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16 Deal Breakers for People Who Are Stuck in Toxic Relationships

16 Deal Breakers for People Who Are Stuck in Toxic Relationships

True confession: even though I’m a psychologist I’ve found myself stuck in a few toxic relationships over the years. Each time I’d wake up in a cold sweat in the the middle of the night wondering how I’d let it get to such a dangerous point. Sound familiar?

We can get blindsided when our partners are passive-aggressive and deceive and manipulate us. But even when our lovers blatantly mistreat us, we often stay in hopes that things will change.

Trust me. They won’t. I bravely fought my way out of my last toxic relationship years ago and know I’ll never be in another one again because I can now see the warning signs from miles away. If you’re in a toxic relationship, here are 16 deal breakers to help you find the courage to finally break free.

1. They push you around (literally).

These partners hit you, shove you, or hold your arm so tightly that it leaves a bruise. Once my six feet tall boyfriend leaned down and yelled two inches away from my face (I’m petite). It scared the hell out of me. I left the room before it could escalate and never came back. Give no second chances on physical abuse, even if your partner apologizes afterwards. Actions speak louder than words. If you put up with it, you’re telling him or her that it’s OK to treat you this way. It isn’t. Accept your losses and move on. Quickly.

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2. They criticize and shame you.

They cut you down with no consideration for your feelings and make you feel inadequate. A man I was involved with relentlessly criticized my looks, my outfits, the songs I wrote, pretty much everything about me. After our break up I jotted down all his verbal attacks and the list filled four single-spaced pages, two columns per page. Verbal abusers make you feel bad about yourself so that they’ll have power over you. Know your worth and get out.

3. They repeatedly cheat on you.

And you’re not in an open relationship. Slipping up once or twice may signal the need for the two of you to work through your issues with a therapist. What we’re talking about here is frequent infidelity. According to Dr. Phil, “The best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior.” I lived with a serial cheater for years. He never changed; he just got sneakier. You (and your children) deserve better.

4. They’re careless with those who depend on you.

If your partner belittles your children, kicks your dog, or continually “forgets” to give your sickly live-in mother her medication, it’s time to reconsider. Anyone who takes advantage of those who seem “weaker” than themselves is a bully. Don’t settle for this, even if he or she is nice to YOU.

5. They lie.

I once overheard my boyfriend lying to a colleague on the phone about a work assignment he didn’t do. He made up stuff on his resume and stole wine from his friends. I knew that if he lied to them he would lie to me. Sure enough I caught him cheating with my best friend. Relationships are built on trust. You can’t have a successful union if your partner regularly lies.

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6. They guilt-trip you.

These partners use your desire to be a good person to manipulate you into doing their bidding. I once cohabitated with a financially-troubled man who tried to coerce me into co-signing a loan for a big-ticket item. After giving me the cold shoulder for days, he lost his temper over it in front of our therapist (who he’d fooled into thinking he was a straight arrow). I was so relieved to watch him blow his cover and show himself for the covert aggressor he was. Life is too short to put up with guilt-manipulators.

7. You don’t like yourself when you’re with them.

If you feel worse about yourself when you’re around your partner, it’s time to get out. I once dated a guy who badgered me into doing karaoke with him knowing I felt demeaned by it (I’m a singer-songwriter with radio hits in addition to being a psychologist). He also guilted me into practicing with his makeshift band and then belittled my performance. I felt terrible about myself. He did the opposite of bring out the best in me. If this sounds like your situation, make a break for it while your self-esteem is still intact.

8. They make you doubt yourself.

When I tried to address the issue with my partner in the above point, he refused to admit that he’d put me down in front of his bandmates. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It wasn’t that bad, you’re too sensitive.” It confused me. Years later I realized that he must have felt threatened by my musical proficiency and was trying to bring me down to size. Toxic partners can make us second guess ourselves and even feel crazy when they play dumb or feign ignorance. If you think you’re being gaslighted, educate yourself about it and you’ll escape unscathed.

9. They force you to give up what you love.

I have a friend who played electronic keyboards in one of my first bands. When I met up with him again years later I was shocked to learn that his ex-wife had forbidden him from playing their piano at home even though their kids loved his music. She wouldn’t even let him touch the keys (for fear he’d break it). She also forced him to sell his Roland so he had to stop performing altogether. If you’re with someone who makes you give up the things or people you love, it’s time to give THEM up.

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10. They isolate you.

Related to the point above, if you’re with someone who puts your friends and family down or acts hostile towards them so that no one wants to be around the two of you, it’s a trap. Being isolated from your loved ones makes you totally dependent on your partner. I once had a “very nice” boyfriend try to do this but I saw through it and ended the relationship while my connections were still strong. Make it a point to stay in touch with your loved ones and use the power of their support to ditch this type of emotional abuser.

11. Your friends question the way you’re treated.

If your friends or family think you’re being taken advantage or harmed in some way, listen. Like a frog in a pot of boiling water, sometimes we don’t register that we’re being mistreated because the heat’s been rising slowly over time. Recently I had a friend tell me that he’d thought I was being abused by a boyfriend years back but didn’t say anything at the time. I sure wish he had spoken up because I stayed in that terrible relationship for 10 years. Your friends know you best. Encourage them to tell you the truth.

12. You’re constantly walking on eggshells.

You’re trying hard to make the relationship work, but it’s not being reciprocated. You’re afraid to bring up your needs because it may set off your partner’s anger, criticism, or passive aggressive tendencies. Maybe your partner pursued you in the beginning, but if you’re doing all the work to keep the romance afloat now and you’re scared to be yourself, it’s not worth it.

13. It’s all about them.

I once went out on a date with a guy who talked about himself all night. I mistakingly took it as a sign of nervousness. Eight months later he was STILL always talking about himself. His eyes glazed over with boredom whenever I tried to tell him about my day. My therapist told me that my boyfriend had narcissistic personality disorder, which explained why he was arrogant, had a high need to be admired, and demanded to be treated special. She warned me that he would never change because he didn’t think there was anything wrong with him. Boy was she was right.

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14. They’re never there for you.

A few weeks after the verdict from my therapist that same boyfriend was nowhere to be found when I had a car accident. Scared and shaking I left several messages but all I got was his voicemail. Hours later he waltzed into my house like nothing had happened. When I asked why he hadn’t come sooner, he explained that he’d received my messages but wanted to finish rollerblading first. He didn’t understand why there was a problem. If your partner can’t feel empathy for you he or she is probably a narcissist, or even worse, a sociopath (a narcissist to the extreme). If this sounds familiar, run as fast as you can. It will only get worse.

15. They’re over controlling.

There are two kinds of controlling partners. Covert aggressors manipulate you with charm and flattery, ignore your requests, or play the victim to get what they want. The other type is more overt. They openly choose your clothes, your friends, your hobbies, and even take credit for your ideas. Both types of controlling partners throw you off course repeatedly so that they can keep tightening the reins. The sooner you can slip the noose, the better.

16. You’re just not good for each other.

Even if you and your partner are good people, your relationship could become toxic if you try to force it to work when your values and needs are misaligned. Constant arguing is a bad sign. People should not have to change who they are to be in a couple. If, for example, one of you wants a child and the other doesn’t, make a decision and come to peace with it or find someone who feels the same way about having children as you do. If you continue to blame and hold your differences against each other the situation could turn into a cesspool.

The bottom line: if you are regularly lied to, belittled, cheated on, controlled, made to feel unsure of yourself, shamed, blamed for things that are beyond your control, or the victim of domestic violence, you’re in a dangerous romantic situation and you need to walk away.

If you dig deep you may find that you feel you don’t deserve better. You DO. Everyone does. I should know. Having a difficult childhood trained me to be a doormat. Why do you think I became a psychologist in the first place? To end this pattern. If I can do it, you can do it, too.

Surround yourself with positive people, start doing the things you love again, focus on developing your talents and self-worth, and give yourself some time to heal. When you’re ready to be in a relationship again, steer clear of these 16 telltale signs of toxicity and you’ll never have to endure this hardship again.

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Dr. Michelle Millis Chappel

Michelle is a psychology-professor-turned-rock-star who has helped thousands of people create successful meaningful lives by using their superpowers.

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Last Updated on July 15, 2020

How to Let Go of Toxic People in Your Life

How to Let Go of Toxic People in Your Life

“Entitlement is an expression of conditional love. Nobody is ever entitled to your love. You always have a right to protect your mental, emotional, and physical well-being by removing yourself from toxic people and circumstances.” -Dr. Janice Anderson & Kiersten Anderson

It’s not always obvious if you have someone toxic in your life. A toxic relationship is one that is harmful to you. A toxic person can create distress to the degree you feel inadequate and isolated. So, what makes a toxic person?

A toxic person has toxic behavior, meaning it’s not that the whole person is toxic[1]. It’s what they do that counts. Most toxic people run from accountability and misrepresent reality to you. They misrepresent your worth and your ability to heal from them can be stifled the longer you keep them in your life. You have a role to play with it as well; if your values are dismissed by them and you don’t act on it, you have allowed room for toxicity to grow.

When you are in a toxic relationship, you feel less than. You feel as though you are not worth anyone’s time or effort. You feel unheard, and sometimes you feel unsafe. You don’t feel good about yourself in a toxic relationship, whether it be with a partner, friend, or family member.

You may stay in a toxic relationship for a number of reasons. You may believe yourself to be a burden, have a lack of boundaries, resist change, fear conflict, try to be a people pleaser, find yourself codependent, or are partially stuck in a pattern or unhealthy cycle of abuse.

Letting go of toxic people may not be easy. In order to do so, you have to know why or how they are toxic to you and read between the lines that they do not have your best interests in mind.

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Letting go of toxic people is hard because you are good and want to see the good in others. You think their apologies are authentic. You have trouble believing they are being dishonest. You don’t spend time healing from it. You get pulled back into the pain because you don’t want it to end. However, if you feel like something isn’t right, it probably isn’t right.

You should walk away from a toxic person because you need to preserve your peace. You need to feel like yourself again. And you need better support.

Letting go of toxic people can involve four major steps.

1. Recognize the Red Flags

Red flags are signs a person is being toxic. It’s when someone shows characteristics that you should feel caution about. It’s when you feel any level of dissatisfaction and distrust. Trust your gut. When you recognize red flags, you can evaluate whether a person is trying to manipulate you or not. This gives you some level of control over what you allow in your life. The earlier you detect these behaviors, the better off you will be.

Red flags can include:

  • They always put themselves first.
  • They point out imperfections and sabotage your self-esteem.
  • You may feel drained or used when you’re around them.
  • What you give isn’t reciprocated. They don’t return the goodness you provide as a friend.
  • They ignore your boundaries and get angry when you tell them “no.”
  • You catch them in half truths or outright lies when you confront them about anything.
  • You are the villain; they are the victim.
  • Second chances always lead to repeated patterns of behavior.
  • They may engage in abuse.

2. Set Boundaries

There are emotional boundaries that one can set, but there are also physical ones[2]. You can leave any time. Setting boundaries is also an important part of self-care.

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You shouldn’t walk on eggshells. Tell them how you feel. Are they respecting you, fulfilling your needs, and listening to you? If not, it’s time to set up a healthy emotional distance and start letting go of toxic people around you.

There are levels to this. You have your inner circle, which could include family, and then you have acquaintances and strangers. If a toxic person is in your inner circle, it’s time to pull back and put up some boundaries for them to follow. If they can’t hear you out, you can cut off the connection completely.

You can give second chances, but you have to be careful. If someone knows they can get away with something, they will do it again. If there’s any chance for the relationship, they have to know not to cross certain lines.

3. Invest in Yourself

You deserve to know you are worthwhile. Try to remember that things will get better and that anything is possible. How do you do so? Invest in yourself.

This means self care, goal setting, surrounding yourself with positive support, and feeling a sense of peace. Your greatest ambition should be to love yourself. Without self-love, letting go of toxic people will be difficult.

Every relationship is a risk, but if you know yourself and what you will allow, toxic people will have less of a hold over you. If you are a giver or people pleaser, you are most at risk to being in a one-sided relationship. You shouldn’t be punished for caring, but sometimes trust needs to be earned. If you have self-love, you are treating yourself the best way possible. You know that others need to meet your standards; otherwise, they don’t get to be a part of your life.

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It’s possible that you can love yourself and still not see the signs. It can be difficult for some to be aware that toxic people exist. However,, if you know how much you mean to others in your life and what you are worth, you will be less likely to take on a relationship that is harmful to you or repeat negative patterns. Self-love is how we get out of toxic relationships, but it’s also how they never begin.

4. Know When Forgiveness Is Possible

There are times a person will prove their worth to you. They may make a mistake that makes them seem like a horrible person. They may forget to be good to you because of their own issues. They may just have no example of what a healthy relationship looks like. They may have an inflated ego that really comes from insecurity. The list goes on.

If they apologize, that’s a start. Look at their actions. Are they changing for the better because they really want to change or just seeming to in order to manipulate you? A person may control others with their image or perceived personality, but if you see through them, you may be able to discern the degree to which they are willing to be there for you.

If they start to do the right thing, you may begin to trust them again. Don’t start forgiving them until time has passed and you are sure there is growth, even if they show vulnerability or remorse. You can give a second chance if they truly have an awakening. Otherwise, it’s best to get out. Don’t let them walk all over you; let them walk out the door.

If you do give a second change and they still refuse to change, you have every right to remove them and continue the process of letting go of toxic people. The moment you even want to leave may also be a good time to get out. You don’t have to compromise yourself in order to care for them.

Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger[3]. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. You have to go back to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from someone. You don’t have to let them back in. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.

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Remember, forgiveness is ultimately for you, not them. You don’t need that person in your life in order to forgive them, and if you give them a second chance, proceed with caution.

Final Thoughts

Recognize the red flags, set boundaries, invest in yourself, and know when forgiveness is possible. This is how you cope with a toxic person impacting your life. You have power in the direction of your life and the people who accompany you as you move forward. Use it.

If a person is worthwhile, they will prove themselves through their actions, not their words. If they cross certain lines that really harm you, you owe them nothing. You have every right to feel what you feel and to be upset. Honor your feelings and communicate them because it’ll only continue to keep happening if you don’t.

If this is happening to you, it’s time to put a stop to it. It’s time to take control. It’s time to live for yourself, not for what others say about you. It’s time to set your standards higher than they’ve ever been before. And most of all, it’s time to let go.

Resource reminder: A physically abusive relationship is ALWAYS toxic. There are resources for you. Always speak up.

If you are in such a cycle or domestic violence or abuse reach out for help. For example, there is The National Domestic Violence Hotline (https://www.thehotline.org/) which can be reached at 1−800−799−7233. There are other ways to get help if you simply ask for it. 

More Tips on Letting Go of Toxic People

Featured photo credit: Hannah Busing via unsplash.com

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