What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word toxic? Poisonous? Deadly? Dangerous? Harmful? When considering family members, these synonyms should not define one’s relationship. A toxic relationship is an unhealthy connection that produces damaging results emotionally, psychologically, physically, or behaviorally.
At the core of a toxic relationship is the inability to set healthy boundaries. When boundaries are violated, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress increase. Whether it is your mother, best friend or boss, toxic relationships may continue to exist longer than they should. And the longer they exist, the harder it is to break free.
So, why is it so hard to leave relationships that we know aren’t good for us?
Logically we may know we need to get out, but emotionally it can feel like we are living in an invisible prison. The feelings of shame and embarrassment can build, tearing us away from our true self and leaving us with the shell of who we once were. It’s easy to say, “just walk away” but there is so much more to it than that. If you can relate, you are not alone. For many, living in an unhealthy, toxic relationship is a way of life.
A toxic relationship can come in many different forms such as manipulation, deceit, verbal, or physical abuse, and has a common result of draining you of your strength, hope, and energy. The image you once held of yourself begins to disappear and is ultimately replaced by what others project onto you. But there are ways to rebuild your self-image and restore your strength, hope, and energy.
Be on your way to a Healthier Relationship in 5 Steps
If you embrace the following tips, you will be on your way to setting healthy boundaries and a brighter future:
1. Come to terms with your reality.
Oftentimes we may find ourselves in a situation where we deny the reality of what is taking place at the moment. Avoidance is a defense mechanism used to protect us. This is a coping mechanism to help get through tough times, but it is also dangerous because it allows you to continue living in a toxic situation. Coming to terms with your reality (who you are, what you want, where you’re going) forces you to see the relationship for what it truly is and breaks the fantasy of what it’s not. This can be a “hard pill to swallow,” as they say, but it’s a necessary step to set healthy boundaries with toxic people.
2. Imagine a loved one in a toxic relationship.
What would you tell them? Would you think this is an acceptable relationship for them? And if it wouldn’t be acceptable for them, why is it for you? Give yourself the same compassion you would give to a loved one. At this stage, you need to be supportive in your own right and recognize what you do and don’t deserve. List your relationship expectations and compare your list with your relationships.
3. Build future possibilities.
If you weren’t in the relationship you’re in right now, what would your life look like? If you were able to leave tomorrow free and clear what would you do? Think solely about yourself and your future possibilities at this point. This step helps restore hope and opens up your world to different options. It creates motivation to work up the strength to move on to something better. I personally love to use a vision or dream board approach to see beyond a present situation.
4. Reclaim your pride and rebuild your self-image.
A toxic relationship can chip away pieces of who you are. Although those pieces of yourself are lost, they still exist within you and it’s your job to reclaim them. Every day it’s crucial to tell yourself how great you are despite the present circumstances. Even if you don’t feel it right away, telling yourself these positive affirmations rebuilds your strength and power to fight for a better life. Positive self-talk is a great way to reprogram a negative thought process.
5. Create a support network.
You need a good support system to help you through the management of a toxic relationship. Even if it’s one person, having someone to turn to for understanding and compassion is incredibly beneficial. It will give you more strength and a stronger desire to get out of the relationship and connect with people who add to your life and not subtract from it.
Living in a toxic relationship can be like living in someone else’s body. You’re not living a life that allows you to be everything you could be. It’s up to you to decide if you deserve better. The hardest part is living in the misery, but once you decide to make a change, you are steps away from achieving a better life with less toxicity.