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Signs and Strategies for Ending Toxic Relationships

There are toxic people in all of our lives, whether we are close to them or not. “Toxic” means someone who hurts you more than they help you, and tends to subtract from your life rather than add to it. This can be friends, family members, significant others, or even bosses or coworkers.

It can be difficult to recognize that someone is toxic, especially if you have known he or she for a long time. They may not have always been that way, and it happened slowly over time or the nature of your relationship changed. Even if you do realize that someone brings a lot of negativity into your life, maybe you are hanging onto this person because they also bring positivity sometimes or you are afraid of being alone. Here are some signs of a toxic person:

  1. They make you feel bad. After interacting with them, do you look back on the experience and think, “that was no fun”? It can be helpful to journal or make notes about each time you see them in order to get a look at the bigger picture. If you find that the majority of the times when you are with this person you are feeling sad, angry, afraid or insecure, they are probably toxic to you.
  2. They attract trouble. They are always in the middle of the latest drama at work, in their family, or their friend circle. You might notice that other people tend to talk badly about them or avoid them, and ask how you put up with their volatility.
  3. It’s all about them. When you hang out, you notice that they pretty much only talk about themselves. When you try to get a word in, they quickly bring the conversation back to them. Maybe you’ve even tried to tell them how you feel about your relationship with them and that you’re afraid it’s toxic, and instead of listening to your feelings they became defensive.
  4. They bring out the worst in you. Do you find yourself doing things that you wouldn’t normally and that you regret when you’re with this person? When you interact with them, you may catch yourself sinking to their level, fighting unfairly, and forgetting your values.
  5. They are not trying to be better. You’ve told them what bothers you, and they have not made any moves to change. They might have said they were going to do things differently and tried to for about a week, but then went back to old habits.

If you realize that there is someone in your life that shows these signs, it does not mean that they are a bad person- it just means they are bad for you. Unfortunately, ending toxic relationships can be easier said than done, especially if you didn’t choose the relationship in the first place- like a family member or boss.

  1. Make a plan. Once you have made up your mind that someone is toxic for you and you no longer wish to allow this negativity in your life, make a game plan of how to end the relationship. Be thoughtful about how you want to tell the person, and what you want it to look like. In some cases, you may not want to completely end the relationship, for example if the toxic person is a family member or coworker. You may just want to end the personal part of the relationship, but know that you will still see this person and have to say hello and be polite.
  2. Set boundaries. Let the person know what you are willing to accept and what you will not. For example, if you have asked them not to call you or come to your house and they do anyway, take steps to prevent this behavior such as blocking their number or taking legal action.
  3. Be kind, yet assertive. Someone who is toxic obviously has issues within themselves that they need to face. It’s understandable that you may be angry about the way they treated you, but try to have compassion for the underlying reasons why they are acting this way. Be considerate of this when you are taking steps to end the relationship and set boundaries.
  4. Don’t fall for the guilt trip. Ending a toxic relationship may seem like a selfish thing to do, but be assured that it is not. Toxic people are very much in need of focusing on themselves and fixing something about the way they are living their lives. Perhaps you pulling away will be the catalyst they need to realize that they have to make a change, or at least it will give them more room to focus on their issues.
  5. Fill the void. Build up your self-esteem after the difficult decision to end a toxic relationship by surrounding yourself with positivity. Spend time with people who make you feel good and validate your decision. Do something for yourself, like a mini spa day to de-stress or a stay-cation. Try something new, like joining an organization or volunteer group.

Choosing to end a toxic relationship is never cut and dry, but the bottom line is that you must respect yourself, and the toxic person, enough to make a change for the better.

If you are in a toxic relationship that you need help disentangling from, Symmetry Counseling is here to help.

Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT

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