mistakes

Coping With Toxic Relationships

When you’re looking to break the cycle and heal from the trauma that can come from being in that situation, it can be challenging to keep your head on straight. So to get past the confusion, here is a checklist of things to keep in mind when tracking and understanding your growth .

  1. Are you trusting? People who have a history of being in a toxic relationship find it very hard to build trust in all of their relationships. It's possible that bad experiences from your past cloud up how you approach trust in relationships and as a concept. Being constantly nervous and asking people to cross-check and corroborate information is difficult for every party involved in any given relationship. If you see yourself assuming the worst in people, it is time to review your behaviour and what purpose it fulfils in your life.

  2. Boundaries and faith. One of the most important things in any relationship is healthy boundaries. It is essential to communicate your boundaries in terms of your relationship and the expectations that come from it. However, a majority of people who have trauma from toxic relationships use said boundaries to push people away. It is imperative to establish healthy boundaries but pushing people away and calling them boundaries is misguided. Trusting yourself and having more faith in people to respect you is important when trying to heal.

  3. Over-analysis helps no one. Going through the bad parts of your past relationship is important for reflection, but it's necessary to know when to stop. Going through all your memories with a fine-toothed comb adds stress and doubt to your daily life. When you're stuck living in the past, it overlaps your day-to-day life, and you get anxious over every action and word. Remember when to step back and know when your analysis turns into over-analysis.

  4. To speak or not to speak. Communication is a major part of every healthy relationship. People with trauma surrounding toxic relationships struggle to effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings. More often than not, they are afraid to voice their opinions and outline their thoughts. Getting over this barrier in communication is an important step in the process of healing.

  5. Types As is the case for many people who were previously in toxic relationships, you tend to stick to a ‘type’. While having a specific set of characteristics that you like is in no way a bad thing, understanding why you’re attracted to certain types of relationships is eye-opening. If you keep getting into toxic relationships, understanding the Whys and Hows is crucial in your journey. Asking yourself questions like “Am I attracted to this person or the thrill of it?” is a good starting point.

  6. Enjoy life for the sake of it. Trauma survivors often have intense guilt for living their life past the moment of their trauma. Being happy shouldn’t come with conditions attached. With toxic relationships, enjoying the things you did in that relationship by yourself brings forth a lot of guilt. Listening to the same music or wearing those same clothes can bring to the surface a lot of unresolved emotions. It is important to remind yourself that you can’t avoid those things for the rest of your life. Enjoy your life for the sake of it; everything else comes after.

  7. Heal for yourself. We often try to find motivations outside of ourselves for getting better. These motivations work for the short term, but it's not sustainable forever. Healing for yourself is more beneficial for you in the long term. Basing your happiness and healing off of conditions that may or may not be met is most definitely not the healthiest route. Do what's best for you but remember to transition from short-term motivations to long-term motivations.

How to Leave a Toxic Relationship

It can be difficult and overwhelming to navigate how to get around them. Here is a list of 7 things you can do to get the help you require.

Look Past The Fantasy

It is easier to live in a fantasy when talking about toxic relationships. “Oh, it’s just that one time,” “It will definitely get better,” and “They promised they would change”; these statements are quite commonly used when speaking about toxic and/or abusive partners. Not falling for the same lies and false promises is an important step in trying to get past the haze that the relationship has you in. It also helps you in trying to find a support system for when you choose to leave.

Confront The Truth

Accepting that you are in a toxic relationship is the first step in leaving toxic relationships. It could be telling the truth to your support system or even just admitting to yourself that things aren’t great. Acceptance isn’t easy, and it takes time to get there. Even once you reach that point, it is a difficult road ahead, but confronting the truth gives you back some of the power you might have lost in the exchange.

Make A Record Of Things

Keeping a detailed record of things is beneficial when planning your exit from a toxic relationship. Being gaslit in a relationship will make you doubt your sanity and also make you question your reality. Having a record of things can be helpful when you want to review what exactly went down. It can also save you from manipulation and be used as evidence if required.

Understand Your Emotions

Understanding your emotions is key in building up the courage to leave toxic relationships. Toxic people often downplay your emotions and make it seem like you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Understanding your emotions is the key to avoiding gaslighting. Being aware of your emotions processes is very helpful when you are trying to build the bravery to take the next step.

Understand Why You Aren’t Leaving

Toxic relationships keep you in a negative loop wherein you find it hard to look at a world outside the relationship. All other mediums of human interaction and support seem invisible. Making a choice to leave can be difficult, and it is certainly an uphill battle, but understanding what is holding you back will take you a long way ahead. Confronting your fears about the end of a relationship is an important step, and understanding your emotions about it will benefit you further down the line.

Make A Decision

Deciding the whens, hows, and whys of leaving is a long and hard process. Not leaving is also a decision that you are consciously making. Making the final decision to leave is critical in your journey towards healing and self-love. Whatever you choose, it should come from a place of independence and not manipulation. You need to understand that even if you choose to stay because your current situation does not permit you to get out, that is still a portrayal of strength. Make your decisions based on what option offers you maximum security and peace of mind.

Look Out For Yourself

The only guarantee that is assured when in a toxic relationship is the fact that they will look after no one. You need to have people in your corner who look out for you. One of those people also needs to be you. You are the only person who knows the intimate details and dynamic structures of your relationship. There is nobody better than yourself to take down the mammoth that is your toxic relationship. Stop making excuses for the other party. Understand that you need to be on your own team.

How can Now&Me help?

Our platform, Now&Me, is a safe place that makes you feel light by writing out whatever is weighing you down. It can help you engage with others and make you look at things from a different perspective about yourself and your relationship. Become a part of the larger community and seek therapy to understand your relationship issues.

When you are not able to understand your relationship, sign up on Now&Me and seek online counseling for it. Be a part of a non-judgmental, inclusive, and friendly community. A platform made for you to readily ask for help and let our therapists help you understand the root cause of your issues and make you aware of how to effectively tackle them.

So, download the Now&Me app for free and cultivate a good relationship with your partner with the help of qualified experts and a loving community.

FAQs

The toxic relationship meaning is where there is a harmful dynamic between two people. This can include things like emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, controlling behavior, or constant negativity. In short, it's a relationship that's not healthy for either partner involved.

One way to identify if you're in a toxic relationship is to look for patterns of behaviour. Do you constantly feel unhappy or unsupported? Do you feel like you're walking on eggshells around your partner? These can be signs that you're in a toxic relationship.

There are many reasons why people stay in toxic relationships. Sometimes it's because they don't realise the relationship is toxic, while other times it's because they feel like they don't have any other options. Fear, low self-esteem, and a sense of obligation are other reasons why people may stay in toxic relationships.

There are many different types of toxic behaviours in a relationship, but some common ones include: controlling behaviour, emotional or physical abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, and constant criticism or negativity.

It's possible for a toxic relationship to be fixed, but it takes a lot of work and both partners need to be committed to making changes. It's important to seek help and support from a therapist if you want to work on your relationship.

Emotional abuse can be difficult to identify, but some common signs include: constant criticism, manipulation, gaslighting, isolation from friends and family, and controlling behaviour.

Sadly, human relations do have the potential to be a major factor for someone to be so mentally exhausted that it might turn into a prolonged chronic condition/illness. Illnesses like depression and anxiety can be developed over time, and since these relationships are marked with feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, low self-esteem, low self-worth, and self-doubt, out of many, they may eventually become underlying causes of a mental illness.

Yes, it's definitely possible to heal from the effects of a toxic relationship. It may take time and effort, but with the right support and resources, you can move forward and heal. This could include seeking help from a therapist, focusing on self-care and self-love, and taking steps to build healthy relationships in your life.

Setting boundaries in a toxic relationship can be difficult, but it's important for your own well-being. One way to do this is to be clear and direct with your partner about what behaviours are not okay with you. Stick to your boundaries and be consistent with your expectations.

Communication skills are crucial in any relationship, but especially in a toxic one. It's important to express your needs and feelings in a clear and respectful way. Moreover, listen to your partner's perspective and work together to find solutions.

Toxic relationships can have a significant impact on your self-esteem. Constant criticism, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse can make you doubt your worth and abilities.

Toxic behaviours in a relationship may not always be intentional, but that doesn't make them any less harmful. Sometimes people may engage in toxic behaviours because of their own issues or insecurities, but ensure to recognize when those behaviours are harmful and take steps to address them.

Yes, it's possible to be in a toxic relationship with a family member. Sometimes family dynamics can be complex and dysfunctional, which can lead to toxic behaviours. Seeking help from a therapist can also be beneficial in this situation.

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