Toxic Relationships - Are you in one?

August 4, 2015





     Many years ago I had to cut ties with a significant person in my life.  Our relationship had become too toxic and I felt like I was drowning.  I was losing myself, going under.  I had already given up way to much of my power, but that did not satisfy him, he wanted to dominate and control my every move.  I couldn’t let that happen so I left.   That was 23 years ago, but I still remember the pain of being in that relationship.


What about you?  Are you in an unhealthy relationship?  Loosing yourself?  Trying to please someone who just won’t be pleased no matter what you do?  Then you might be in a toxic relationship and don’t even know it. 


Toxic relationships are everywhere, at work, at home, even in our classrooms.   What is a toxic relationships?  How is it defined?  How can you tell the difference between a toxic relationship and a personality conflict, or different styles of communicating/ interacting?  


According to Keifer and Barclay, a toxic relationship consists of multiple and numerous toxic emotional experiences (TEE’s) which are events that are dominated by negative emotions such as anger or frustration, and these emotions and events happen often, are emotionally  draining, and the negative feelings continue to be felt long after the specific situation has passed.

That is why they are called “toxic”, because they are poisonous to your mental health and wellbeing, and destructive to your physical health; a toxic relationship can subtly kill your spirit and your soul. 



"Toxic relationships have negative and destructive patterns of communication that are more hurtful then helpful." says  Dr. McLemore, author of the book “Toxic Relationships”. He goes on to say that “toxic relationships leave you feeling gray inside and sometimes sick.  They may prompt you to get down on yourself or become angry at the world.”


     As a family counselor in private practice, I often have clients who come to see me for individual, couples or family counseling because they have found themselves in a toxic relationship and don’t know what to do.  Most of my clients don’t want to let go of the relationship, but they do understand that the relationship is unhealthy and that something must change.


     But being in a toxic relationship affects every race, class and gender.  It has not particular “face”, it happens across the board – in low income families, middle class families  and in wealthy families because it has more to do with how we relate to others than how much money we have or our level of education. It’s not a class thing, it’s a human thing – a human, relational problem.  In my view, there are several types of toxic relationships, such as those listed below.  The person listed on the left side of the colon signifies the toxic person, i.e toxic mom to child is written mom:child.  Keep in mind that either party can be on the left side of the equation, but for simplicity, I've listed the most common types of toxic relationships, which are:


• Toxic family relationships – toxic mom/ dad/step parent : child; toxic mother: daughter

• Toxic significant other – husband: wife; boyfriend: girlfriend

• Toxic friendships

• Toxic boss: employee; toxic employee : boss

• Toxic teachers : student ; toxic student : teacher  


     Each type of toxic relationship has its nuances.  The first step is to assess where you are now.  To figure out: “Am I in a toxic relationship?” 


Here are a few questions to help you determine if you are in a toxic personal relationship, written by Yvette Bowlin from an article on


1. It seems like you can’t do anything right.

The other person constantly puts you down as not good enough. They mock your personality, and you feel ashamed most of the time. You only feel pardoned when you take on the traits of the person doing the condemning or judging.


2. Everything is about them and never about you. 

You have feelings, too, but the other person won’t hear them. You’re unable to have a two-sided conversation where your opinion is heard, considered and respected. Instead of acknowledging your feelings, they battle with you until they get the last word.


3.  You find yourself unable to enjoy good moments with this person.

Every day brings another challenge. It seems as though they are always raising gripes about you. Their attempt to control your behavior is an attempt to control your happiness.


4. You’re uncomfortable being yourself around that person.

You don’t feel free to speak your mind. You have to put on a different face just to be accepted by that person. You realize you don’t even recognize yourself anymore, and neither do your closest friends and family.


5. You’re not allowed to grow and change.

Whenever you aim to grow and improve yourself, the other person responds with mockery and disbelief. There is no encouragement or support for your efforts. Instead, they keep you stuck in old judgments insisting that you will never be any different than you are now.


If you find that you have answered “Yes” to 1 or more of the 5 signs, you are moving very close to being a toxic relationship, if you aren’t already there.  


Here are 3 tips for you to do, immediately:


1. Find a neutral friend, or a professional counselor, a pastor or a social worker, whom you can trust, so that you can do a reality check.  Many times when you are in a toxic relationship you begin to think that you are the problem, when that is actually not the case. 


2. Stop being a people pleaser to win his/her approval.  People pleasing is a hazardous activity.  When people know that you will do what they ask because you want to please them, you are putting yourself at risk for being used.  


3. If the relationships has gotten violent, or if there is any kind of physical, verbal or emotional abuse going on – GET OUT!!!  Get to a safe place immediately!

It is possible to get out of a toxic relationship or to cause a major shift in your relationship, but it takes work and effort on your part.  First you have to take off your rose colored, fairy tale glasses, and be honest with yourself.  Seek counseling, make some hard choices and grow in your self-respect.  It may take a while, but you will become healthy again.  If I can do it, so can you!


Contact me if you need someone to talk to.   I would be glad to help you navigate out of your toxic relationship!  Click here. 


Suggestions or comments?  Reply to my blog and tell me your story about a toxic relationship.


NEXT TIME:  “The Toxic Teacher: Student Relationship”.  


     School is starting soon, and we want our children and teachers to get off to a great start, and maintain that positive momentum throughout the school year.  What can teachers do, to make sure that happens and to not get derailed by misbehavior?  Toxic teacher: Student’s relationships impact classroom management, in school and out of school suspension rates, and ultimately academic performance.  Let’s talk about it and develop some real solutions! 


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