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Toxic relationships can drain your self-esteem and your energy, and isolate you from your loved ones. Perhaps you have encountered a toxic coworker or family member, or have been involved in a toxic romantic relationship.
No matter what, toxic relationships are harmful for both your mental and physical health, so it's important to recognize when you are involved in one and get help accordingly.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship is one that makes you feel consistently bad about yourself. You may find yourself fending off subtle jabs or downright insults, dealing with unreliability or perhaps even deceit. A toxic relationship leaves you feeling anxious, unrewarded and unaccepted.
We asked Dr. Jorhdin Banner, a Toronto-based psychotherapist, for her take. "In a toxic relationship, you either end up doubting yourself or having paranoid-type thoughts about your actions and their impact," says Banner. And toxic relationships are a lot more common than you might realize.
"Unfortunately there aren't as many people who are in healthy relationships as you may think," says Banner. There are some clear signs that you are involved in a toxic relationship and, fortunately, there are steps you can take to withdraw yourself from the negative situation.
1. Don't ignore a gut feeling
We often know something is wrong far earlier then we care to admit. Perhaps an anniversary is forgotten, a friend has been dishonest with you, or your partner calls you names. "Our body will react to this," says Banner. "It's the most amazing tool we have and yet sometimes we choose to ignore it."
Start paying attention to your reactions, says Banner. How does your body react in any given moment? Are you fearful? Do you recoil? That's your body giving you some important information. "We generally like a quick and easy solution," says Banner, so we tend to sweep things under the rug when things get difficult.
2. Don't let your past cloud your judgment
All of us have our own individual filters, says Banner. "As children, we look to our parents as models of relationships. And those relationships are also influenced by cultures and personal history," says Banner. And they impact how we act in our relationships today and what we interpret as being "healthy" or "unhealthy."
For example, if you grew up in an environment where one parent constantly belittled the other, and you find yourself in a similar situation, it may not raise as big of a red flag for you as it should. The challenge becomes filtering all of your past influences to recognize the difference between gut feelings and simply interpreting events based on fear or past experiences, says Banner.
3. Don't place blame on yourself
Be cautious of selling yourself short. The aggressors in a toxic relationship will often play on your fears and weaknesses -- it's a way to manipulate or control the problem.
"We often place the blame on ourselves and tell ourselves all sorts of negative things such as ‘I'm not relationship material' or ‘I'm never going to find anyone else,'" says Banner. By doing so, we end up settling or staying in a relationship that is unhealthy because we are fearful of what life will be like without it.
4. Remove yourself from the relationship
As hard as it may be, Banner says making the decision to remove yourself from a toxic relationship is imperative. Since this can be daunting, you need to take small baby steps -- and don't be afraid to ask for help from a professional or close, trusted friend or family member.
"Decide what steps you need to take, and move an inch at a time," says Banner. Small steps are easier to manage and you're better able to build on the success of each incremental step along the way.
Once you've managed to remove yourself from a toxic relationship, that's only half the battle, says Banner. What follows is a reshaping and rebuilding of your self-esteem from the inside out to ensure you don't find yourself in a similar toxic situation in the future.
You need to learn how to set boundaries so that manipulative or aggressive people do not take advantage of you. Additionally, you should shift your focus to spending more quality time with family, friends and coworkers who respect you and who will support your decision to depart from that unhealthy situation.