Relationships, Self Esteem, Trauma

Toxic Relationships: How to Spot Them, How to Exit & How to Heal

Have you ever questioned if you’re in a toxic relationship with your significant other, a friend, or a family member?

Do you want insight on how to spot, exit, or heal from a toxic relationship?

You can find out about all the above by watching our conversation with relationship expert, Meredith Prescott, LCPC. Don’t have time to watch the full 50 minutes? Check out the summary of topics discussed below.

What is a toxic relationship?

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Defined by Dr. Glass in 1995: “Any relationship between people who don’t support each other, where there is conflict, one seeks to undermine the other, where there is competition, where there is disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.” Now, do all these factors have to be present for it to be considered a toxic relationship? No, but they should be considered warning signs. When in a toxic relationship, you may feel as if you are drained for the majority of the time, or you are not getting as much out of the relationship as you are putting in. 

What are some red flags that indicate you are in a toxic relationship?

From the definition above,  ask yourself: 

  • Does this person support me? 
  • Do I normally find myself in conflict with this person? 
  • Does this person try to undermine me? 
  • Is this person in competition with me? 
  • Does this person disrespect me? 
  • Is there a lack of cohesiveness in our relationship? 

If you find yourself answering yes to any of those questions, now ask yourself how often is that behavior repeated in that relationship. Just because a person disrespected you once, does not mean the relationship is toxic. Analyze the frequency and intensity of the behavior that has made you think your relationship may be toxic. 

Now What? Do I Need to End the Relationship?

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You may reflect and conclude that you are in a toxic relationship. You can either want to mutually change things around between you and the other person to put an end to the toxic behavior, or you may just want to exit the situation if you think you or the other person does not have the capacity or willingness to change and turn things around. 

If I want to Exit, How Can I?

 You have to come up with a plan/exit strategy. Consider barriers to leaving (i.g. Don’t have the finances, fear of physical abuse) and problem solve. Also, consider what you will mourn once you leave (i.g. Shared friends, having someone in your bed ), and problem solve coping strategies for those as well. 

What to do if you are not able to leave the toxic relationship on your own time?

Get a therapist. Get a head start on  processing what’s to come and how to get there. Remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Breaking up with friends

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Sometimes space is all that’s needed, but other times walking away from the friendship may serve you best.. It becomes slightly more difficult when you want to isolate yourself from the one “toxic” friend, and you share the same group of friends or have many mutual friends. Do you still come around? Do you stay away? Are you going to feel excluded? Many factors play a part in wanting or not wanting to end a toxic friendship. 

Outgrowing People

Outgrowing someone or a relationship does not mean that they are toxic. Sometimes you do outgrow someone because of their toxic behavior, but that does not mean that every relationship you outgrow is because toxic behaviors were present. You may outgrow someone because you now have different values, interests, etc. 

Supporting Someone In or Exiting a Toxic Relationship

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Support is essential for those in or leaving a toxic relationship. Avoid making it about yourself and saying, “well I went through the same thing and did ABCD.” While it’s tempting to give advice and solutions, actively listening and validating feelings will go further.

Moving Forward

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It is essential to have compassion for yourself. Focus on YOURSELF. A lot of people can feel destroyed after a toxic relationship. It’s important to build your self-esteem back up. Find yourself again; outside of the toxic relationship. 

Once you have safely existed and are in a stable mind set, then you may want to reflect upon:

  • What may have been some red flags I missed?
  • Why did I miss those red flags?
  • What was I getting out of the relationship that was outweighing those red flags?
  • What did I learn in my relationship with my parents & siblings that I carried over into this relationship?

Trusting Yourself Again

You have to remember to trust yourself and your own instincts. Validate your feelings. While being in a toxic relationship, you probably experienced gaslighting, which then ended up with you not trusting your own thoughts. Build that trust back up within yourself. What you see and hear should not be questioned or twisted into something it is not.  

What Is Your Norm?

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Sometimes we don’t realize we are in unhealthy relationships. But why? Maybe you grew up with that being your “normal.” These norms can change, if you are willing to put in the work to reflect and explore their roots. 

Author: Cindy Garcia

Cindy is a senior undergraduate student at Washington Adventist University majoring in Counseling Psychology. She will be attending Loyola University Fall 2021 to obtain her Master of Education in School Counseling. 

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