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” when dealing with a toxic relationship.

At least you wouldn't feel like a low-life piece of shit every time you experience toxic behavior.

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 husband, wife, your parent, or even your best friend — you know what I mean here.

You know the belittling words, threating looks, and controlling behaviors that slowly but surely crush your soul and make you constantly walk on eggshells with everything you say and do.

What you will learn in this post about toxic relationships:

  • The 3 options you have in this soul-sucking relationship.
  • What to do if the toxic person is a family member.
  • The most confusing trick of toxic people.
  • The cruel ways they control and manipulate you.
  • The unacceptable words and behaviors that are meant to hurt you.
  • The games they play to keep you confused and off-balance.
  • How to get out of a relationship that is bringing you down.

What is a toxic relationship?

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 —

  1. Manage the relationship.
  2. Leave the relationship.
  3. 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. At the end of the article, I'll give you tips for making this difficult decision.

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 symptoms of toxic relationships:

Do you ever wonder, “Is my relationship toxic?” If you are wondering, it probably is, but you need to know for sure by checking out the common symptoms.

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.

People practice gaslighting in a toxic relationship 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.

woman sad toxic relationships

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 on 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.

Even giving you the cold shoulder or freezing you out is a subtle form of emotional blackmail.

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.

unhappy couple, toxic relationship

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.

These toxic people think they are above the rules and social norms that apply to everyone else.

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 toxic behavior, even if it’s interspersed with occasional kindness, is damaging and destructive.

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How to leave a toxic relationship.

Have you decided it's time to say goodbye to this difficult person in your life? Here are some ideas for getting out with dignity.

  • Recognize and accept that the relationship is unhealthy. You can't remain in denial.
  • Write down all of the ways this person drains, hurts, and controls you. Seeing it in writing is eye-opening.
  • Ask yourself why you have stayed in the relationship. What are you getting from this person?
  • Then determine how you can fill this need in another way.
  • Communicate your decision quickly and without anger or blame. Try not to engage in a long discussion or get pulled in by the toxic person's manipulative tactics. 
  • If you can't end the relationship quickly, back off slowly and put up boundaries that minimize your exposure to this person's behavior.
  • Recognize that you will experience grief and pain ending this relationship, even though it was toxic. Be kind to yourself and have faith that you are doing the right thing. 
  • Once you have made the decision to end the relationship, don't get lured back by the pleas of the toxic person. Toxic people are masters at duplicity and without serious counseling, they will continue with their behaviors.

Did you find any value from this post on toxic relationships?

I hope you found the signs and strategies I've presented here useful for you. If you are in a toxic relationship, don't suffer any longer.

Take action today to protect your mental and emotional health by making a decision about the best way to handle this toxic relationship.

Please help others suffering in a toxic relationship.

You aren't alone in dealing with a difficult person in your life. So many people encounter toxic personalities but don't know what they are dealing with.

Please spread the love by sharing this article with your friends and family on your favorite social media platform.

Are you living with an emotional abuser? Click here to get your free Emotional Abuse Test. Find out your personal score.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
  • Ash

    I know this…
    Is it me…?
    In tears I asked my husband this question with regards to my toxic mother and sisters’ spiteful, venomous and toxic behaviour, about an hour ago.
    It’s been happening a long time and I wish I didn’t have to ever see or deal with them again.(love them from afar )
    Half of my distress, is that I’ll have to see them again.
    I want to have a clean, healthy heart not a bitter angry closed heart, because of the pain people I love and trusted have hurt me.
    Please help me God.

    Reply
  • Anita Echiku

    I truly hear all these statements. I live with a very toxic, smart person who is completely blind since a teenager. He was raised by an extremely abusive psycologically and physically abusive man who was not his actual father. The man was abusive to his wife and son. So he is passive aggressive, sacrcastic and controlling. He is also a severe alcoholic. I love him and try very hard to please him but nothing is enough. Its been 18 years and actually getting worse.

    Reply
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