*This is written as personal advice based on experience and not an actual psychological evaluation or consultation.
Toxic relationships can be a sensitive subject because oftentimes people don’t even recognize when they’re in one. Even talking about toxic relationships can trigger people to become defensive, so it’s important to be supportive to that person even if they haven’t realized how unhealthy their relationship is…
I was fifteen…
I had no idea what a toxic relationship was. I had no one to talk to and I didn’t want to listen to anyone who would tell me it was not a normal relationship. I distanced myself from my family, my friends, and my church. I suffered through this relationship for 3 years feeling alone and helpless because I didn’t know how to ask for help. I was embarrassed and I believed this type of behavior was normal. It was not.
Identifying a toxic relationship, romantic or not, can be difficult because not all toxic relationships are violent. In an interview with Time Magazine, Dr. Lillian Glass, author of Toxic People:10 Ways of Dealing With People Who Make Your Life Miserable, defines toxic relationships as: ‘“any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.”’(Ducharme). Whether the abuse is mental, physical, sexual, or verbal it is still toxic and abusive and needs to be treated as such. It’s also important to remember that every situation is different and not all relationships will exhibit the same signs of abuse. For this reason, I’ve typed up a few signs to look for in a toxic relationship.
Being overprotective- This sign can easily be confused with showing a caring behavior, however it’s excessive. Usually it starts with constantly wanting to be on the phone. Sounds pretty normal for a relationship right? Well in this case they want to be on the phone with you all the time. Even if you hang up to take a shower, you have to call them right back when you’re done. They want to know where you are at all times, and if possible, they want to go with you wherever you go. This is the beginning of the controlling stage.
The Controlling Stage- This stage moves into wanting to know who you’re with at all times and screening all of your phone calls, monitoring whose number you have, and deleting the contacts who they feel do not care for you. They even start telling you what to wear and when to wear it. This may seem a little extreme, but remember, in their mind everyone is a threat at this point. As long as they can make you believe that they’re doing this because they care about you, they feel as if they are in control.
Isolation- They start to isolate you from your friends and your family. You can only hang out with their friends and family because that’s who they feel they can trust. They start manipulating you into believing that they love you more than your family and friends do, building a case for you to choose them over your family and friends. Saying things like, “your friends are jealous of you and you shouldn’t be around those types of people.” Using situations to justify what they are saying.
Now, all of this is going on even while they’re being “romantic.” They’re still taking you out to dinner and buying you gifts, causing you to focus more on the thoughtful gestures than the manipulation that’s going on. They make you feel like no one will ever love you the way that they do. That’s when the mental and verbal abuse begins. Small arguments blow up and they make you feel like it’s your fault. If you don’t call them right away, they say you’re with someone else or it’s your fault someone from the opposite sex talked to you. During arguments you are not “allowed” to leave until they are ready for you to go, and they convince you it’s your fault they act like this. You begin to believe that you are not worthy of their love, so you begin to do everything they tell you to do, wear what they want you to wear, and go where they want you to go, all in a desperate attempt to keep them happy.
But that’s not love—its fear.
One day I had enough and I asked God to remove me from this situation. It was the first time I fell to my knees and asked for help from the one person I knew wouldn’t judge me. The very next day I was told that maybe the reason I was feeling so weighed down, so suffocated, so afraid was because I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. And it finally made sense. The person that told me that is now my husband!
After reading this post if you feel like you’re in a toxic or abusive relationship, I want you to know that you’re not alone and that this is not a healthy relationship. There is someone out there that will genuinely love you. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help. Letting someone know what is going on can honestly save your life both physically and mentally. On the other hand, if you suspect that someone you love is in a toxic or abusive relationship, don’t try to force them out. It’s very difficult for someone to leave a relationship like this because they truly believe that what they’re going through is normal. Just let them know that you are there for them and be willing to gather resources to help get them out if the situation becomes dangerous.
When a person tells you that they’re in a toxic or abusive relationship, know that they are scared and vulnerable. They came to you because they have to get out, but they don’t know how. The best thing you can do is listen to what they have to say before reacting. It’s hard to just get up and leave, so reassure them that when they are ready to leave, you will be there. Pray for them daily, so that God can show them clarity and give them the strength to leave…
Because he is the only one who can.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline:
1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224
The Center for Relationship Abuse and Awareness
Jamie Ducharme, “Toxic Relationships: Signs, Help and What To Do, Time, June 5, 2018, https://time.com/5274206/toxic-relationship-signs-help/, August 13, 2019.