What Is a Toxic Relationship?

A healthy relationship brings joy and fulfillment to your life. Whether you work alongside them, are romantically entwined, or have been best friends for years, positive relationships will make you feel good about yourself and look forward to the future.

Unfortunately, not all relationships are created equal. Some relationships take a toll on your mental health and leave you drained, defeated, and depressed. These relationships are considered toxic. But what is a toxic relationship?

What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship is one that’s harmful to your mental health or well-being. This type of unhealthy relationship can be very damaging, causing you to lose confidence and feel unworthy. Not to mention, these relationships can even lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or other mental illnesses.

Toxic people can be emotionally manipulative, critical, controlling, condescending, and isolating. Furthermore, a relationship with a toxic person can feel like you’re walking on eggshells. They are often one-sided, with the toxic person playing the role of either a bully or an emotional vampire. It’s important to recognize when you’re in a relationship like this, so that you can find ways to remove yourself from it and rebuild your self-esteem.

Let’s take a look at the different types and signs of toxic relationships.


When discussing abusive relationships, people refer to romantic relationships most frequently, and with good reason. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience severe physical violence at the hand of a romantic partner. And that’s only domestic violence. Other types of violence come in much more insidious forms.

A common type of psychological abuse is gaslighting. This term comes from a play of the same name that appeared on the theatrical scene in 1938. It follows the story of a husband who tries to make his wife believe she is going insane.

The term today refers to the practice of making someone question reality through manipulative tactics.

It’s a way for abusers to control a situation so they can continue their passive-aggressive, emotionally abusive, toxic behavior on their victim. They make you feel bad and ensure you lose all confidence in yourself so you can’t leave. They make you believe you don’t deserve anyone better, and they’re the best you’ll ever have.

It’s hard to stand up to someone who does not acknowledge their own reality. These relationships are difficult to leave because:

  • If you live with them, you may have nowhere else to go
  • There is a long history and don’t want to throw it away
  • You have happy memories and cling to those times, hoping they’ll return
  • You tell yourself they won’t do it again
  • Losing the connection is scary and are afraid of being alone


Toxic friendships have a lot of similarities to toxic romantic partnerships because they both are chosen. In most instances, you elect to spend time with these people. You chose to build a relationship with them, which makes it hard to leave. You don’t want to throw away the relationship you’ve spent time and effort building.

While they generally don’t have the element of physical abuse, toxic friendships still exhibit several of the same controlling behaviors as a romantic relationship. They might:

  • Gaslight you, negating your experiences by pretending they didn’t happen
  • Use your relationship an ultimatum to force you to do things you don’t want to do
  • Blackmail you with personal information you’ve shared
  • Make you feel bad about yourself
  • Dismiss your thoughts and feelings
  • Use verbal abuse and tell you not to take it seriously, because it was “a joke”

If your close friends don’t make you feel safe and supported, you need to reevaluate the health of those relationships.


Friends and Family are supposed to be your support group. They’re the people who know you best and love you anyway.

When they become toxic in their behaviors, that love can turn into anger or resentment. As a result, you might feel trapped trying to balance all the relationships in your life.

You may find yourself focusing on making everyone happy and feeling like you can’t leave the relationship. This is especially true with family, because these individuals are your family. Since childhood, we’re conditioned to respect them and believe they’re always right.

You may be afraid of what might happen if you leave the relationship or how your life will change. You may want to keep things as they are because it seems easier than making changes. But regardless of the blood connection, staying in a relationship with someone who is toxic will leave you feeling drained and with a lack of trust.


You don’t need long-term, love-based relationships to deal with toxic people. Superiors can use their power within the company to exploit those who report to them. It’s hard to stand up to someone when they have the power to fire you.

Some red flags of a toxic workplace environment include:

  • If they leverage their power to force you to do things you don’t want to
  • They make lewd comments and get away with them because you can’t speak up
  • If they take your ideas and get credit for them
  • They belittle comments you make in meetings

Considering leaving a toxic workplace? Here are a few tips to help you leave without burning bridges.

Ways to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship

It’s hard to diagnose a toxic relationship and even harder to leave one. Here are some techniques you can use to start preparing yourself to end or address a toxic relationship.

  • Find your support groups. Whether you find a group therapist or reach out to friends you trust, find your support networks. For example, a counseling professional could help give you skills to non-confrontationally address the abuser. A friend could give you a place to stay if you need to leave an abuser and have nowhere else to stay.
  • Consult or involve a third party. Getting an objective perspective can help you see through the guise of gaslighting to see the truth. If you’re dealing with an office relationship, talking to HR will give you the support you need to get your account on record and involve the company in the dispute.

Whatever you do, understand that you deserve to have relationships in your life that make you feel confident in yourself and proud of your accomplishments.

If your relationships make you question your worth, you need to seriously question those relationships.

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Author, Artist, Photographer.

Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.

She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.

She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.