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Toxic Relationships and Your Heart’s Bottom Line

This photo is of a tiny bit of street art at the train station – it’s only a couple of centimeters long. And you had to be quick to read its message, because it was painted over the very next day.

But what a message it was:

“can’t live without a baseline”

…written beneath a line of electrocardiogram-style heartbeats
and a heart…

So what’s your heart’s bottom line or baseline when it comes to relationships?
With your partner, your friendships, your family ties.
What’s the minimum you need to feel nourished or supported or connected or loved?
(And have you ever really thought about it deliberately before?)

What might the signs be that things aren’t working so well, or that they’re becoming damaging in some way?
And what can you do if it’s already drifted beyond that?

The term “toxic relationship” is a bit of a buzz-word, really, and almost an empty cliché. But if you bring this term back to you and your life – your heart, maybe – there’s meaning to be found.

So what does toxic look like for you?
What stifles you or robs you of what you need to thrive?
What doesn’t quite feel healthy or clean to you?
What leaves you feeling empty or compromised?
What stops you growing?
Do you know of any other relationships you’d consider toxic – and what exactly is it about them that tells you that? Which qualities or behaviours? Which ways of being?

Maybe it’s about ‘walking on eggshells.’
Or feeling controlled in some way, or having to justify or explain yourself in front of the other person.
Feeling like you edit who you are in their company.
Feeling neglected. Overlooked. Like you kind of blend into the background of their life somehow.
(Maybe even like you’ve started to blend into the background of your own life somehow…).

When does that stuff sneak into relationships?
How can you spot it? (both when the other person is bringing this stuff in and when you might be, too?)

Maybe being conscious of your heart’s baseline is somewhere to start. To know what you’re prepared to accept in a relationship – both from the other person and from yourself – and when things have crossed over into another, more destructive territory.

And maybe this includes your relationship with you, too.
Are there times you’re toxic towards you?
Times you maybe bully or put yourself down in some way.
Times you stealthily undermine your confidence.
Times you don’t listen. Times you don’t care.
What might your heart’s baseline say about this sort of stuff? What is it ok to accept? (Even from you).

And on an even more serious note, when does this sense of ‘toxicity’ in relationships bleed over into abuse?

Here’s some signs to watch for, some thoughts on love and control, some questions to explore in a journal, some info on abuse in families, and some things you can do to stay safe.

And in light of all of that – toxicity, relationships and you – maybe the street art and its red line heartbeat brings another whole dimension to the idea of “following your heart”…


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

Toxic Relationships and Your Heart’s Bottom Line

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2011). Toxic Relationships and Your Heart’s Bottom Line. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Jan 2011
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