Saturday, 29 October 2011

Toxic Relationships: Handle With Care

Mixed Emotion by sintixerr
Mixed Emotion, a photo by sintixerr on Flickr.
I have a fundamental flaw; I focus on what I like about other people, and ignore their negative characteristics, sometimes to my detriment. My logic is, “No one’s perfect, right?” I can make endless excuses for those I care about, almost justifying erratic behavior. The last thing I want to be is judgmental. However, I wonder if I’m confusing compassion with carelessness.

It would be unreasonable to expect perfection from anyone, but how do you determine when someone is more harmful than helpful to your well being? When a relationship becomes toxic, is there a way to salvage it, or is it best to call it quits? How do you define ‘toxic’ and why do some relationships end up this way?

The foundation for all relationships begins with how we relate to ourselves. The problem, I’ve discovered, is that not everyone will accept us as we change. While we may strive to improve our inner worlds and build self-esteem, our external environment may not always cooperate.

Over the last few years, I’ve committed more to my personal development. The most painful part of this process has been letting go of loved ones unwilling to support my growth. I have decided my only path forward is one where I am true to myself; this means that I won’t allow anyone to hold me back from using my gifts and becoming the person I want to be. Needless to say, I have lost more than one close friend. This road is sometimes a lonely one to travel.

Is it worse to be selfish or selfless? In my opinion, women especially are discouraged from being “selfish”, but this is a trap. Loss of self is the worst state any soul could encounter. It is a mistake to ignore one’s own needs, while feeling responsible for everyone else.

I am not advocating that we make decisions based purely on our own desires, with no regard for anyone else. I’d simply like to challenge the notion that being “self-centered” is negative. Why shouldn’t each of us be central- and of primary importance- in our own lives? Seflhood ought to be a priority, for having a distinct identity is an achievement. Knowing oneself, and possessing an inner stronghold, enables us to form genuinely loving relationships. This is the only way to create a truly authentic life.

Without clear boundaries it isn’t possible to maintain healthy relationships. I’ve noticed that when boundaries become blurred, toxicity is more prevalent. Do you feel pressured by family, friends, or your partner to express only limited aspects of your personality? Is the thought of saying “no” or voicing opposition too terrifying in certain relationships? It is crucial that each person has the freedom to express their unique viewpoint, and uphold personal values, without condemnation.

Following are a list of symptoms that may alert you to a situation which requires handling with care.

Signs of a Toxic Relationship:

  • Independence is viewed as a threat and is therefore discouraged.
  • One person in the relationship feels a need to control the other.
  • One person expects the other party to meet all of their needs.
  • Communication is limited because of defensive responses by either or both parties. Perhaps neither is able to listen properly or voice feelings in an appropriate manner.
  • Verbal abuse and criticism are used as a means to prevent change and hold the other back.
  • One’s dignity is threatened by the other’s disrespectful words or actions.
  • It feels either emotionally or physically unsafe to disagree.
  • One party withdraws affection and/or communication, sometimes also engaging in hostile silences or sulking, when confronted with a partner’s limit or boundary.
  • One person’s poor sense of self and low self-esteem may cause them to envy the other’s confidence. In my experience, trouble will ensue if this is the case.
  • If either person refuses to own their behavior, a mature relationship cannot develop. Avoidance of responsibility is a central ingredient when cooking a toxic stew.

Anger alerts us to situations when our presence is being demeaned or disrespected. Listen to it. Rather than act out on the emotion, sit with the feelings and try to uncover what they are attempting to tell you. Our feelings indicate a call to action, but we must choose carefully rather than respond impulsively.

I’m as intense as anyone you’ll ever meet, and find this extremely hard. Learning to sit and breathe with my anger, rather than vent on whoever has provoked it, is an evolving process. I don’t always get it right, but awareness is the first step. It requires a lot of willpower to step back when strong emotions are demanding a reaction. Yet, it’s necessary to learn such restraint if our goal is to become mature individuals, and help create a mature society.

Perhaps you may uncover feelings of rejection, abandonment, insecurity or sadness beneath the anger. You might tap into past hurts, completely unrelated to the current person or situation at hand. If so, it can be helpful to write about it, talk to someone you trust, or simply acknowledge your revelations to yourself.

Once the intensity of your emotions has settled, and you’re clear in your mind about the issues raised by your feelings, you can make decisions about detoxing your relationship. If you’re able to express your new-found understanding, and your friend or partner is able to hear you and responds satisfactorily, the experience may bring you closer.

Sometimes this may not be possible. Depending on how serious the situation is, you may decide it is no longer a relationship you are willing to invest in. The most loving thing to do for both of you might be walking away.

The bottom line is that you deserve to be handled with care.

Big hugs,



  1. Be less judgemental - but more discerning...
    No role models for us: the old family, where you worked the farm or shop together, or women were house-wives and men bread-winners and all were part of neighbourhood, village or clan is obsolete. So we have different criteria for our 'ideal partners' - and they for us.... And thus over 50% of Parisian e.g. live on their own - and that doesn't include single parents....
    Horses for courses. Last week I was cooking with an ex of mine - a disaster... we couldn't agree on anything - but it didn't matter because we're great friends - and we had a good laugh at our incompatibility as regards living together.
    The more we realize ourselves - the more we become peculiar and odd and less bothered to compromise (speaking for myself here) - but then there's that point where all this expression of individuality has done its job and perhaps liberates us from those all important quirks and habits - and then, with some luck, we get to the core and to someone to fuse cores with. SOME luck...

  2. Thanks for your comment, Lothar. Yes, I do need to become more discerning. It's an art I'd like to improve at, just as knowing when and how much to compromise is a valuable skill in relationships. I enjoyed the image of you and your ex trying to cook together and laughing. Wonderful that you've maintained a friendship!

    It certainly is a blessing when we can accept ourselves- and others- shortcomings and all!


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