Relationships are a source of happiness, strength, positive feelings and events and if you are actively setting healthy boundaries in your relationships that is typically how things go. But what happens when things go south and you start getting a sinking feeling around your friend or loved one, rather than being uplifted? What are the signs of a toxic relationship?
What is A Toxic Relationship?
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of toxic is “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” Although toxic behavior from our friends doesn’t usually result in death, it can result in serious debilitation emotionally and sometimes physically as the stress of the relationship takes its toll.
How To Identify A Toxic Relationship
Toxicity in friendships can take a lot of different forms. Some of the more common signs of a toxic relationship are:
- Overly critical: They comment negatively on what you wear, what you do, and who you choose to hang out with. The criticism is often unsolicited and is, more often than not, negative. This can also be disguised as a compliment such as “Oh cute shoes, so glad you’ve stopped buying those cheap heels.” The criticism is unnecessary, hurtful, and leaves you feeling embarrassed or angry.
- Unsupportive and/or Jealous: When you get a college degree, a promotion or something wonderful happens such as getting engaged or having a baby, your friends should be happy for you. They should be the loudest people in your cheering section. Toxic friends will not be supportive, instead preferring to downplay your accomplishment or turning your good fortune into a complaint: “I wish I could find a great job” or “Congratulations on your college degree, it must be nice to have parents that paid for that.”
- Lack of Empathy, Party of One: Toxic friends will not empathize with you. They will blame you for your problems or make your pain into their story. If you express your anger at your boyfriend, they might say “Well, at least you have a boyfriend!” If you’re having trouble at school, they might say “You should have studied harder.” They offer little to no help or emotional support.
- Drama Llamas: A toxic friend sometimes believes it is their life mission to perform the starring role in a tragic play. They always have at least one dramatic situation happening in life and they expect you to join in their suffering or at listening to the drama du jour.
- Boxes: You can never get a word in edgewise. They have no interest in listening to what is happening in your world – your world doesn’t exist. The conversation will frequently revolve around their issues, their life, their story. If you do manage to get a word in edgewise, they will always turn the conversation back to themselves.
- My Way or the Highway: They have no interest in compromising – it is their way or no way. If you express an alternate opinion or make a suggestion, not in line with their view, they cannot handle it.
- Passive-Aggression: Toxic friends are often passive-aggressive, desiring to guilt you into doing what they want or making you feel bad if you’re not there for them 100% of the time. They may go along with what you need or want, but you will hear about it through sighs, backhanded statements, and general discontent on their part.
How To Get Out Of A Toxic Relationship
Once you’ve determined you are in fact in an unhealthy or dangerous situation, the best way to get out of a toxic friendship is to make a clean break. Depending upon the history and longevity of the friendship, it may be advisable to call or have a face-to-face conversation to let them know you need to end the friendship. This is difficult to do and most people prefer to “ghost” (disappear suddenly without any explanation) rather than dealing head-on with an uncomfortable situation, but if you’ve had a long relationship, you may find it worthwhile to let the other person know you’re ending it. This doesn’t mean you must have a long discussion about it. You can simply state “This isn’t working for me anymore. I wish you the best.” It really can be as simple as that. Then, you don’t reply to the emails or phone calls anymore because re-engaging makes it more difficult to break free.
It’s important to note not all friendships, regardless of history and longevity, deserve an email or call. Some friendships are so toxic and some people so unreasonable that ghosting them is acceptable. Don’t feel that you must provide closure to the relationship with a conversation. It’s ok to get closure by slamming the door shut and running away. Once you break free from the toxic friendship, you will find yourself sighing with relief because a weight has been lifted. Strive to move forward with your life and make friends who are not radioactive to your emotional health, but rather lift you up and support your aspirations while celebrating your successes.
How To Fix A Toxic Relationship
There are times when you can salvage a toxic friendship. Perhaps your friend is going through a hard time and has become a difficult person due to their life circumstances or maybe even issues with substance use disorder. In cases of substance use disorder, it’s helpful to understand how drug addiction affects relationships and that the relationship might be saved with some clear communication, time, and substance use disorder treatment that properly addresses co-occurring disorders that might be perpetuating the toxic behavior. If this is something you think your friend or loved one needs, Lakeview Health has an addiction treatment center in Florida and a PHP/IOP in Texas, to help with cases of substance abuse and behavioral health. Ultimately, when the behavior is not a one-time thing, but rather cyclical in nature, you may have to consider letting go of the toxic relationship or you risk being emotionally drained and generally exhausted forever.