13 Heartbreaking Signs Of A Toxic Relationship
You'd almost prefer to be punched in the gut.
At least you'd know what you were dealing with.
At least you wouldn't constantly wonder, “Is it me?”
At least you wouldn't feel like a low-life piece of shit every time you're around this person.
Who are these people that enter our lives like snake charmers, only to inflict their venomous behaviors when we start to care about them?
Who are these Jekyll and Hyde characters that make us feel like we're crazy and stupid?
If you're in a toxic relationship with someone — whether it's your partner, your parent, or even your best friend — you know what I mean here.
You know the words, looks, and actions that slowly but surely crush your soul and make you constantly walk on eggshells with everything you say and do.
Toxic people are like vampires. They will suck the very life out of you, especially if you're an empathic, sensitive person who keeps trying harder and harder to “fix” the relationship and “understand” this abusive person.
If you're in a toxic relationship, here's a wake-up call: YOU cannot fix it. An ocean of understanding will not change them. There are only three options for you —
- Manage the relationship.
- Leave the relationship.
- Accept the relationship.
Option 1 is possible when you have the strength to stand up to this manipulative, emotionally abusive person — and if they begin to see the light of day and really want to change.
If you don't have the strength now, you must recognize this person for what he or she is and learn to build boundaries and call them out on their crap.
It's much easier to change yourself than it is to change the toxic abuser.
Option 2 is the healthiest choice for your own self-esteem and mental health, but sometimes it's just not possible, at least in the short term.
If your toxic abuser is a family member, it's can cause seismic ruptures in the entire family if you cut this person out of your life.
If it's your spouse, there are dozens of negative implications and consequences related to your children, finances, and lifestyle.
Option 3 is the choice of far too many victims of these abusers.
By choosing to accept the behaviors, you are sentencing yourself to a life of pain, confusion, and low self-esteem. This is the worst possible option because eventually, you will break.
One of the most confounding tricks of these toxic people is the way they make you wonder whether or not they really ARE toxic.
You question your own judgment and perceptions and begin to feel you're the one to blame. These people seek out kind-hearted, sensitive people because they know exactly how to manipulate them.
Here are 13 warning signs of toxic relationships::
1. They practice “gaslighting.”
The term “gaslighting” was coined as a result of a movie called “Gas Light” in which the heroine was psychologically manipulated by her husband.
He changes small things in their environment, but denies it and makes her think she's crazy.
Toxic people practice gaslighting in order to control you and to diminish their own bad behaviors. If you present them with evidence, they deny it outright and turn the tables on you with criticism and anger.
“Don’t be fooled… Being fed crumbs of kindness and affection doesn’t mean this person is worth your time and energy.”
2. They have little or no empathy.
While you are doing backflips trying to understand and empathize with them, they just give you a blank stare when you ask them to understand how their behavior makes you feel.
Sometimes they even get annoyed or angry if you try to communicate your feelings. Either they just don't care, or they don't want to experience any feelings that are unpleasant or self-critical.
3. They try to dominate you.
Toxic people will try to control you, your behavior, and even your thoughts and beliefs.
They have a need to always have their own way, and they will resort to threats, possessiveness, restriction, and shaming in order to do so.
They feel out of control if they aren't in charge of every situation and person they encounter.
4. They use verbal assaults.
Toxic people frequently resort to angry, threatening, belittling, humiliating, shaming, blaming, critical, or sarcastic language to control you and hurt you.
This verbal abuse can take more subtle forms liking making “jokes” that are meant to wound.
They can also use a quiet, cruel voice to wound, but often they resort to yelling and screaming which is both hurtful and very frightening.
5. They have demanding expectations.
These people have constant expectations that you meet their demands, and yet they are never satisfied. There’s always something more you could have done.
They demand you meet their needs and put aside your own in order to do so.
They may want your undivided attention, require you to jump when they call on you or insist getting their way in every choice or decision.
6. They practice emotional blackmail.
This behavior is far more calculating than just making a verbal demand. This person manipulates you through fear, guilt, shame, or even false compassion in order to get what they want.
They might say something like, “If you really love me, you wouldn’t spend the evening with the guys tonight,” or “If you were any kind of friend, you come over here right now when I need you.”
Emotional blackmail can also include withholding affection, kindness, or sex until the abusive partner gets his or her way.
7. They have unpredictable behaviors.
They exhibit crazy-making behaviors that keep you walking on eggshells.
One minute she’s kind and loving and the next she’s giving you the cold shoulder. One day your mom is calm and loving, but a few hours later she's yelling at you for no apparent reason.
What makes this person angry one day may not bother him or her the next.
This isn’t a one-off situation but a pattern of off-kilter behaviors that make you feel insecure and unsettled at best and sometimes downright frightened. You’re constantly on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
8. They love to stir up chaos and crises.
Toxic people aren't happy unless they are stirring the pot or creating upheaval.
He may intentionally start an argument with you or someone in your circles. She might thrive off of drama and the excitement of seeing everyone around her react — particularly you.
This toxic abuser seems to exist in a cloud of chaos which he or she keeps cycling constantly. They seem to feed off of the angst and drama they create.
9. They enjoy character assassination.
This toxic person loves to put you down and humiliate or embarrass you in front of other people.
They might undermine your achievements or they talk about you behind your back, lie to others about you, or try to harm your reputation.
They might try to disguise these comments as humor, and perhaps others think it’s a light-hearted jab, but you and this abuser know better.
10. They have a history of difficult relationships.
You aren't the only person this person has manipulated and mistreated. If you look at their past relationships and even their current ones, you'll see they leave a scattered trail of victims in their wake.
They may pretend to have great friendships, perfect past loves, or easy relationships with everyone BUT you. However, if you talk with some of these past or present so-called friends and lovers, you'll likely hear a far different story.
11. They like to play the victim.
Toxic people are adept at letting you and the rest of the world know how hard they've had it.
They act as though everyone is out to get them and that their unhappiness and failures are always caused by someone else.
They will use their victim status to manipulate or deflect responsibility. Why should they have to pay the bills, clean up after themselves, or hold down a job? After all, they have suffered more than anyone.
12. They need constant validation.
Toxic people are often very insecure. Their negativity and need to put others down stems from deep feelings of unworthiness.
They need constant pats on the back and positive reinforcement in order to feel validated. If you don't offer it up, they will boast and brag to make sure you know how great they are.
Often these people want praise for the most basic accomplishments — things that others do without the need for compliments, like putting the dishes away, making it to an appointment on time, or taking care of the kids.
13. They play by their own rules with morality and ethics.
Have you ever encountered someone who doesn't believe the rules of life apply to them?
They don't think anything about cheating at a game, borrowing money and never repaying it, or making a promise they don't intend to keep.
Their moral compass is broken, and even if you point out their unethical behavior, they will act like it's no big deal. Or they will outright lie about it.
Any relationship that involves these consistent behaviors to control or manipulate you is harmful and abusive.
The more severe the behaviors, the more emotional damage you'll experience. This is particularly true if the toxic abuser is your parent or partner.
As toxic relationships train you to you doubt yourself and bend to the manipulator's will, you gradually begin to feel differently about yourself, as your self-esteem and trust in yourself erode.
Sometimes the continuous and unrelenting pattern of emotional abuse is interspersed with some warmth and kindness.
This fosters a sense of hope that the behaviors may change, but it also builds a desperate kind of bonding with the toxic person.
It's an “I love you, I hate you” dynamic that keeps you trapped in the relationship.
Please don’t be fooled by this. Being fed crumbs of kindness and affection doesn’t mean this person is worth your time and energy.
Nor does occasional good behavior negate the hostile intentions of a toxic abuser. Consistent abusive behavior, even if it’s interspersed with occasional kindness, is damaging and destructive.
If you need further help knowing if you're in a toxic relationship or need support in deciding whether or not to leave the relationship, please check out my program below.