The Six Symptoms of a Toxic Relationship

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation with someone that is less than ideal. It’s not as easy-going, there’s an abnormal amount of resentment and we at the very least think how much better the relationship could be if the other person was different.

But we don’t leave because we think that maybe it’s all in our heads. Hell, maybe we’re the problem and the other person is the one suffering. How can we know for sure that our situation is a bad one?

We can use the five symptoms of a toxic relationship below to gauge whether or not we’re in a dangerous situation.

If you have two chairs in front of you and one of those chairs has a dodgy leg, you know which chair to sit in. You would not trust that the chair with the bad leg would be able to support you. You know that you’ll fall and possibly hurt yourself.

Chairs are made to support you, and in a way, so are humans. Humans are made to support one another. We can’t do everything by ourselves. We need people. I may cook my own meals but I need farmers to harvest the food. I may drive my own car but I need people to assemble it and test its safety.

So if there is someone close to you that cannot support you, it is natural to have trust issues. From the opposite perspective, if someone put their trust in you and you had no interest in supporting them, it would be very clear in your mind that this person is making a big mistake. It would be even worse if you wanted to use them for your own benefit.

So if you put your trust in the other person and you find yourself on your butt wincing in pain, wishing that you didn’t trust them, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re in a toxic relationship.

This of course can get even worse when you try to talk to the other person about it and you are gaslighted and lied to. Then you feel that you can’t even trust yourself.

It seems as if you can’t do anything right when this person is around. You could prepare for days, weeks, months and they will still find a fault and shame you for it. You could just be living your truth but they have to knock you down a peg at any chance they get.

It’s not just that you made a mistake. You are the mistake, or at least you’re made to feel that way.

Now you’re mired in shame and wondering what’s the point of even trying anymore. You stop doing things for others and then you stop doing things for yourself.

Or maybe you keep trying to appease the other person because you are desperate to be seen as good and that your efforts are worthwhile. This is more of a you problem because you cannot base your self-esteem on the opinions of others without tanking emotionally if people don’t like you or treat you well.

Nevertheless, there is a healthy way to express if someone doesn’t like someone else and it doesn’t involve shaming the other person for their honest efforts.

Naturally, when you can’t win and are shamed for failure, you become afraid of making mistakes and so you never put yourself out there anymore.

It’s even worse when the other person in the relationship thinks your honest mistake is an attack against them. Now you’re on the defense having to argue your innocence.

This is a major contributor to anxiety. It is also how talent dies. You will have the impulse to do something but then a nagging, adversarial voice comes up to block you from action. It’s the voice of your toxic friend, partner or family member.

You might interpret it as a voice trying to keep you safe but in reality it’s shame.

When you’re in a pattern of being shamed, punished, physically abused or emotionally hurt, you come to expect it. It becomes the natural order.

Does it occur to you to leave? Possibly. But because you are in this vicious cycle of anxiety and sadness, you are afraid to leave. Could your attempt to leave be the very thing that causes the other shoe to fall?

You’re afraid that you can’t do anything right and so anything you do is going to cause some kind of argument or conflict. And that’s the last thing you need.

This symptom is possibly the hardest one to swallow. With all the negative reinforcement you’ve absorbed from the other person, you lose who you are.

You’ve bought into their characterization of you and as a result, you become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now all the previous symptoms are compounded. You really can’t trust anyone, especially yourself. You can’t remember the last time you actually achieved what you set out to achieve. You’re anxious almost all the time and for no reason.

This type of relationship has the ability to wreck all your other relationships because you become a different person. You may become a worse friend, partner or family member because your sense of self is so distorted.

You doubt yourself so much that any thought of being a good person to others is thrown out the window. You begin to think that the only way to get by in life is to hurt others.

At this point, you are led to the final symptom of a toxic relationship:

Your pain and suffering cannot be contained anymore and it spills out onto others. The good relationships you have will eventually be a thing of the past.

You may even hurt people so much that they too become toxic. That is how the disease spreads.

So if you find yourself experiencing any of the first five symptoms, get out before symptom six sets in.

But if it already has, do some introspection. Think about who hurt you in your past. Then think about who you are hurting now. Look at the similarities and how the present is an echo of the past.

Get some counselling or even look up resources online that can help you to get back to where you once were.

Everyone deserves to be treated well, even people who are hurting others. They do what they do because someone was toxic to them.

All we can do going forward is to do our best to contain the disease, get the help we need based on the trauma we suffered and maybe even eradicate it once and for all.

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store