How to Handle Toxic Relationships in a Healthy Way
Our lives are filled with many unique relationships, whether it be with friends, partners, family members, or coworkers. Although relationship dynamics surround us, it's not often that we stop to consider the health of each specific one. It’s important to objectively observe your relationships and determine if any change is necessary, because they can and will directly impact your mental health. Here are a few ways to identify a toxic relationship and what to do if you have one in your life.
How to Identify a Toxic Relationship
All relationships go through ups and downs, but if you are having way more downs it’s time to critique what’s actually going on. If your relationship is filled with constant criticism, feelings of unworthiness, or disrespect - it is toxic. A positive relationship can not come out of continuous negativity.
The 3 M’s: The three M’s are mothering, micromanaging, and martyring. Continuous mothering or micromanaging can be a breeding ground for toxicity because it hinders your own personal autonomy. Sneakily, mothering and micromanaging can be under the guise of caring about the other person, but in reality a healthy relationship should foster each person’s own independence. The last M is martyring. Martyrs operate under the facade of meaning well, but they are actually manipulating you to feel guilty or sorry for them. An example might be someone doing you a favour only to hold it over your head.
Ultimately one of the best ways to tell if you are in a toxic relationship is to observe your own headspace and feelings after you are done spending time with that person. Are you left feeling drained or energised? All relationships can be challenging, but if you are constantly left feeling like you are demotivated, disheartened, or discouraged, the relationship is likely toxic.
How to Handle a Toxic Relationship
The first step towards addressing a toxic relationship is communication. Take the person to the side for an authentic discussion about how their behaviour is making you feel. Blaming them might cause them to be defensive, so instead use neutral sentences that begin with “I feel” and stick to the facts. Remember that they might not be receptive to your message immediately, and may even react angrily. You can only control your own behaviour, so be prepared to calmly diffuse and leave.
If the toxic person continues their negative behaviour after you have expressed how you feel, you must set and communicate firm and clear boundaries. For example, if your family member says hurtful things at family gatherings, you need to communicate before the next gathering that: (a) you will only come if they do not engage in that behaviour, and (b) that you will be prepared to leave if they do. If they end up performing the toxic behaviour again, you need to leave immediately and execute the boundary. The key here is to make sure you follow through so they know that their behaviour has consistent consequences.
If you have exhausted all options, you will need to end the toxic relationship. This step may be a hard pill to swallow, but it is so important to separate yourself from toxicity because it will inevitably hurt you. Ending it does not necessarily mean you need to formally have a relationship breakup, but you do need to stop making plans and regularly communicating. Sometimes slowly disengaging from a toxic relationship is less obvious and dramatic.
Although we cannot always control how the people in our lives behave, we can always control our own reactions and behaviours. Identifying and dealing with toxic relationships may be challenging, but it is pivotal to maintaining a healthy headspace. If you need to deal with a toxic relationship, be kind to yourself, know that you can get through it, and remember that personal growth is just around the corner.