We may hear a lot about toxic relationships and the effects they can have on us, but many people who are in the midst of them aren’t even aware that they’ve fallen in. We can overlook the red flags, despite their broad and bright waving, for multiple reasons. When it comes to relationships, we humans have a knack for seeing what we want to see – for better or for worse.
Even when we’re unaware of the elements we’ve taken into our lives, quickly growing mental blinders to the reality of their nature, the effects can be devastating. Toxic relationships poison us, both spiritually and physically, leaving the body and mind unwell on multiple levels. Only after we’ve broken free are we able to see just how much damage we’ve sustained.
Some of the indicators are subtler than others, making them easy to overlook. Be on the lookout for these relationship red flags:
- They immediately sweep you off your feet, or “love bomb,” you.
- They seem too good to be true or have story after story about their virtuous and heroic acts.
- Every one of their exes was “crazy” or wronged them in manipulative ways.
- They belittle other people behind their backs.
- They’re rude to restaurant wait staff and store clerks or snicker about the terrible service, even when nothing is notably wrong.
- They become involved in all of your activities, not leaving a single interest or hobby to be yours and yours alone. They may have few interests beyond you.
- Your mental and/or physical health has tanked since the onset of your relationship.
- They question your narrative regarding shared memories.
- They get upset if you go out with friends who fit your sexual preferences.
- They try to change anything about you, typically through insults, coercion or passive-aggressive manipulation.
- They correct your way of doing things, even in cases where there’s no one “right” way.
- They place you on an emotional pedestal. Every once in a great while, they may knock you back down. Your sense of identity and self-esteem may suffer.
- They cannot meaningfully connect with pets, or they interact primarily by teasing them (pets may also act unusually wary of them).
- They abuse drugs and/or alcohol.
- They’re entitled, demonstrating a need to skirt around normal annoyances like waiting in lines, taking their turn or cleaning up after themselves.
- They express feelings of being better than most other people.
- They seem to jump from job to job, usually because they find issues with the people they work with or begin trivializing the jobs themselves.
- They have a difficult time accepting fault, but they can easily pinpoint and vilify the flaws or mistakes of others.
The more of the above that resonates, the higher the chances are that you’re in a toxic relationship. Consider taking a step back and seeking a different perspective. A shift in view could help to bring everything into focus. Please feel free to comment if you have any other red flags you’d like to add to the list.
Distancing from toxic people can be easier said than done, and it might take sustained effort on multiple fronts to break free for good. The first step is to set new limits and expectations and stick to them. Toxic people hate boundaries, and they’ll do whatever they can to push, or even shatter, any we attempt to create.
Be ready for some manipulation; remember, toxic people are typically only capable of viewing the situation from their point of view, dismissing any unfair effects on you. They may get defensive, unable to grasp your needs as equal to theirs. You must adopt a zero-tolerance policy: You are an autonomous human being, and your feelings are valid. Accept nothing but love and respect for all that you are. Cut out anyone who cannot treat you as well as they expect you to treat them.
Of course, freedom isn’t always as easy as choosing to walk away and never looking back. Situations can be complicated, and children and/or shared assets add factors that may require need legal intervention; they may even a small amount of unwanted interaction that is unavoidable. Finding a balanced approach – protecting yourself while being fair about the situation – is vital.
In some cases, breaking free can be a dangerous undertaking. When a toxic person moves from manipulative to physically abusive or threatening, it’s important to be careful not to trigger their wrath. You may need an escape plan. If you don’t have the means to get away on your own, seek out help from trusted family members, friends or a local shelter. Don’t share your plans with anyone else, including the toxic individual, and make your escape when they aren’t present.
Don’t disclose your new location. If any further contact is necessary, establish a lawyer or someone else you trust to speak on your behalf. Take a social media break, or set up new accounts, to keep the person from tracking you; keep the accounts private and don’t include any photographs or other overt identifiers.
Do NOT agree to meet in person for any reason. You’re dealing with a master manipulator, and they’ll do anything to pull you back in – best case scenario. Remember why you left in the first place and guard your safety above all else.
Toxic relationships can be devastating in so many ways, but they don’t have to define us, and we can break past the damage. We must be open to the red flags when they present themselves, and that may require active removal of blinders we might not even realize were there. The first step toward healing is recognizing there’s an issue.