How to Recognize a Toxic Relationship

Three Parts:Recognizing NarcissismDetermining Whether You’re Being MistreatedAssessing If the Relationship is Changing You

A toxic relationship is a relationship in which at least one person feels controlled, manipulated, or constantly put down. You can be in a toxic relationship with almost anyone - a romantic partner, a friend, a roommate, a family member, or even a coworker. Recognize the signs of a toxic relationship so that you can escape it or get help dealing with this person.

Part 1
Recognizing Narcissism

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    Pay attention to how often your interactions are about them and not you. If it’s hard for you to have a two-sided conversation with this person, something is wrong. Do you spend a lot of time making them feel good about themself, but not the other way around?[1]
    • For example, do they spend a lot of time complaining about their boss (and expect you to sympathize) but then have little patience when it’s your turn to talk about your day?
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    Ask yourself whether this person tries to control you. Do they try to tell you what to do or influence who you can be friends with? Pay attention to irrational displays of jealousy in particular. These actions can appear to be loving behavior, but if they cross the line into possessive, this is an unhealthy behavior.[2]
    • Notice in particular if they are trying to isolate you from your other friends and family or turn you against them. If they’re trying to take away your support network, something is wrong.[3]
    • Spying or snooping is also a sign that they’re trying to control you and don’t trust you.[4]
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    Watch for power struggles. When you have an argument, is this person more focused on winning the argument than finding a solution that works for both of you? Do they show a lack of empathy for your position?[5]
    • Especially if they use guilt to try to manipulate you into taking their side of an argument, this relationship may be toxic.

Part 2
Determining Whether You’re Being Mistreated

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    Ask yourself if it feels like you can’t do anything right. Do you fight a lot with this person (frequently over insignificant things)? Do they criticize you a lot, mock you, or make you feel ashamed of yourself? Do you find yourself agreeing with them just so that you’ll get along?[6]
    • Notice whether this feeling is seeping into other aspects of your life as well. If you used to love your job and feel like you were great at it, but now feel like you can’t do anything right at work, ask yourself whether your relationship might be affecting your overall self-esteem.
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    Pay attention to their jokes. When they tease you, do you get a “many a truth is spoken in jest” vibe? If so, this person may be using humor to (not so) subtly deprecate you, which is often a toxic behavior.[7]
    • Teasing can be a fun part of a relationship, and it’s not always a sign of toxicity. The problem comes when teasing crosses the line into making fun or bullying. If you feel like this person is trying to hurt your feelings by teasing you, it’s probably not meant in a fun or flirtatious way.
    • Particularly if they belittle you for your beliefs (like faith or politics) or life choices (like your educational or career goals), you may be in a toxic relationship.[8]
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    Watch for unhealthy pressure. If this person is encouraging you to do things you don’t want to do, that’s a bad sign. If someone is pressuring you to drink more than you want to, abuse drugs when that’s not your thing, or have sex at times or in ways that you don’t like, this relationship is toxic and potentially abusive.[9]
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    Don’t stand for abusive behavior. Abuse can take many forms, including both physical and emotional. In a toxic relationship, the other person may try to hurt you with physical violence or by trampling on your feelings. In either case, this is a relationship that it’s time to get out of.
    • If you think that you or someone you know is being abused, seek help immediately. You can go online to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call this organization at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).[10]

Part 3
Assessing If the Relationship is Changing You

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    Pay attention to your own behaviors. If you’re in a toxic relationship, you might find that you start behaving in unattractive ways. Are you short with other people outside of the relationship? Are you drinking or smoking more than usual? Is your work suffering? Are your other relationships suffering?[11]
    • Particularly if you’re behaving in ways that are dangerous to yourself or others (like drinking and driving, for example), it’s time to get out of this relationship and possibly seek help.
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    Assess your own feelings. How do you feel when you are with this person? After you spend time with them, do you feel good about yourself, or does your self-esteem take a dive? Do you leave your interactions feeling more energetic, or do they sap you of your energy.[12]
    • Think carefully about what is causing your feelings. If it’s possible that another part of your life (such as your job or your relationship with someone else) is causing your negative feelings, you may not be in a toxic relationship after all. Look for other signs before you decide that this is the case.
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    Pay attention to the good moments. If you find that are you aren’t even able to enjoy happy or neutral moments with them (like riding in the car, watching tv, or fixing dinner), then they are probably affecting your overall happiness.[13]
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    Notice whether you are finding it easy to be yourself. Do you feel like you have to hide things from this person? Can you tell them about your true feelings, or do you have to put on a persona around them?[14]
    • Think about the way you behave when you’re alone or when you’re with anyone you feel very comfortable with (such as a family member or close friend). Is the way you behave around this person significantly different?
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    Trust your gut. If you think the relationship is toxic, it probably is. Even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is about the relationship that’s going wrong, if your gut is telling you to get out, it’s probably the right thing to do.[15]
    • Remember that a relationship doesn’t have to be “toxic” in order to be bad or unhealthy. There are plenty of reasons to remove yourself from a relationship whether it’s truly toxic or not.

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Categories: Commitment Issues