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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 March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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