Chances are excellent that if you haven’t already had a toxic relationship in your life, you will at some point in the future. I’m not saying this to scare you, but only because I want you to be prepared.
How do you know if you’re in a toxic relationship?
- When you see the person, you come away feeling down on yourself
- You are plagued by guilt in the relationship
- The other person is focused mostly on getting his own needs met
- You often feel manipulated or controlled, one-down, or shamed
- The other person repeatedly hurts you, and then expects you to act as if nothing happened
Most therapists know how frequently these relationships happen because we see the effects in our offices every day. Typically, it’s the recipients of the toxins who come to us for help. Hurt, confused and lost, they have great difficulty seeing what’s going on. Often, they struggle mightily to make things right in the relationship, all the while unknowingly swallowing noxious doses of “relationship poison” each and every day.
If you grew up with a toxic parent, a toxic sibling or other close family member, you are likely more vulnerable to toxic relationships as an adult. If you grew up with your feelings and emotional needs inadequately met, (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), you probably developed the belief that your feelings and needs don’t matter. Unfortunately, this also makes you more prone to end up in a toxic relationship.
Those who deliver the toxins? Well, they often don’t realize what’s happening either. Many are simply continuing ways of relating that they learned in their own childhoods, from parents who treated them this way, failed to set the limits they needed, or emotionally poisoned them.
Does this excuse their toxic actions? I’m not saying that, and, no, it doesn’t. In fact, the most common mistake of toxin receivers is having too much compassion for the person who is manipulating or hurting them. Too much compassion makes you overly vulnerable to being hurt and manipulated. But I do think that having some honest understanding of the deliverer of the toxins gives you a better chance of preserving yourself in the relationship.
Having helped many people stop absorbing relationship poison and save themselves, I’ve developed this list of strategies that work. As you read them, think about how you might use them in a toxic relationship you have right now, or one you may have in the future.
8 Strategies to Detoxify a Toxic Relationship
- Never let them pull you down to their level. This strategy is the most important of all, and that’s why we are talking about it first. This is so vital because fighting back at their level will not work for you. You will end up feeling guilty and slimed, and on top of that you will lose. Going down to a toxic level has never strengthened or empowered anyone. So always be above-board and reasonable in the relationship. It is the necessary platform for your own strength. The seven strategies below will help you do it.
- Stop caring so much. Part of your vulnerability to the toxins is that you care too much what the toxic person thinks and feels about you. You can lower your care and concern without your person being aware, so this is a great way to protect yourself.
- Become more self-focused. This will be a natural advantage of caring less about your person’s needs. You direct all that care toward yourself. It’s very likely that caring too little about yourself made you vulnerable to your person in the first place, so doing the opposite will help protect you. Begin to think more about how you feel and what you need. Accept that you deserve to be treated fairly, respectfully and honestly at all times, by all people, and that anything less is unacceptable. This is especially important if you are a product of CEN, as it also helps you to counter the “less than” messages you may have received through CEN in your childhood.
- Stop falling for games and manipulations. Once you realize that someone is toxic, it’s time to start trying to identify their individual ways of controlling you. Do they use guilt? Make unfounded accusations? Do they compare you to someone else as a way to motivate you? Do they twist the truth to their own benefit? Deny things they have clearly done? Turn others against you? Play the victim? These are just a few toxic manipulations that you must become aware of so that you can stop participating. Once you can see them happening, they do not affect you the same way. You can take your power back.
- Be cordial. So far, I’ve told you several things to stop doing. That means you need a new strategy to replace those things. Your new strategy is cordiality. Being cordial is a way to be respectful while also communicating boundaries. Being cordial communicates a new, yet respectful distance and self-protection that your person may feel, but will not be able to defeat. Being cordial gives you the upper hand in a healthy, non-toxic way.
- Hold her responsible for her actions. Be sure to do this in your own mind, at least. This involves no longer letting your person off the hook for toxic actions. When you feel hurt, get angry, and your anger will help you blame your person for hurting you instead of blaming yourself.
- Distancing. This can be done either emotionally or physically, or preferably both. Spend less time with your person or call less frequently. Set up your internal boundary to protect yourself from hurtful comments or actions. To learn more about boundaries, See The Four Kinds of Boundaries and How to Build Them. Also, please know that sometimes boundaries aren’t enough, and you may need to walk away to save yourself.
- Live well. This final strategy is the ideal, healthy, and strengthening book-end to the first one. You can’t change the other half of your toxic relationship. And if it’s someone who will always be in your life, then your goal is to thrive in spite of the toxins. So make good choices and protect yourself. Strive for growth and empowerment in every area of your life. Be the caring and loving person to yourself and others that your toxic person cannot be. This will be your version of “revenge.”
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is both invisible and difficult to remember. Yet it can affect you profoundly in many ways throughout your lifetime. To find out if it is at work in your life, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.