What is a Toxic Relationship? Signs, Help and How to Leave?

Toxic Relationship

A toxic relationship leaves you feeling unsupported, misunderstood, devalued, or attacked. The basic premise of toxic relationships is that they make you feel worse rather than better over time.

The playground, the boardroom, or even the bedroom can foster toxic relationships. Sometimes even family members engage in toxic relationships.

There is no relationship that is not toxic if there is a threat to your well-being on some level, whether it is emotional, psychological, or even physical.

Since mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, major depression, or even depressive tendencies, can already make someone sensitive to negative emotions, they may be more vulnerable to toxic relationships. People with bipolar disorder who are suffering from mixed or depressive episodes may not be as stable emotionally as others, which may make them easy targets for toxic people. However, anyone can be toxic to someone.

Here are some tips on how to identify potentially toxic relationships, including how to know if you are in one. There are also tips on how to handle these types of relationships effectively.

Related: Signs of Self-Obsessed Person

Early signs of a toxic relationship

A relationship can only be judged by its good and bad aspects. Then he or she probably has a toxic relationship because their actions, words, or actions not taken consistently threaten your well-being.

It is a fact that toxic relationships involve physical or verbal abuse. The following are warning signs of a toxic relationship, but they are more subtle:

  • It makes you feel devalued and depleted to give more than you receive
  • It feels like your needs are continually unmet or that you are consistently disrespected
  • Self-esteem takes a beating with time
  • Feeling misunderstood, degraded or attacked
  • When you speak with or be with the other person, you feel depressed, angry or tired
  • Each other brings their worst out in you. You may find it unpleasant to compete with a competitive friend who has a spite-based competitive streak
  • It makes you not feel at your best. You appear to have a mean streak or you seem to become gossipy when they are around
  • Whenever you are around this person, you feel like you have to walk on eggshells to avoid getting stung by their venom
  • It takes a lot of time and effort to cheer them up
  • They always blame you. When you think they did something wrong, suddenly you’re responsible for it

Read: Signs of a Materialistic Person

Toxic vs. healthy behavior

It’s important to consider which behaviors are occurring most frequently in an interpersonal relationship in order to determine whether it’s creating toxicity. If you or the other party consistently act selfishly, negatively or disrespectfully, it could create toxicity in your relationship. There might just be some issues that create toxicity in a positive environment. If you are mostly encouraging, compassionate, and respectful, then there may be fewer issues to address.

You need to be aware of the signs of toxic behavior from the other person or yourself. Below are some indications of both toxic behavior and healthy behavior.

Toxic relationship types

Relationships with toxic people are not unique to romantic relationships. They can appear in a family, at work, or among friends-and being unable to manage the toxicity can be extremely stressful.

It is not necessary for both parties to cause toxic relationships. It is simply toxic to be around some people-their constant complaining, critical remarks, and overall negative attitudes drain your energy. You may also be subjected to constant arguments with others, or you might be constantly told why you are wrong, or you might be constantly told of the weaknesses of others.

Many people are unaware that their behavior affects others when they behave like this. They may not also be aware of healthier ways of communicating. Because they are unable to read social cues well enough, it’s likely that they are confusing or frustrating people, or they make them feel as if they are being ignored.

Sometimes, people intentionally hurt others. When they target you with their mean words and actions, you may feel singled out and targeted. Even when you do all you can, you feel like you can never measure up.

Your relationship with this person may need to be reevaluated if these scenarios are true for you. There is a possibility that they are adversely affecting both your self-esteem and your mental health.

An examination of a 2016 University of Michigan study found that “stress and people with negative relationships negatively affect their cardiovascular system.”1 In the long run, all of these factors harm your health and perhaps lead you to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking or emotional eating.

Read: Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissists and sociopaths

In particular, people tend to feed off of narcissists and sociopaths‘ attention and admiration. Those who are narcissistic feel the need to one-up other people and make them feel “less-than” as a means to gain superiority.

If you share an accomplishment you are proud of, they may put you down deliberately in subtle ways or come up with little insults. It is also possible to remain in the dark about whether they will be nice to you on a particular day. There is also the possibility that they will gaslight you repeatedly.

The narcissist believes that he never makes mistakes, so they find it very difficult to admit their wrongdoing. It is actually dangerous for them to consider themselves less than perfect.

You can never be sure whether toxic, narcissistic people realize what they are doing when you are dealing with them. When someone’s behavior consistently makes you feel bad about yourself, however, you should either distance yourself from them or accept the fact that if they are in your life you should be more alert. 

While this change will not change their behavior, it will help reduce the stress when dealing with them. When interacting with them, it is important to protect yourself from emotional abuse:

  • Keeping a cool head and reminding yourself that you can’t change them will only cause more wrath without resolving anything
  • Maintain some distance
  • If the person has to be in your life, you need to remain vigilant

Related: How to Deal With a Narcissist


If your co-worker is bothering you, think of an excuse why you should move your desk. For example: “I am right under an air vent that bothers me” or “I would be able to get more done if I wasn’t located near a printer.”

Try referring the individual to a supervisor if they come to you with a complaint, and then return to work calmly. This may need to be repeated multiple times before the person gets it.

Family and Friends

You are likely to find it harder to get rid of toxic family members and friends, as there may not be an easy way to do so.

It may be necessary for you to reduce your time spent with a toxic friend. Reduce your visits to them over the course of a few months if you are worried about offending them (though they might still notice).

Often, the underlying issue, which causes the toxic personality, can be addressed in therapy when the toxic person is a family member or close friend.

Read: 15 Signs of an Egoistic Person

Coping with toxic relationship

The presence of toxic relationships cannot always be avoided, especially among coworkers or family members. However, it can be managed by developing healthy boundaries, taking care of yourself and being aware.

You may want to work on your relationship and change the dynamic if you’re in a toxic relationship that brings out the worst in each other (or, conversely, if you don’t bring out the best in one another).

When you’re willing to make changes and are assertive with each other, you can often bring out the best in the other.

The following are some additional tips for dealing with toxic relationships:

  • Describe what you’re seeing to the other person. Take responsibility for your role in the situation while being assertive about your needs and feelings.
  • Talk about how you see the issue and decide together whether you should change it in order to ensure that both of your needs are met.
  • Assess whether you are causing real damage to your self-esteem and mental health with this person.
  • Spend less time with people who frustrate you or cause you to be unhappy. You may need to limit interactions with this person if this is a family member or coworker.
  • Be sure to use “I feel” statements if you decide to discuss your concerns. It will help them not feel defensive.
  • People who lack self-awareness or social skills are more inclined to be toxic, as they are unwilling to change.
  • Standing up for yourself in a non-confrontational way when necessary can be highly effective.

Related: What is Psychopath

How to leave a toxic relationship

These strategies can help you move on safely if you have decided to end the relationship:

  • See a therapist or advocate for domestic violence. You can access resources for additional support and create a safety plan with them.
  • Let them know how you feel. It doesn’t have to be a solo journey. Your family and friends may be able to offer you emotional support, but they may also be able to help you out more practically, such as a place to stay or assistance with moving while your partner is out of town.
  • Bring a friend. Do you feel unsafe talking to your partner alone about a breakup? Ask someone you trust to accompany you. Your partner may try to convince you otherwise, but knowing they are supporting you may help you remain committed to your decision to leave.
  • Replace your phone number with a new one. You may want to block your partner’s phone number and social media accounts if this isn’t possible.
  • Be careful. Ending a relationship is never easy. Make sure you get enough sleep, relax, and take care of yourself before starting a new relationship.

Read: Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Bottom line

When dealing with toxic relationships, you need to focus on your well-being and health. Consider removing someone from your life, or at the very least limiting your time with them, if you’re dealing with someone who drains you of energy and happiness. Don’t wait to seek help if you’re being emotionally or physically abused.

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