Toxic Relationships: We Like to be Needed but at What Cost?

When people are raised in relatively toxic environments (perhaps physical abuse or substance abuse or untreated mental illness might have been present in their homes growing up), they may seek out relationships that are “toxic” because those types of relationships are what is actually “comfortable” for that person. It’s truly tragic to see someone knowingly choose to maintain an unhealthy relationship when you know in your heart that they are worth a truly supportive and respect-filled, mutually satisfying relationship.

Others might find themselves unknowingly woven into a toxic relationship and not be sure how to get out of it. In the painful cycle of relational abuse, the abuser/user has the power to convince the relational partner that they actually “deserve” the poor treatment. When a person experiences the cycle of abuse long enough, she or he may grow to believe that their behaviour is to blame for the toxicity in the relationship.

Why do we stay in Toxic Relationships Longer than we should?

The need for friendship is a huge driving force for people – the longing to belong to a social support system plays a strong role in driving us to befriend others. And because most of us choose people we assume to be “friendship material,” based on early interactions, we do so without expecting a friendship to turn toxic on us.

Women also believe that we can change other people – we somehow do not recognize that our power to change others for any lasting period or in any significant manner is pretty much non-existent.

We also might tell ourselves that it is ourselves who are not being a “good friend,” when a toxic friend takes advantage of us. If our need for the friendship is strong enough, we easily accept the blame and try to change ourselves to be “better” to the truly toxic person.

Toxic Relationship Warning Signs

You realize that hanging out with a particular person leaves you feeling worse, not better, after time together
You find yourself avoiding this person or delaying your responses to her/his texts or phone calls
This person seems to “like you” or want to spend time with you only when they need something from you, but is less willing to be there when you need her/him.
This person tries to isolate you from other relationships in your life – for instance, making negative comments about the other people in your life or dissuading you from spending time with them.

Disengaging from a Toxic Relationship isn’t Always Easy, but it’s Worth the Work

If you decide to cut ties with a friend you believe is going to drag you down, do it as quickly as circumstances allow.

Don’t let a toxic relationship go on for too long. Delaying the inevitable usually just makes it harder the longer you wait. If it’s a friend that you really only communicate with via social media or texting, fading away, or “ghosting,” is probably doable without much drama, but that’s about the only time it would be okay.

Using the “I’m just so busy” Excuse might have an Upside, but it might have a Downside, too

Pretty much everyone knows that when someone complains about being “too busy” to catch up or meet up, it is code for “you’re off my A-list.” So if you want to get across the message that a relationship is pretty much over, this might be a potential “let’em down easy” excuse. However, if you are too convincing with excuses about being “busy” at work, with family, etc., you are likely going to have to spend time emphasizing and repeating these same excuses if a toxic friend is particularly persistent.

Be sure to craft a relationship break-up speech that focuses on your shortcomings, not the other person’s failings. Use “I statements” and own your feelings. Being honest can be a final parting gift for your soon-to-be ex-friend/partner that may actually benefit her in the long run. And try to avoid collateral damage as much as you can. If other friends may feel the need to take sides, approach them as soon as possible so that potentially tricky social situations can be prevented, if possible. In the case of mutual friends, be prepared for some causalities.

Stay on your Guard to Avoid Future Toxic Entanglements

To avoid this type of relationship in the future, always remember to trust your instincts. If a relationship seems too perfect to be true, that’s a warning sign that the new person in your life may be playing out a role that they know would appeal to you. Give that relationship and person some space and time – don’t go overboard and become “overnight besties” or begin an “exclusive dating relationship” before you really get to know someone.

People that often turn out to be the most toxic relationship partners are often uncanny in their ability to play out the role that you need them to play at the start of a relationship. Keep your eyes open and be aware of your own feelings. We can’t always predict the future with 100% certainty, but our gut instincts have an amazingly high rate of accuracy when it comes to our own best interests.

Minimizing the Negative Impact of Toxic Friends & Family Members

Avoiding toxic people is best; if you cannot avoid this person (work mate, classmate, neighbor, and so on), you just have to remind yourself that you do not have to allow this person to have the power to affect how you function or how you feel about yourself. Change up your routine and find ways that accidental interactions won’t occur – if you know her from the gym, change the time you work-out. If she has kids in the same school you do, make sure you stay clear of her when you’re at school functions. Avoiding trouble is always a lot easier than getting out of trouble, in most cases.

Establishing boundaries is essential to any healthy relationship – and especially with those that have an unpleasant edge to them. Doing what you can to avoid collateral damage to other relationships is important, too, which may involve having some difficult, but honest, conversations with mutual friends, personnel at work, neighbors, and so on.


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