What is a toxic relationship – definition?
A toxic relationship – what is it? Although the term is in common parlance, we often have a lot of trouble defining it. We intuitively sense its meaning. A toxic relationship is a relationship in which one party takes on the role of controller. It uses various actions and techniques to subjugate the other. It may resort to, among other things:
-other forms of manipulation.
A toxic relationship with a narcissist is often based on blaming. A partner who struggles with this personality disorder is very concerned with his pristine image. Admitting guilt would taint him, so he always shifts responsibility for his bad behaviour to others. He claims that he cheats on us because we don’t take care of ourselves. He doesn’t tell us about the loans he has taken out because we overreact emotionally. He doesn’t tell us about not getting divorced because we hold conservative values etc. A toxic partner who deftly manipulates us may reap direct benefits, such as having a steady partner and numerous mistresses. Sometimes he/she finds satisfaction in hurting other people, exercising power over them and humiliating them. This attitude is often displayed by sociopaths and psychopaths.
When can a relationship be considered toxic?
Our anxiety is usually triggered by toxic behaviour in a relationship. We feel it when the other party lies to us and uses double standards. The only thing that matters is her needs. She prioritises them and pays no attention to the fact that she is hurting us by fulfilling her own expectations. A toxic partner does not provide us with emotional security; instead of showing us support and acceptance, they criticise us. The relationship does not bring us joy and fulfilment, but suffering. It casts a shadow over our self-esteem. It limits our relationships with other people, makes it difficult to develop professionally and nurture our passions. In the long term, it leads to feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety. It also triggers mechanisms that we would never suspect.
Toxic behaviour in a relationship is often a reaction to a partner’s wrongdoing. If he or she cheats on us regularly, we become suspicious and jealous. Sometimes, in order to protect a romantic relationship, we start following the other person. We look through his or her phone, hire a detective or even shuffle through the dustbin to make sure that no ‘suspicious’ receipts have gone into it. This is not healthy behaviour because it hits our dignity and self-esteem.
Signs of a toxic relationship
The signs of a toxic partner are initially difficult to spot, which is why so many sensible people allow themselves to be seduced and manipulated. If we could see certain alarm signals, we would be unlikely to ignore them. The other person knows what to do to charm us. At the beginning of a friendship, he gives us what we need. He or she can pretend great love, taking us on unforgettable sunset dates. He professes affection like an old-time poet. All this makes us feel singled out. When we get into a toxic relationship, the symptoms usually appear when the partner makes us emotionally dependent. Until he gets his way, he spreads his charms to us. In doing so, he puts our vigilance and common sense to sleep. Bombarding us with love at the beginning of a relationship brings him long-term results. Since he loves us so much, we believe in his good intentions and allow ourselves to be blamed for his inappropriate behaviour.
How can you recognise a toxic relationship? Features of this unhealthy relationship include:
– lack of symmetry – we give more than we receive from our partner. Very often, what he or she has to offer us only takes on an illusory character and is based on declarations with no cover;
-suspiciousness and morbid jealousy – such an attitude may be displayed by a loved one who controls us at every turn, without any grounds. Sometimes it is we who, as a result of regular betrayals, lose faith in people and in the fidelity of our partner;
-controlling a partner – a loved one may seek to take control of our lives. He or she wants to decide who we spend our time with, where we work and what we do with the money we earn. We feel cornered by this person;
-unmet needs – a toxic partner focuses on their own expectations and completely disregards ours. He neglects us and disregards us, so we grow frustrated and our needs in the relationship are neglected;
-lying to their partner – not about small things, such as complimenting them on their bad haircut, but about bigger things. A toxic partner “forgets” to tell us about a lack of divorce, children from a previous relationship, a gambling addiction or numerous debts;
-manipulating a partner – there are various techniques by which the other person can try to take control of our lives. Gaslighting involves questioning what we see, hear and remember. Sometimes it amounts to tricking us into believing we have mental illnesses and other disorders. A very common manipulation technique is to turn the cat on its head and shift the blame onto us;
-violence – this can take many forms and is sometimes difficult to spot. The easiest way to recognise it is by the bruises on the body. However, a toxic partner usually uses more “subtle” solutions to avoid coming into conflict with the law. He or she may push us around, criticise us excessively or siphon off money for living. Sometimes he or she oversteps our boundaries during sex, claiming to have let himself or herself get “carried away with lust”;
-intimidation of the partner – in a toxic relationship, one party tries to control the other. By instilling fear in us, he or she tries to subjugate us. He or she may threaten us with being kicked out of the house, deprived of our livelihood or slit our wrists. All of this is designed to put pressure on us and make us react in certain ways;
-lack of mutual respect – the partner who is responsible for the toxicity in the relationship does not respect us. At the same time, he expects us to show him respect;
-frequent infidelities – the toxic partner likes to surround himself with attentions and boost his self-esteem through numerous sexual conquests. Sometimes he or she keeps them secret, leading a double life for years. Sometimes he or she has a sociopathic trait and then deliberately leaves traces to lead us on to the trail of infidelity. This is because he wants to inflict pain and suffering on us;
-violation of one’s partner’s boundaries – each of us has the right to respect our own individuality. When the other person interferes with it, e.g. by trying to force us to have a certain sexual practice, give up our job or break contact with our family, we are talking about toxic behaviour;
– treating your partner as an object – sometimes the relationship with us serves the other person to gain a desired goal. For example, he or she is interested in gaining access to our property, business or ongoing projects;
– boosting our own self-esteem at the expense of our partner – some people deliberately criticise and humiliate us to make themselves feel better for a while. They have low self-esteem, which they try to compensate for by hurting others;
– belief in one’s own uniqueness – we find this trait in partners with narcissistic traits, who see themselves as better than others. They believe that they deserve special rights and privileges. They do not recognise the principle of reciprocity;
-Emotional insecurity – a healthy relationship provides us with an optimal level of arousal because we know we can trust our partner. In toxic relationships, revealing the truth about oneself, including one’s needs and emotions, appears as a threat;
-lack of intimacy and closeness – a toxic relationship is only seemingly based on a deep bond. Very often we judge it through lofty declarations, instead of focusing on the actions that contradict them;
-relationship instability – sometimes our partner can be an emotional rollercoaster. One day he says we are the love of his life. The next, he won’t take our calls. The extreme attitudes that intertwine are characteristic of the borderline personality. It is difficult to build a satisfying relationship with this person, but it is possible in contrast to a relationship with a sociopath;
-taking revenge on the partner for the mistakes of the parents/ex – some people enter into a relationship with us in order to play off the mistakes of their parents or exes in this way. They don’t really see us in all this, but identify us with the perpetrator of their suffering. They try to seek redress by inflicting pain on us. This is how sociopaths and psychopaths act.
A toxic relationship – how does it affect us?
The effects of a toxic relationship have far-reaching consequences. Sometimes we live in it for years and do not realise how much it is harming us. We go from smiling, open and confident people to individuals who are fearful, bitter and closed off. Unfortunately, these are not the only costs we incur by ignoring the signs of a toxic relationship. The longer we stay in it, the more the romantic relationship poisons our lives. It is difficult to break free from it, as dependency on the partner and emotional entanglement sets in.
Characteristics of a toxic partner
How does a toxic partner behave? We sometimes downplay or rationalise the symptoms. At the same time, our intuition tells us that something is wrong. In unhealthy relationships we are accompanied by discomfort. We have the irresistible feeling that we are giving more of ourselves than we are receiving. A toxic relationship does not provide us with support and joy, but brings us suffering, insecurity and humiliation. It does not enrich us in any way, but impoverishes us. A toxic partner often turns out to be a skilful manipulator. He sometimes has affairs with many women at the same time. He feels no guilt and tries to blame his actions on us, a difficult childhood, an opportunity, etc. He is able to extract the last of his money from us for the business of life, his passion or overdue alimony. He asserts his affection so beautifully and fervently that he quickly gains our favour. Later, he eagerly exploits it. We take out a loan, rewrite the plot of land to him, give up our careers, etc. What does a toxic relationship look like? The examples below are not exhaustive. However, they may help to understand it better.
-A toxic relationship with a narcissist – he does not love us, but creates the illusion of love. Underneath the facade of self-confidence and numerous successes, there is often a wounded ego and lack of self-confidence. Deep down, the narcissist feels worthless, but masks this by considering himself a walking ideal. We very often complement his perfect image. The partner takes criticism badly, because it triggers his pattern of defectiveness. He grants himself special rights and applies double standards. He is happy to cheat himself, but makes jealous scenes with us for no reason at all. He spends money on gadgets and reproaches us for buying boots for autumn. The love bombing occurs at the beginning of the relationship and then we go from paradise to hell. The pointing out of flaws and imperfections begins.
-Toxic relationship with borderline – people diagnosed with borderline personality struggle with relationship instability and a pattern of abandonment. This causes them to experience extremely different emotions in a short period of time. For example, in the morning they wake up full of positive emotions and in the afternoon their low self-esteem comes to the fore. A toxic relationship with a person with a borderline personality is based on large emotional swings. It is often unpredictable and lacks stability. A partner with a borderline personality may dump us and come back to us. Cheat and beg for forgiveness. Remember that the person struggling with this disorder has not had good models of a stable and healthy relationship. She can work them out, but the willingness to change (and the sustained work to change) must come from herself.
– A toxic relationship with a sociopath – while any personality disorder presents a huge challenge to the therapist, sociopathic is particularly difficult. People diagnosed with them lack the seeds of conscience and empathy. It is therefore difficult for them to work towards change. The sociopath deliberately hurts other people because he sees nothing wrong with it.
At first he spreads an ideal self-image, and when we fall into the trap he has set, hell begins. He can betray us without hiding it. He deliberately leaves traces so that we discover his infidelity. For he wants us to suffer. Inflicting pain on people gives him satisfaction. He does not respect the needs of others, while he prioritises his own. A toxic relationship with a sociopath is difficult to heal. Some therapists even claim that it is impossible. The sociopath sees nothing wrong with his behaviour, does not want to get help and has no remorse. When he or she is placed in forced therapy, e.g. recommended by the court, he or she refuses to cooperate. It is worth running away from such a person, because we cannot save him or her, we can only fight for ourselves.
Can a toxic relationship be repaired?
A toxic person in a relationship seems so attractive at the beginning of an acquaintance. He shows love and wins our affection through romantic gestures. He makes us feel special. We think we have found the person with whom we will build a happy relationship. The future together looks bright.
The love bombardment at the beginning of a relationship makes us very dependent on a toxic partner. We find it difficult to leave when the first problems arise. After all, he/she is so good and loving, surely he/she didn’t do it on purpose. We take the blame on ourselves, just to whitewash his/her image. By feeding ourselves illusions and lies, we give the relationship a chance. The longer we stay in it, the harder it is to break the spiral of suffering. It is only when the toxicity in the relationship hits us very hard, e.g. when the partner blames his irresponsible behaviour on the child together, that we start to seek help. We wonder if the relationship can still be saved. We seek support from a psychotherapist. Couples therapy sometimes helps us to build the relationship anew on a healthier and more sustainable basis. It makes the relationship more supportive and makes us start to draw emotional security from it. It restores symmetry and contributes to treating the needs of each partner equally. This happens when both parties care about change. If a partner is overly controlling of us because his/her pattern of abandonment and relationship instability is triggered in a close relationship, we can work through this together in a session. Worse when he or she does not feel motivated to change. He refuses to cooperate or only seemingly agrees to it. It is very difficult to save a relationship with a partner who is struggling with a personality disorder. This is because the therapeutic work is long and the patient is not necessarily eager to change.
The test – am I in a toxic relationship?
Many of us find it difficult to assess toxicity in a relationship. Is a partner who once again ‘forgets’ to give us part of the paycheck for joint bills just distracted, or is he or she doing it on purpose? When emotions come to the fore, we very often rationalise our loved one’s behaviour. We do this at the expense of taking the guilt out on ourselves, or removing kind people from our lives who see our partner’s faults. The symptoms of a toxic relationship are sometimes obvious. On the other hand, it happens that even our relatives and friends do not notice them. Some sociopaths are prominent doctors who are said to have saved many lives. They are not always marginalised people who have entered into a scuffle with the law.
If you are asking yourself the question: a toxic relationship – how to recognise one?, give honest answers to the following questions.
Have you lost the joy of living while in a relationship?
Has your self-esteem declined since living with your current partner?
Are you a victim of physical, psychological, economic or sexual violence?
Does your partner often lie to you?
Does your partner repeatedly cheat on you?
Does your partner disregard your needs and emotions?
Does your partner sometimes blame you? E.g. does he/she say he/she is cheating on you because you complain all the time?
Do you get the impression that life as a single/single used to give you more joy than your current life?
Have you broken off contact with family or friends because those close to you criticised your partner?
Do you justify your partner’s bad behaviour to others?
Has your partner put you in debt or misappropriated your assets?
Does your partner restrict your professional development?
Does he/she threaten you that if you leave, he/she will take his/her own life?
Does your partner frequently come into conflict with the law?
Does your partner apply double standards? Does he/she place special rights on himself/herself, but only has high expectations of you?
How to break free from a toxic relationship
Recognising the signs of a toxic relationship in your relationship, let’s consider the cost to you. At the same time, let’s analyse why we agree to be treated in this way. Many of us find it difficult to walk away from a person who is inflicting pain. We agree to numerous infidelities, we pay off our partner’s debts, we even justify domestic violence. Paradoxically, a toxic relationship can last longer than a healthy one because it is cemented by the chemistry of the patterns Jeffrey Young described.
A toxic relationship – how to break free? If you are asking yourself this question, get psychotherapy. There are times when an emotional addiction to a partner is so strong that we cannot cope with it on our own. Some things need to be worked through under the guidance of a professional. We will not free ourselves from our partner’s influence immediately; psychotherapy is a process that brings us closer to the desired change. In addition, a toxic relationship is often indicative of our maladaptive patterns and coping modes. Until we work through these, we will not free ourselves from a harmful relationship. For example, if we grew up in a family affected by alcohol addiction and experienced parentification, we suffer from the hero syndrome. We want to save the world. We bestow ill-conceived empathy and compassion on the partner who abuses us. We see him as a poor child who has been wronged by his parents. As a result, we excuse his behaviour and extend a protective umbrella over him. We mask his misdeeds, just as we would cover for a drunken parent. A toxic partner very often reveals areas that we have to work through in psychotherapy. Without it, it will be difficult for us to break free from a relationship that harms us. Even when we do get out of it, there is a risk that we will build a similar relationship with someone else in a short while. This is how Young’s schema chemistry works.
I can’t leave a toxic relationship – what if I do?
As I mentioned earlier, psychotherapy seems to be the best solution. A toxic relationship is hard to end on your own without professional support. We got into this relationship for a reason. While anyone can succumb to the charms of a narcissist or sociopath, people who have certain early maladaptive patterns are more susceptible. They unconsciously recreate a familiar scenario, even though they are harming themselves by living this way. Emotional entanglement often proves so strong that we say: I can’t leave a toxic relationship. Although it seems very difficult at first, during psychotherapy we learn new, healthier patterns of behaviour. We reduce the impact of maladaptive patterns on our lives. Over time, we become ready to make decisions that are beneficial to ourselves and that we had previously strongly resisted. Unfortunately, not everyone manages to break out of a toxic relationship. It is then worth taking care of:
-your safety and the safety of your children;
-setting clear boundaries with your toxic partner;
-signalling your needs openly;
-restoring balance to the relationship – each party’s needs are equally important;
-Separation of assets (in case of your partner’s debts);
-nurturing close relationships with other people.
A toxic partner who treats us to an emotional rollercoaster leaves a permanent mark on the psyche. Paradoxically, the more turbulence accompanies a relationship, the harder it is to break free from it. Violence, betrayals, debts, insecurity and lies make us constantly analyse the situation and think about the other person. We then think that we love them very much and cannot live without them. However, this is only the result of a complex network of synaptic connections. We can weaken it and replace it with more supportive neuronal circuits. Psychotherapy can help with this. Although I often encourage people to work on their own, as it is effective with lesser difficulties, a toxic relationship requires the support of a professional. It leaves deep emotional wounds and firmly established traces in the psyche. Only individual therapy can bring about a correction of behavioural patterns and a change of scripts. It helps to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.
How to cope after a toxic relationship has ended?
The following tips will help.
-Don’t let a toxic partner continue to mess with your life. Whenever you have the opportunity, cut off contact completely. Remove him or her from social networks, block his or her number in your phone by adding him or her to a blacklist. Do you have children together? Make sure you have a close friend by your side when picking them up and dropping them off.
-Surround yourself with a social support network. You need other people a lot right now. Spend time with friends and relatives. Their presence has a soothing effect and supports the healing process. It proves invaluable when the urge to return to the toxic partner comes to a head.
-Use common sense and be resilient/resistant to manipulation. A toxic partner often tries to get back at us by feigning remorse and regret. Don’t let yourself be told that he or she won’t cheat on you or beat you up anymore now because ‘he or she has decided to do so’. His behaviour is deeper than that and without long-term psychotherapy, there will be no spectacular change.
– Develop yourself professionally, socially and spiritually. Take care of your needs that you have probably pushed aside for years. This will help you rebuild your self-esteem and sense of agency.
-Enrol in psychotherapy to work through maladaptive coping patterns and modes. In doing so, you will regain control of your life and not get into another toxic relationship. You will become open/open to healthier relationships.
A toxic partner initially appears charming and charming. He is able to formulate beautiful and original compliments. Takes us on romantic dates. He buys expensive gifts and professes his love. The beautiful beginning is meant to encourage us to enter into a deeper relationship and lull our vigilance. Once we become emotionally addicted, the toxic partner begins to hurt us and blame us for his wrongdoing. He knows he can afford to do this because he has created a solid foundation for it. The human brain does not like ambiguous situations, so it uses rationalisation. We then think: he loves me, he just had a difficult childhood, that’s why he shouts at me. Paradoxically, a toxic relationship is characterised by high durability, because it is accompanied by emotional entanglement. While stuck in it, we lose self-respect and our self-esteem plummets. At some point we fall into hopelessness and depression. It might seem that since we are suffering so much, we want to end it. Unfortunately, with emotional entanglement it is not so easy. This is because very often our relationship resembles a key that fits perfectly into a lock. He is used to exerting control over his partners, and we have become accustomed to playing the submissive role. The chemistry of the patterns sustains the toxic relationship and makes it difficult to get out of it, which is why individual psychotherapy often proves necessary.