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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 August 19, 2019

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

That’s where we all should be.

So, answer me this:

How are you, really?

And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

It’s taking control.

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2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

Change will happen.

Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

“Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

“If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

What would you do if you felt you were enough?

By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

Final Thoughts

By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

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Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

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