A healthy and positive relationship means that both parties are supportive, empathetic and respectful of each other. Problems are discussed and solved together, without any mode of dominance of one person over the other, unlike toxic relationships.
Relationships that are the opposite of a healthy relationship are called toxic relationships as they can be emotionally, mentally and even physically damaging to one or both parties.
Dr. Lillian Glass, a California-based communication and psychology expert, defined a toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.”
Toxic relationships can exist anywhere between anyone, ranging from schoolmates, colleagues, to friends, romantic partners and even family members. In this post, you will learn more about signs, types, solutions and the impact of toxic relationships.
Relationships that include any form of violence, abuse and harassment are definitely toxic and need to be dealt with urgently. However, most of the time, signs that a relationship is toxic are a lot more subtle, and may take a long time to uncover. Below are some examples:
Lack of support and understanding
Giving more than receiving
Jealousy and deception
Possessiveness and dominance
Holding on to grudges
Changes in other relationships
Lack of self care
Walking on eggshells
Comparison between a healthy and toxic relationship
As aforementioned, apart from romantic relationships, friendly, familial and professional relationships can all be toxic. Sometimes, both parties in the relationship can be toxic for each other, for example if both of them are people who need to feel in control, the toxic relationship is the result of their imperfect pairing. However, there are some people who are simply unpleasant to be around - you might feel stressed and tired because of their critical remarks, denying/blaming, and their resentful attitude.
Some people may act this way towards everyone, unaware of their hurtful actions and how to improve their way of communication, while others purposely do things to upset and hurt others, leading their targets to have decreasing sense of self worth. An example of the latter would be narcissists, people who have an inflated sense of importance that tend to feed off others’ attention and admiration. When someone talks about an attainment, narcissists belittle that person in order to feel superior.
Why people are in toxic relationships
Although anyone can meet toxic people in their lives, those who battle mental illnesses (like bipolar disorder) are used to constantly dealing with negative emotions, and may also be less stable emotionally, making it easier for toxic people to target them.
Two most common situations are 1) one is attracted to someone who’s bad for them and 2) one pushes away people that are good for them just when the relationship is progressing, since they are, unknowingly, in the process of entering a toxic relationship where familiar but disagreeable patterns can be repeated. They look for qualities in a partner that remind them of past harmful relationships, instead of traits that would positively influence them.
Coping and recovering
People often fear leaving a toxic relationship since they think they’re abandoning their partner, and believe that deep down their partner still cares. But in order to prioritize one’s well being, leaving a toxic relationship is necessary, and people will eventually realize that it is the right choice to make. It is also possible to mend and rebuild the relationship, but it will only work out if both parties are willing to discuss the problems and changes in order to communicate effectively and interact in a healthy way.
Possible steps to take:
Re-evaluating and identifying the negatives present in the toxic relationship will help you consciously avoid these qualities in future relationships
Bring up your feelings and needs and discuss with the other party (if they are unaware of their hurtful actions)
Limiting time spent with toxic people if you can’t completely avoid the relationship (family)
Reconnecting with those who bring out the good in you and positively influence you
Find time to care for yourself (e.g. doing activities you enjoy) in order to recover and balance your priorities
Therapy: identifying and understanding the damaging relationship dynamics, different methods to help you move on and heal
Physical impacts can possibly include:
Higher risk of cardiovascular problems
High blood sugar levels and blood pressure
Weakened immune system
Mental impacts can possibly include:
Being more guarded, making it harder to open up to others in the future
Low sense of self worth
Becoming more pessimistic
Constantly feeling down
Hindered personal growth
Lead to mental illnesses
“Love should never cost you your peace. It should never cost you your joy. It should never cost you your happiness. If there’s more negative in the situation than positive, something has to change.” -- Carolyn Gamble, Maryland-based motivational speaker