Toxic relationships can develop in both our personal lives, such as parent-child, siblings, friendships, acquaintances, tenant/landlord, and so forth, as well as in our professional lives, as in supervisor-employee or vice versa, and co-workers. Toxic relationships are typically defined by an imbalance in the ratio between what you invest in the relationship and what you receive. Unfortunately, the toxic person in our life tends to cause us negative consequences whether it’s loaning them money that you will not get back, damage to our non-toxic relationships or a lack of altruism when it comes to returning a favor. This can happen repeatedly and in different forms. In the end, we tend to feel hurt, taken advantage of and angry; at both the offender and worse, at ourselves. We can then feel “used” and sometimes even abused.
So how do you tell if you are in a toxic relationship? Research has helped in determining if a relationship is toxic by looking out for the following signs:
1. You constantly feel like you can’t do anything right. The other person constantly makes you feel that you are not good enough. You tend to feel ashamed most of the time. You only feel relief when you take on the traits of the person doing the condemning or judging.
2. Everything seems to be about them; you seldom feel recognized. Your feelings tend to be dismissed or minimized. It is difficult to have a conversation where you feel your opinion is heard, considered, and respected. Instead of validating your feelings, they battle with you until they get the last word.
3. It is very hard to have positive emotions when you are with this person. It seems that every day they are criticizing you. Your behavior ends up being controlled by them and this then leads to them having control over your happiness.
4. You tend to be uncomfortable being yourself around this person. You don’t feel free to speak your mind. In order to be accepted by this person, you have to put on an act so that they approve of you. As a result, you may not even recognize yourself anymore and worse yet, you may not like the person you’ve become in this relationship.
5. You feel like you cannot grow and change. Whenever you make an effort to improve yourself, the other person responds with mockery and discouragement. There is no support for your efforts. Instead, they keep you stuck in old judgments and ineffective habits by insisting that you will never be any different than you are now.
If you’re experiencing even just one of these signs, check in with yourself to see if the relationship is doing more damage than good. Then consider whether you should take remedial action. One of the ways to challenge a toxic relationship is to adjust our communication style. Typically, people become passive communicators when in a relationship with a toxic person. Developing assertive communication strategies where you can comfortably express your feelings and needs will often help re-balance these relationships and increase your self-esteem.
Assertive communication is a topic incorporated in the DBT Skills group provided at Specialized Therapy Associates. Should you have any interest in enrolling in the DBT Skills group, please call 201-488-6678 for details.