5 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Toxicity in relationships can show itself in many ways & in different ways according to the type & nature of the relationship, here are some behaviours to consider if you're not sure that a relationship with a partner, family member, friend or group of friends could be toxic, harmful or unhealthy.

1. Talking about you 'behind your back'.

It's one thing to have family or friends share news or ask about us, to talk about us when we're not present, that's entirely normal & sometimes beneficial, however it's the quality of that 'talk' that matters.

If we are being gossiped about, if the conversation is critical, demeaning, disrespectful & rude, if lies are told or indeed something that people wouldn't say directly to us, then that should give us cause for concern.

2.  Using our vulnerabilities against us.

Most of us know what our vulnerabilities are; maybe we're self conscious about our weight, about the fact that we're not as successful in our job as we'd like to be, or that we struggle financially. 

We know what our sore points & fears are & those close to us can reasonably be expected to also know them & to not use these against us - this is one crucial aspect of  'safety' & 'trust' in relationships. So when they do use those vulnerabilities against us it can be extremely hurtful & not conducive to a healthy, supportive relationship or indeed to any form of intimacy, emotional and/or physical.

Vulnerability, & feeling 'safe' in that vulnerability is essential to intimacy regardless of the nature of the relationship, if we don't trust that our vulnerabilities are safe, & will be heard & held with care & attention, then we cannot open to intimacy.

3. Change is unwelcome.

All of us change throughout the course of our lives, we change opinions, what is important to us changes, our bodies & beliefs change, and those who love & respect us can reasonably be expected to continue to love us, even though it may be challenging, if we change. 

I'm not talking about huge changes here, ones that are fundamental or a complete 180 degree change, or indeed something that's a 'deal breaker' in relationship, but the simple, natural & expected evolution of a human life. 

Do you continue to be welcomed even if you've changed? Are there attempts to convince you to go back to the way you were, to coerce you to stop changing or even anger at how you've changed? Are you, fundamentally, free to be yourself?

Of course, it's important to consider that others may not have the emotional capacity to deal with how you've changed, but if there's criticism of it, rejection of you & how you've changed, that's a different matter.

If a different you is not welcomed & accepted, then perhaps it's worth considering the levels of acceptance in the relationship & how important that is to you.

4. Abusive behaviour is accepted, minimised or covered up.
This may well relate more to families or groups of friends rather than an intimate partner. Often, for example in the case of familial sexual abuse, domestic violence, addiction etc, damaging & destructive behaviours are not spoken openly about, they are hidden & taboo to discuss, or worse, they are covered up & the abuser or person who has caused harm is protected while the people who've been hurt or harmed are ostracised. This can, of course, also happen in a friend group or group of professional colleagues.

This can be extremely challenging, particularly in families, as while we can change our own behaviour, if we have the motivation & skills to, we cannot change other people, no matter how hard we try. 

5. There are attempts to control the narrative.

What I mean by this could include what people often call 'gaslighting', trying to convince someone that they're the 'problem', trying to get them to think that things are not how they seem, to get someone to doubt their own thought processes, observations & feelings. It's manipulative at the very least as well as diminishing & disrespecting your truth at the same time.

Equally, controlling the narrative may also include trying to control how others see you, turning people against you, gossiping & lying, trying to get people on their 'side' & attempting to change how people think & feel about you.

What to do?

Firstly, get some support, whether it's from a friend, an organisation or a professional therapist. If any of the above, or other, damaging behaviours are happening in any relationship you're in then having a 'safe space' to talk about what's happening may help.

Secondly, consider your boundaries. What is 'safe' for you to do & not to do at this point, what is it you want in or from this relationship? Is what's happened or happening compatible with that? Can you talk to the person or people in the relationship to work things out or to seek a change in behaviour, to cultivate respect & trust?

Thirdly, feel no shame at putting your own needs, wellbeing & emotional safety first. While I think many people find it easy to walk away from connections these days, even with family or long terms friends, that's not always the most useful thing to do.

If things can be worked out, mutual respect & trust re-built that's great, repair is mature in relationships provided it's what everyone concerned both wants & is capable of.
Equally, walking away, or limiting the relationship with solid boundaries, in order to protect oneself if mutual respect & trust can't be established may also be the right, if temporary, move.