By Kristen C. Dew, LMFT, CST
Today, on the ides of March, I have been reflecting on toxic relationships. Just like Caesar was warned to beware of a relationship that would eventually betray him and lead him to his demise, we can all fall prey to toxic relationships in our lives.
Toxic is definitely a buzz word these days, but what does it mean? Anything that has the potential to become very harmful to your emotional health can become toxic. You might recognize the signs of toxicity in your life by reflecting on a person or situation that is causing you stress:
- Do you feel disrespected, despite your clear feedback?
- Do they intentionally push your boundaries?
- Do you consistently feel confused or manipulated?
- Do you consistently walk away feeling bad about yourself?
- When you make attempts to be honest about how you feel or repair a problem, does the conversation somehow turn back to what you are doing wrong?
- Do you feel that despite asking for change, the relationship is conditional and you have to sacrifice your own needs to make them happy?
- Do they refuse to listen or become defensive when you try to express your feelings or needs calmly and kindly?
These are some of the indicators of a toxic relationship that you may choose to end.
If the relationship can be repaired, here are some of my favorite ways that I help people in therapy to dump toxicity:
- Know Your Role
- As a therapist sometimes people can absolutely be toxic, but more often there are toxic patterns that we also play into. Think of it like notches on a gear, each nub is a part of the cycle that continues to show up and help the gear turn and stay in motion. How you react and respond is also a part of that cycle. How do you respond to the person or situation?
- Check in With Yourself
- Close your eyes and put your hand over your heart. What exactly DO you want from this situation that would alleviate your stress? If you didn’t have to care what anyone else thinks or how anyone else would respond, what are you looking for?
- Dump Your Toxic Relationship with Yourself
- Tailor your inner voice to be respectful, kind, and compassionate.
- Set and Communicate Your Boundaries
- Yay boundaries! Boundaries are agreements with ourselves that we set and communicate with others, and hold ourselves accountable for following. Boundaries sound like any of the following:
Sometimes change is not possible and you find yourself getting exhausted and hurt with each attempt to de-toxify the relationship. Creating distance, setting rigid boundaries, or cutting that person off completely may be the only choice for your health. In addition, if you are a member of a minority or historically oppressed group such as BIPOC, disabled, or gender/sexual minority, you should never feel obligated to utilize your own emotional resources to educate someone else on their racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ablist etc. behavior when they should be doing that on their own.